Magazine On-line [fall 2007]
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Fosl's New Book Provides Tools for Answering Moral Questions

Philosophy professor Peter Fosl contends that all people are natural thinkers and that everyone encounters philosophical issues and moral questions. What philosophers do is come up with ways of working through these things, providing conceptual devices to use as tools.

The ethics toolkitThis is the idea behind The Ethics Toolkit, published this year by Blackwell Publishing Limited. Fosl cowrote the book with Julian Baggini, a fellow philosopher living in England, as a follow-up to The Philosopher’s Toolkit, which the pair released in 2002.

Rather than just explaining philosophical concepts, the Toolkit books offer ways to use philosophy and think practically about the concepts.

“We’re thinking of ourselves as empowering people or giving people the tools that can help them think about philosophy and ethical issues in a sophisticated way,” he said.

Fosl sees his readers as a competent general population. “The books are sophisticated enough for professionals, but accessible to university students,” he said. “We made it as sophisticated as possible without losing a general audience.”

The books don’t adhere to any one philosophical approach. Instead, they encourage the reader to draw from various ideologies.

“Very good sense, so clearly and neatly expressed, about ideas in and around ethics worth disagreeing about.”
Ted Honderich
University College London

“It’s just like fixing a car,” he said. “You could have a four-piece tool set, and some people do pretty well with those four simple tools. Other people have a big garage full of tools, and that’s what we’re trying to do—give you a wider set of tools and show you how to use them.”

Fosl said most of his career has been devoted to teaching philosophy to people who haven’t had much background in it, a passion he shares with Baggini, co-founder and editor of The Philosopher’s Magazine, best-selling author, and contributor to publications like The Guardian, the Independent, and the Observer.

The pair began an e-mail correspondence when Baggini read an article by Fosl that was published in the magazine and contacted him with the idea of co-writing the first book. By the time they finished, they’d not met face-to-face, but Fosl did travel to Europe to meet with Baggini and plan the second book.

The Philosopher’s Toolkit has been a top seller for Blackwell. It was released in several languages and a second edition will be released next year. If The Ethics Toolkit follows suit, Fosl and Baggini will consider writing a third.

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