I've been looking for some books that could help me clarify some things I'm confused about, but I've not been very successful in my quest so far, so I try to ask for help and advice here.

It happens to me quite often (if not always), and I think it can be observed in everyday life too, that actions that might be considered "good" a priori can actually have more "negative" than "positive" consequences. As the saying goes: the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And the opposite also seems to be true (sometimes at least): some actions that might be considered as bad a priori can actually have benefits.

So why is it that everyone seems so clear about what is "good" and what is "bad"? How do I know that an action I consider good won't backfire on me or others at some point? What should we do when we realize that we have absolutely no idea what the negative consequences of our actions might be?

I'm looking for books that address these questions. Do you have any references to suggest? My last philosophy classes were in high school and I'm not sure how or where to look for books on such subjects. I have of course tried Google but the results have not been very conclusive.

And if you've ever thought about these questions yourself, your thoughts and answers on the subject are obviously welcome too.

Thank you in advance for your help!

  • 2
    Applied ethics? Commented Feb 9 at 14:26
  • Thank you for your answer ; from what I can read in the article you linked me to, I imagine it's the field of metaethics that interests me most. That should make it easier for me to find books :) Thank you very much!
    – justdoit
    Commented Feb 9 at 14:42
  • You are welcome :-) Commented Feb 9 at 14:44
  • Any moral system that holds you responsible for things you have no power over is not worth much. Commented Feb 9 at 19:15
  • 1
    If you have no means of predicting what consequences your actions will have then you have no power over those consequences. The only consequences you have power over are those you can foresee. Commented Feb 10 at 9:15

2 Answers 2


Nicomachean Ethics - Aristotle

Beyond Good and Evil – Friedrich Nietzsche

The Social Psychology of Good and Evil – Arthur G. Miller

Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman

Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky

Lord of the Flies – William Golding

  • +1 for Dostoyevski. I personally think you can learn/teach morality/ethcs better from great suitable literature than tomes of philosophy. But brothers Karamazov may be even better?? (No Dostoyevski expert here)
    – Rushi
    Commented Feb 11 at 5:43
  • Thanks a lot for your answer! I've already borrowed "Beyond Good and Evil" and I'm looking forward to discovering the other ones :)
    – justdoit
    Commented Feb 11 at 9:23
  1. I do not share the view “that everyone seems so clear about what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’. IMO there is not even agreement about the meaning of the words ‘good’ and ‘bad’, much less whether a given action should be judged good or bad.

  2. The answers to the following question make some recommendations for books on ethics. Specifically the indicated book by William K. Frankena “Ethics” considers metaethics.

  3. In addition I recommend Kohlberg's stages of moral development. Kohlberg investigates different criteria which young persons and also adults follow during their ontogenetic development, to assess the morality of actions.

    So Kohlberg’s investigation is not about the content of a specific moral, but about the criteria which are actually applied to decide for a certain moral rule.

  • Thanks a lot for your answer and for the references. Regarding your first point, I guess a lot depends on the context you're in. Where I live, and from a political point of view for example, I have the feeling that everything is becoming very polarized, that many people think they hold "the" truth about what is good or bad to do (or to vote for), and that there is less and less self-questioning and reconsideration. But maybe I'm wrong (and I hope I am).
    – justdoit
    Commented Feb 10 at 8:28

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