Moral Objectives, Rules, and the Forms of Social Change


364 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-8031-6
DDC 170




Reviewed by Jay Newman

Jay Newman is a professor of philosophy at the University of Guelph. He
is the author of Competition in Religious Life, Religion vs. Television:
Competitors in Cultural Context, and Inauthentic Culture and Its
Philosophical Critics.


This volume brings together 17 essays by David Braybrooke, an academic
philosopher long associated with Dalhousie University. Except for an
essay on liberalism, statistics, and utilitarianism, all the essays in
the collection have been previously published and are accessible to the
academic scholars who are most likely to be interested in them. The
essays indicate the author’s broad interest over four decades in
subjects of social philosophy, and they address various ethical,
political, economic, and cultural issues as well as subjects relating to
social-scientific methodology. Over half the essays in the collection
deal with what Braybrooke regards as basic moral objectives: needs,
productive activity, life plans answering to personal preferences, and
justice and the common good. There are two essays on rules and four
essays on the forms of social change. Braybrooke is a meticulous
analytical philosopher who usually enters into discussion of the serious
subjects that he addresses on a fairly advanced level. Though some
readers will be turned off by his occasional preoccupation with
censuses, statistics, and mathematical models, the author often
demonstrates a keen appreciation of the history of ideas and tries hard
to show the relevance of traditional philosophical notions to concrete
contemporary problems of social policy.

Particularly notable in this regard are his refinements and
applications of utilitarian and Marxist conceptions, and in some of his
earlier essays, interesting use is made of once-fashionable “ordinary
language” methods.

The volume has a short preface that does not go far in integrating the
sundry topics that Braybrooke addresses, and there are even shorter
introductions to the three parts to which the essays are assigned. The
author did not avail himself of valuable opportunities to provide a
systematic overview of his work, trace and explain the development of
his thought, and refine earlier positions. Given the range of subjects
Braybrooke discusses here, those who are not already familiar with his
work are better off consulting his earlier, more structured books,
especially Three Tests for Democracy and Meeting Needs.


Braybrooke, David., “Moral Objectives, Rules, and the Forms of Social Change,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 24, 2024,