James Rachels

James Rachels

region = Western Philosophy
era = Contemporary philosophy
color = #B0C4DE

image_caption = James Rachels

name = James Rachels
birth = 30 May 1941 Columbus, Georgia, United States of America
death = 5 Sep 2003 Birmingham, Alabama United States of America
school_tradition = Analytic philosophy
main_interests = Ethics, Bioethics
influences = Peter Singer
influenced =
notable_ideas =

James Rachels (May 30, 1941Sep 5, 2003) was an American philosopher who specialized in ethics. His works are noted for their accessibility.


James Rachels was born in Columbus, Georgia. He graduated from Mercer University in 1962 and received his Ph.D. in 1967 from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, studying under Professors W. D. Falk and E. M. Adams. He taught at the University of Richmond, New York University, the University of Miami, Duke University, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he spent the last twenty-six years of his career. Rachels married Carol Williams in 1962, and they had two sons, David and Stuart. He died of cancer in 2003 in Birmingham, Alabama.

Over his career, James Rachels wrote six books and 85 essays, edited seven books and gave about 275 professional lectures. His work has been translated into Dutch, Korean, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Indonesian, Icelandic, Portuguese, Chinese, and Serbo-Croatian. Rachels' books are generally free of jargon. He has argued for moral vegetarianism and animal rights, preferential quotas, the humanitarian use of euthanasia, and the idea that parents should give as much fundamental moral consideration to other's children as they do to their own. Later in his career Rachels realized that a lifetime of analyzing specific moral issues had led him to adopt the general ethic of utilitarianism, according to which actions are assessed by their effects on both human and nonhuman happiness.


Rachels' best-known work is "The Elements of Moral Philosophy". In 2007 this book was in its fifth edition, having been revised by Rachels' son, Stuart Rachels. This introduction to ethics has sold over 750,000 copies and might be the best-selling book in all of philosophy. Among some of the subjects covered by Rachels are ethical and simple subjectivism, emotivism, as well as ethical and psychological egoism, to name a few. The text uses real-world examples to highlight points regarding complex philosophical principles. Rachels had a history of using such examples. The publication in 1971 of his anthology "Moral Problems", marked a shift from teaching meta-ethics in American colleges to teaching concrete practical issues. "Moral Problems" sold 100,000 copies over three editions.

In 1975, Rachels wrote "Active and Passive Euthanasia," arguing that the distinction so important in the law between killing and letting die has no rational basis. Originally appearing in the "New England Journal of Medicine", this essay has been reprinted over 300 times. In his piece, Rachels argues that if we allow passive euthanasia, we should also allow active euthanasia. He backs this up with two claims: (1) Active euthanasia is more humane than passive euthanasia; (2) killing versus letting die makes no moral difference in itself. "The End of Life" (1986), a moral treatise on life and death, broadened and deepened these ideas.

Rachels wrote only a few works that were not directly focussed on ethics. "Created from Animals" (1990) made the case that a Darwinian world-view has widespread philosophical implications, including drastic implications for our treatment of nonhuman animals. "Can Ethics Provide Answers?" (1997) was Rachels’ first collection of papers. His second, "The Legacy of Socrates", was published posthumously in 2007. Shortly before his death, Rachels wrote "Problems from Philosophy", an introduction to philosophy. This book was published posthumously in 2005 and revised by his son Stuart in 2008.

elected Bibliography

* (1986) "The Elements of Moral Philosophy". First Edition. Random House. Subsequent editions by McGraw-Hill...


* [http://www.jamesrachels.org James Rachels, Ph.D. 1941-2003] . The official website of James Rachels.

External links

* [http://www.jamesrachels.org James Rachels, Ph.D. 1941-2003] . The official website of James Rachels.
* [http://www.animal-rights-library.com/authors-m/rachels.htm James Rachels] . Selected writings on animal rights.
* [http://www.articlemyriad.com/83.htm Chapter summaries and analyses of "The Elements of Moral Philosophy"]
* [http://www2.sunysuffolk.edu/pecorip/SCCCWEB/ETEXTS/DeathandDying_TEXT/Rachels_Active_Passive.htm Text of Active and Passive Euthanasia]

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