Norman, Richard (J.)

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NORMAN, Richard (J.)




Office—School of European Culture and Languages, University of Kent, Cornwallis Building, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NF, England. E-mail—[email protected]


Philosopher, educator, and author. University of Kent, Canterbury, England, professor of philosophy. Member of Unit for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (UELT), University of Kent.


Reasons for Actions: A Critique of Utilitarian Rationality, Barnes & Noble (New York, NY), 1971.

Hegel's Phenomenology: A Philosophical Introduction, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1976.

(With Sean Sayers) Hegel, Marx, and Dialectic: A Debate, Humanities Press (Atlantic Highlands, NJ), 1980.

The Moral Philosophers: An Introduction to Ethics, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1983, second edition, 1998.

Free and Equal: A Philosophical Examination of Political Values, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1987.

Studies in Equality, Avebury (Brookfield, VT), 1995.

Ethics, Killing, and War, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1995.

(Editor) Ethics and the Market, Ashgate (Burlington, VT), 1999.

(Editor, with Alexander Moseley) Human Rights and Military Intervention, Ashgate (Burlington, VT), 2002.

On Humanism, Routledge (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor to periodicals such as Radical Philosophy, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Journal of Applied Philosophy, Journal of Philosophy of Education, Philosophical Investigations, and Philosophy. Also contributor to volumes such as Idealism—Past and Present, The Royal Institute of Philosophy Lectures for 1978-79, edited by G. Vesey, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1982; Liberalism, Citizenship, and Autonomy, edited by David Milligan and William Watts-Miller, Avebury (Aldershot, England), 1992; and Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics, volume 3, edited by Ruth Chadwick, Academic Press (San Diego, CA), 1998.


British professor of philosophy Richard Norman has published a number of books about morality as well as studies on different philosophers, including The Moral Philosophers: An Introduction to Ethics and Hegel, Marx, and Dialectic: A Debate. In the introduction for The Moral Philosophers, Norman labels himself a Hegelian, or follower of the philosophical thought of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), whose works include Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1817). Norman examines one of Hegel's main theses in Hegel's Phenomenology: A Philosophical Introduction. Among Norman's other works are Free and Equal: A Philosophical Examination of Political Values, Studies in Equality, and Ethics, Killing, and War.

In Reasons for Actions: A Critique of Utilitarian Rationality, which is a revision of his doctoral thesis, Norman attempts to explain the basis for morality. He argues against the utilitarian approach to morality, which he believes has not only influenced but also tainted modern political philosophy. In his opinion, morality is a rational phenomenon. In the book's first chapter, Norman states that before actions and behaviors can be morally justified by a person, they must first be rationally justified. It is his belief that individuals derive their ideas about morality from the larger society of which they are a part. A contributor to the Times Literary Supplement lauded Norman's effort, calling it "an exceptionally interesting, lucid, and illuminating book." The same critic concluded that the book "is easy to read, and thoroughly enjoyable." A contributor to Choice thought its content crossed over educational discipline boundaries, stating it "could be read profitably by students in the social sciences as well as those in philosophy."

Norman wrote Hegel's Phenomenology: A Philosophical Introduction in an effort to introduce readers to Hegelian concepts such as "alienation" and "absolute freedom." Hegel espoused these concepts in his work Phenomenology of Spirit, which has confused many students of philosophy because of its complex ideas. In his book, Norman presents a philosophical review of this seminal work by breaking it down chapter by chapter, concept by concept. Some critics felt that one of the major accomplishments of the book was that it updated Hegelian language with more modern terms, that students might better understand. Referring to Norman's work as "a gem," a Choice critic concluded that it presents "a balanced assessment of Hegel's philosophical achievement." H. S. Harris, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, remarked that "within so brief a compass as his small book allows, his discussion could not be bettered. Even those who have pored over Hegel's text for a long time will derive considerable enlightenment from Mr. Norman's analysis." Harris concluded that Norman's "book is a good one, and even what I take to be its errors will be found to repay careful study."

Norman again visits Hegel's career with Hegel, Marx, and Dialectic: A Debate, in which he and collaborator Sean Sayers explore the philosophy of dialectical materialism. At the University of Kent, the two men conducted a seminar on the topic. In addition to examining the ideas of both Hegel and Marx with regard to dialectical philosophy, the authors also discuss others who have added to the debate over time, including Althusser, Sartre, and Coletti. At the time of their collaboration, both Norman and Sayers felt dialectical philosophy had largely been ignored in British academic circles, and their book was an attempt to bring it to the forefront of discussion. The book comprises five essays, each addressing the dialectic from a different perspective. Several critics praised the effort. Richard A Chapman, writing in the of British Book News called it "a good general account" that would likely "stimulate further debate." A contributor to the Review of Metaphysics referred to the co-authors as "exceptionally lucid writers and fine debaters." While finding some "shortcomings" in the work, the same critic labeled Hegel, Marx, and Dialectic "a useful and eminently readable introduction to contemporary dialectical philosophizing." A contributor for Choice, however, commented that the book was "valuable only as a period piece."

In The Moral Philosophers: An Introduction to Ethics Norman examines the numerous ideas related to morality that have been espoused through the whole of Western philosophy. In the book's first part, he discusses Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, while the second part takes on such philosophers as David Hume, Immanel Kant, and John Stuart Mill. In the third part of the book, Norman discusses Karl Marx's ideas, as well as those of Sigmund Freud. A second edition of the book, published in 1998, includes new chapters on Nietzsche and on contemporary moral philosophy.

Norman's On Humanism provides a detailed introduction to and a philosophical defense of humanism, a philosophical concept embraced by well-known figures such as Albert Einstein, Gloria Steinem, Bertrand Russell, and Isaac Asimov. Humanism, as a philosophy, focuses on human thought, ability, and life—topics of broad importance to humans—as opposed to issues related to the supernatural or divine. Norman covers a variety of areas important to humanism, including Darwinism and creationism, the relationship between humans and their environment, euthanasia, and abortion, among other topics. Norman finds that the distinctly human ability to engage in literature, art, and activities of the imagination recommends humanism as an alternative to religion and religious explanations of human existence.

Ethics, Killing, and War is a "marvelous book on life, death, and the ethics of killing," noted Conor Gearty in the New Statesman. Norman launches his work with a detailed examination of the nature of moral thinking and its unavoidable limits. Robert L. Holmes, writing in the American Political Science Review, observed that Norman argues that even though there may be "'moral tragedies' … in which whatever one does is wrong, there will nonetheless still be room for rational moral thought." Norman discusses issues related to the wrongness of killing: killing and letting die, killing in self-defense, and the killing of the innocent. Sociology contributor Richard A. Wilson noted that the wrongness of killing, as Norman sees it, "lies in the 'respect for life,' which, unlike the 'primitive response' of sympathy, recognizes the agency and consciousness of the other." Norman is particularly critical of the concept of the "just war," in which "generations of killers have claimed to have not only power but also morality on their side," Gearty remarked.

However, Norman does not espouse a completely pacifist philosophy. There are situations, he notes, in which there is no other choice but to fight, "and to do so is the lesser of the evils confronting us," Holmes observed. Wilson also noted that in such a moral tragedy, "to kill is an abomination and can only be accompanied by remorse, yet not to kill in defense of an 'authentic' political community may, for instance, imply acquiescence in genocide." In the book's final chapter, Norman does write that nation states should have the right to defense, but should never use it as a reason to retaliate. "This is a provocative but not easy study in moral philosophy that raises many important questions," Choice critic G. D. Homan concluded.



American Political Science Review, June, 1996, Robert L. Holmes, review of Ethics, Killing, and War, p. 412.

British Book News, November, 1980, review of Hegel, Marx, and Dialectic: A Debate, pp. 652-653.

Choice, April, 1972, review of Reasons for Actions: A Critique of Utilitarian Rationality, pp. 223-224; July-August, 1977, review of Hegel's Phenomenology: A Philosophical Introduction, p. 696; November, 1980, review of Hegel, Marx, and Dialectic, p. 412; July-August, 1995, G. D. Homan, review of Ethics, Killing, and War, p. 1742.

Ethics, January, 1986, review of The Moral Philosophers: An Introduction to Ethics, p. 435.

New Statesman, May 19, 1995, Conor Gearty, review of Ethics, Killing, and War, p. 36.

Review of Metaphysics, June, 1982, review of Hegel, Marx, and Dialectic, pp. 892-893.

Sociology, February, 1996, Richard A. Wilson, review of Ethics, Killing, and War, p. 188.

Times Literary Supplement, September 24, 1971, review of Reasons for Actions: A Critique of Utilitarian Rationality, p. 1155; August 5, 1977, H. S. Harris, review of Hegel's Phenomenology, p. 967; June 25, 1999, Garrett Cullity, review of The Moral Philosophers, p. 9.


University of Kent Web site, (July 20, 2004), "Richard Norman."

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Norman, Richard (J.)

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