How to tell right from wrong, good from evil, and just from unjust? How to define what is moral, what is not? Given a situation, what actions is neither animal-like nor machine-like, but human? To answer these questions, one must build a solid foundation in ethics with pure logic. Many books claim they are logical and foundational; but I really wish to begin with the tried-and-true titles, i.e., the James Munkres, the Walter Rudin, and the Dummit and Foote of ethics-textbooks that show me how to construct theories from the absolute scratch. I am new to philosophy, any guidance would be greatly appreciated.

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    You are referring to undergraduate math textbooks on clearly demarcated topics, and those already assume high school math. The analogy is right in the sense that one reads philosophy with a pen in hand. But then you should start at the "high school" level (relatively speaking) by reading a general introduction to ethics, not hard to find on Amazon, they don't cover the exact same issues like most introductions to abstract algebra or analysis essentially would. Suggestions: leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2019/12/…
    – Johannes
    Mar 29, 2022 at 16:21
  • @Johannes A message, which I intended but failed to deliver clearly in my examples, is that I want the books that take the most rigorous proof-based approach to ethics. I suppose I was trying to avoid anything that resembles the bible too vehemently. Mar 29, 2022 at 16:46
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    Ok. Off the top of my head, one might look into deontic logic (though that's more properly described as the logical study of normative use of language), logic and legal systems, imperative logic...? Studying formal systems may be interesting, but probably won't teach you much about ethics as such, only how to formalize stuff. The reference to Sen ("welfare economics") is nice. Not entirely clear what you want. Bible is to philosophy perhaps like The Hobbit is to history, i.e. not cited as an authority. I believe philosophers are less religious than scientists on average.
    – Johannes
    Mar 29, 2022 at 17:32
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    @Johannes I want to learn more about ethics in a math-like rigorous manner; but I can see your point-there might not exist such a way. Still, I greatly appreciate all the information-they look incredible helpful to me for further exploration. Mar 29, 2022 at 17:55

2 Answers 2


There exists indeed a book developing a proof-based ethics. It is the classic

Spinoza: Ethics, Demonstrated in Geometrical Order

The work looks like a textbook from mathematics with definitions, axioms, theorems and proofs. Nevertheless for me it seems an oddity. Hence I am sceptical that a proof based ethics is the right literary format to develop or to teach ethics.

  • That sounds like precisely what I am looking for-much appreciated! Mar 29, 2022 at 15:40
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    But don't miss the warning in my answer :-)
    – Jo Wehler
    Mar 29, 2022 at 15:42
  • I did not; but I'd like to give it a shot. Mar 29, 2022 at 15:45

You might be interested in Kenneth Binmore's work. He is a mathematician/philosopher who has published a lot of research on game-theoretic foundations of ethics. See in particular the two-volume Game Theory and the Social Contract. Given that you referenced Munkres and Rudin in your question, you'll probably appreciate that Binmore also authored a two-volume text in analysis.

This was a fairly active field of research in economic theory in the 1980s and 1990s. For an introduction, see Kenneth Arrow's and Amartya Sen's work on social choice theory - they also adhere to a level of formal rigour that would likely be to your satisfaction.

  • I would have never come across these titles myself in a million years. Thank you so much! Mar 29, 2022 at 16:19
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    Great answer, my comments above are thus irrelevant. Although, for example Binmore's work (I only know about it cursorily) clearly won't be as satisfying without having some grasp of Hume, Rawls, and the big picture philosophical debates.
    – Johannes
    Mar 29, 2022 at 19:44

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