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Though Bertrand Russell was famous above all as a practical
moralist, he is largely unknown as an ethical theorist. The object of
this book is to remedy this state of affairs. It is directed at three
classes of readers: (1) professional philosophers, (2) general readers
with an interest in Russell, especially those with a tincture of
philosophy, and (3) students of philosophy, especially undergradu-
ates. For my fellow professionals, I have written a long introduction
explaining Russell’s role in the evolution of twentieth-century
ethics and noting that he was one of the first in the field with two
of the theories (emotivism and the error theory) that have domi-
nated the twentieth-century debate. I hope this introduction will
also be of use to the student and the general reader. But I have
written for their especial benefit a series of preliminary notes to
Russell’s writings, summarizing his arguments, emphasizing his
insights, noting problems and suggesting further reading.
The distinction between practical or applied ethics and ethical
theory is rough and ready, but useful nonetheless. Practical ethics is
– well, practical; it is concerned with the rights and wrongs of
particular issues, of war and peace, marriage and sexuality, eugenics
and population policy. Russell wrote an immense amount on such
topics, even descending to such trivial questions as ‘Should
Socialists Smoke Good Cigars?’ (the answer is yes), but he did not
think these writings rose to the dignity of philosophy. Ethical
theory is, as the name suggests, more theoretical. It divides into two
branches: normative ethics and meta-ethics. Normative ethics supplies
(and criticizes) the premises for practical ethics. It is concerned with
such questions as the nature of the good life, the nature of virtue,
the kinds of acts that are right or wrong, whether we should take
consequences into account and what kinds of consequences we