Plot: Amir Joy's A Treatise of Morality surveys philosophical discussions and understandings of morality, from ancient civilizations to Hobbes, Spinoza, and Locke, to contemporaries like Sam Harris. Joy also investigates essential theories of morality, such as The Theory of Value Contents and Structure and the evolving-toward-morality argument laid out in Michael Shermer's book The Moral Arc as well as various biological and neurological findings. Bookending this opinionated examination of the field, Joy considers, in the opening and closing chapters, morality through the lens of current issues, such as COVID-19, the internment of Muslims by the Chinese government, and civil unrest over systemic racism in the United States. From this consideration of present-day issues and the history of the philosophy of morality, Joy draws his own conclusion, calling for greater understanding of each other and less judgment.
Prose/Style: Joy's erratic word choice, uncertain punctuation, and tendency toward scathing snark make his treatise a difficult read. These qualities reduce not just the book's persuasive power but its line-to-line clarity. When discussing contemporary issues, Joy routinely derides those who think differently than him as "foolish" and "arrogant", assertions he makes before attempting to persuade readers with reason that he's right. His points of argument in these cases often are unclear due to his erratic word choice. It's difficult to evaluate the merits of the author's arguments when the text itself is so often unclear. The prose improves somewhat when Joy turns to discussing the history of morality, but there, too, the prose often lets down the ideas as unclear or uncertain word choices make many long sentences impossible to parse.
Originality: Joy's conclusions are unique and interesting, and his tour through the great thinkers' thoughts on morality is highly original and full of surprises.
Character Development/Execution: While Joy's ideas and arguments might be fascinating, the uncertain prose and difficult-to-follow arguments greatly diminish the book's effectiveness.
Date Submitted: December 10, 2020
Readers will need to have a basic understanding of, and significant interest in, the historical fluidity of philosophy and its impact on moral development; those who lack that grounding will find this textbook a struggle to read. Joy goes to great lengths to establish his anti-religious mindset and associate it with living “by logic” and perceiving “facts as the truth,” an approach that’s unlikely to resonate with religious and agnostic readers. He also detours into a discussion of racism that is insufficiently explored. The author’s overall deduction rising from his extensive review of morality is that it is “one hell of a matter to discuss,” which feels more like a starting point than a conclusion.
Though it will leave readers wanting more answers, Joy’s work offers an opportunity for self-exploration and application of moral theories. Some asides are tangential and extraneous, and attempts at humor amid a heavy topic often fall flat; however, the author unabashedly deals with current events and their moral dilemmas, which many readers will find an appealing theme. The illustrations are dark and out of place at times. More enlightenment comes from the topic summaries, a handy reference for readers craving a more organized understanding of the immense amount of information packed into this book. The work’s strength lies in its meticulous categorization of philosophical theories and moral beliefs that have shaped our understanding of ethics.
Takeaway: Atheists interested in the philosophy of morality will find this exhaustive chronicle a useful reference.
Great for fans of A.C. Grayling’s The History of Philosophy, Steven M. Cahn and Peter Markie’s Ethics: History, Theory, and Contemporary Issues.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: C