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Unsettling Obligations cover

Unsettling Obligations

Essays on Reason, Reality and the Ethics of Belief

Allen W. Wood

Are we ever morally entitled to hold beliefs even when they are not rationally supported by the evidence? This book argues that we are not. Yet does this moral principle apply in the same way to religious beliefs as it does to others, or can religious beliefs be rationally justified even apart from the evidence, on grounds arising from our practical commitments? Are moral beliefs themselves rationally justified as statements of the truth, or are they merely expressions of our desires and attitudes? Are moral values grounded in objective truth? Are moral beliefs themselves rationally justified, or does a rational examination of their psychological and social origins tend to undermine our commitment to them?

This volume examines these and related moral and philosophical issues, many by critically examining the thoughts about them found in the history of philosophy, in the writings of such figures as Clifford, Pascal, Kant, Nietzsche, and Sartre. The author examines the way our practical commitments require us to adopt certain stances on questions about truth and value, and defends a historical perspective on philosophy itself that consciously belongs to the Enlightenment rationalist tradition.

Allen W. Wood is Ward W. and Priscilla B. Woods Professor at Stanford University.

Read an excerpt from this book.


  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • Abbreviations
  • 1 W.K. Clifford and the Ethics of Belief
  • 2 Clifford's Principle and Religious Faith
  • 3 Kant's Deism
  • 4 Self-Deception and Bad Faith
  • 5 Relativism
  • 6 The Objectivity of Value
  • 7 Attacking Morality: A Metaethical Project
  • 8 What Dead Philosophers Mean
  • 9 What is Philosophy?
  • Index


ISBN (Paperback): 1575863944 (9781575863948)
ISBN (Cloth): 1575863936 (9781575863931)
ISBN (Electronic): 1575869845 (9781575869841)

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