Jonathan Glover

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Jonathan Glover (born 1941) is a British philosopher known for his studies on ethics. He currently teaches ethics at King's College London. Glover is a fellow of the Hastings Center, an independent bioethics research institution in the United States.


Glover was educated at Tonbridge School, later going on to Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He was a fellow and tutor in philosophy at New College, Oxford.


Glover's book Causing Death and Saving Lives, first published in 1977, addresses practical moral questions about life and death decisions in the areas of abortion, infanticide, suicide, euthanasia, choices between people, capital punishment, and war. His approach is broadly consequentialist, though he gives significant weight to questions of individual autonomy, the Kantian notion that we ought to treat other people as ends in themselves rather than merely as means. He criticises the idea that mere consciousness or life itself are intrinsically valuable: these states matter, he argues, because they are pre-requisites for other things that are valuable and make for a life worth living. There is, then, no absolute sanctity of human life.[1] He criticises the principle of double effect[2] and the acts and omissions doctrine,[3] the notion that there is a huge moral difference between killing someone and intentionally letting them die. In his discussion of real cases of moral decisions about killing he draws on insights from history and literature as well as philosophy. Throughout, the emphasis is on the consequences of moral choices for those affected, rather than on abstract principles applied impersonally.

In Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century, published in 1999, Glover considers the psychological factors that predispose us to commit barbaric acts, and suggests how man-made moral traditions and the cultivation of moral imagination can work to restrain us from a ruthlessly selfish treatment of others. Gaining greater understanding of the monsters within us, he argues, is part of the process of caging and containing them.[4] He examines the various types of atrocity that were perpetrated in the 20th century, including Nazi genocide, communist mass killings under Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot, and more recent slaughter in Bosnia and Rwanda, and examines what sort of bulwarks there could be against them. He allows that religion has provided bulwarks, which are getting eroded. He identifies three types of bulwark. The two more dependable are sympathy and respect for human dignity. The less dependable third is Moral Identity: "I belong to a kind of person who would not do that sort of thing". This third is less dependable because notions of moral identity can themselves be warped, as was done by the Nazis.[5]

In The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Sam Harris quotes Glover as saying: "Our entanglements with people close to us erode simple self-interest. Husbands, wives, lovers, parents, children and friends all blur the boundaries of selfish concern. Francis Bacon rightly said that people with children have given hostages to fortune. Inescapably, other forms of friendship and love hold us hostage too...Narrow self-interest is destabilized."[6]

In 1989, the European Commission hired Glover to head a panel on embryo research in Europe.[7]



Chapters in books[edit]

  • Glover, Jonathan (2009), "Identity, violence and the power of illusion", in Kanbur, Ravi; Basu, Kaushik, Arguments for a better world: essays in honor of Amartya Sen | Volume II: Society, institutions and development, Oxford New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 452–469, ISBN 9780199239979. 


  1. ^ Glover, Jonathan (1977). Causing Death and Saving Lives. Penguin. pp. 39–59. ISBN 0-14-013479-4. 
  2. ^ Glover, Jonathan (1977). Causing Death and Saving Lives. Penguin. pp. 86–91. ISBN 0-14-013479-4. 
  3. ^ Glover, Jonathan (1977). Causing Death and Saving Lives. Penguin. pp. 92–112. ISBN 0-14-013479-4. 
  4. ^ Glover, Jonathan (2001). Humanity. Pimlico. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-7126-6541-4. 
  5. ^ David Cesarani (9 October 1999). "BOOK REVIEW: THE EVILS OF BANALITY; HUMANITY: A MORAL HISTORY OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY BY JONATHAN GLOVER JONATHAN CAPE, POUNDS 18.99, 476PP". The Independent. Retrieved 21 February 2010. Nor is it easy to see the moral slippage that ended in genocide beginning with the much-maligned figure of Nietzsche. Glover blames him for liberating Nazi Germans from the constraints of "Judeo-Christian morality" but, in earlier times, the Bible hardly inhibited the practitioners of slavery or European imperialism from inflicting massive human suffering wherever they went. And what has Nietzsche got to do with the Armenian genocide? 
  6. ^ Sam Harris (August 11, 2004). The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. W. W. Norton. p. 186. ISBN 0-7432-6809-1. 
  7. ^ Ellis Downes (26 February 1989). "Europeans to explore new frontiers; Embryo research". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 21 February 2010. The Brussels authorities commissioned Dr Jonathan Glover, the Oxford philosopher, and a panel of specialists to establish some common ground after a community-wide meeting in Mainz, West Germany, last autumn, failed to agree on any ground rules. 

Further reading[edit]

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