The book Great Prophets and Thinkers. The Moral Teachings from Moses to Our Times by Professor Abdusalam Guseynov was published in 1995 (“Great Moralists”) the second edition is considerably expanded.
This book can genuinely be called unique: the author describes and reconstructs the main moral teachings which have appeared through human history in different cultures and within different traditions of thought and which still coexist in contemporary societies, allowing the wide variety of personal choices open to their inhabitants. The book gives readers an opportunity to better understand the value backgrounds not only of their own lives but also those of people of other cultures.
The book is given over to the ethical teachings of the great spiritual reformers, who became the real teachers of humanity – Confucius, Buddha, Moses, Jesus Christ, Mohammed – as well as the great philosophers-moralists – Socrates, Epicurus, Kant, Nietzsche, Tolstoy, Schweitzer and Zinoviev. Each of these teachings is viewed as a substantive life program, giving its own solution to the key problem of human existence – the connection between happiness and virtue.
The book begins and finishes with theoretical essays on the nature of morality and its role in the modern world. It includes an appendix with a selection of texts of the thinkers it discusses.
The intention of the book was to look at ethics as a way of life, to analyze it in the unity of theoretical and normative conclusions with a special emphasis on the latter.
Among the main possible thinkers and ethical-normative programs, those which have been chosen for discussion are those which have found a lodgment in popular culture, have got character of a sign, have become to some extent emblematic and which have thus proved their own vitality by having become the backgrounds of different models of moral behavior. This aim determined the author’s method of concentrating on the inner logic of the teachings of each system. The method of exposition of the author was to describe and reconstruct the teaching of each moralist as if it were the author's own position, although without imposing any of them. He has managed to get into the spirit of these teachings, accepting and living through each of them.
One can find two main types of books and studies devoted to the moralists. On the one hand, these are numerous of works on the history of the ethical thought (among the recently published one can see the works of contemporary authors, some of which have become classic, as well as of the great philosophers of the past) which mainly reconstruct the theory of morality, forms of its justification, etc., but don’t pay enough attention to the normative life teachings. On the other hand, there are books devoted to descriptions of the biographies, life style and the life teachings of the most prominent figures in the history of values. In such works the main attention is paid to the normative life teachings of the prophets and thinkers. They mostly lack any ethical analysis of the foundations and contents of the teachings. And besides, they represent the way of life and life teaching of one person in its separateness while in Great Prophets and Thinkers. The Moral Teachings from Moses to Our Times they are given in such variety which reflects the value complexity and the richness of moral choice of our time.
There are some works devoted to the history of moral ideas, moral ideals, moral life But these normative ideas are usually described as the facts of the historical past but not as the ideas really functioning in the contemporary moral consciousness.
The strength of the Guseynov’s Great Prophets and Thinkers. The Moral Teachings from Moses to Our Times is that the teachings of the prophets and thinkers, teachers of life and philosophers are described, reconstructed and analyzed in the unity of their biographical and theoretical foundations, of their theoretical and normative contents and represented not as the residuum of the past but as really “working”, functioning programs of life giving the possible choice for the contemporaries.
This work about great moralists has changed the general negative connotation of the notion “moralists” to a more positive one among Russian readers. The book has been playing a serious role in the development both of the traditional academic field of the humanities, as well as in popular discussions: it has been widely quoted in both scholarly writings and in the blogs of non-academics.
It has also been included in the syllabuses of many teaching courses in Russia as one can judge by the published programs. It is likely to attract undergraduates studying Philosophy, Ethics, The History of Culture. But it can also be enjoyed just as a book for reading.
On Morality and Moralists
Etymology and history of the notions: ethics, morality, morals.
The human nature and morality
Specific character of morality
The paradoxes of morality
Morality – that is the moral individuals
Confucius: Ethics of Ritual
The place of ethics in the Confucius’s teaching
Jen : Benevolence
Czjun'-czy : the superior man
Buddha: To Overcome Yourself
The Middle way of Buddha
Four Noble Truths
Above Good and Evil.
Moses: Ten Commandments
Moses’s life and mission
The Moses’s Legislation, its meaning and main principles
Decalog as a moral codex
Justice and Mercy
Jesus Christ: Love Your Enemies
The human being and God
The Good News
“My kingdom is not of this world”
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”
“As I have loved you...”
“Love your enemies”
“But I tell you...”
Mercy and Justice
“I have overcome the world”
Muhammed: There is no God but Allah
The birth of the prophet
Fighting for Faith
The true faith
Divine decree and human freedom
Last Judgement, hell and heaven
The Five Pillars to Becoming a Practicing Muslim
The originality of the ethics of Koran
Socrates: all I know is that I know nothing
The life and the death of Socrates
The unity of eudaemonism and intellectualism
People live the way they think
Who is not virtuous, not wize
Epicurus: live unnoticeably
Happiness as tranquillity
Freedom of sufferings
Freedom of fears
Freedom of society
Immanuel Kant: Ethics of duty
Orientation toward the absolute
The autonomy of will and the realm of ends
The freedom of will
The postulates of the immortality of the soul and of the God existence
From the teaching on duty to the teaching on virtues
Some prejudices against the Kant’s ethics
Nietzsche: Beyond Good and Evil
From the critique of philosophy to the critique of morality
The reevaluation of values
The amoral morality of the Superman
Leo Tolstoy: nonresistance to evil by force
The second birth of Tolstoy
What is hidden behind the question about the meaning of life
God, freedom, the good
Five commandments of Christianity
Nonresistance as the consequence of love
Nonresistance is a law
Why are people attached to the old?
Albert Schweitzer: Reverance for Life
Originality of Schweitzer
Ethics – the foundation of culture
The lessons of the history of Ethics
The sanctity of life
Ethics and mysticism
A clear conscience is the Devil’s invention
Alexander Zinoviev: “I’m a sovereign state”
Man is the God for oneself
How to become a saint remaining sinful
Horror of commonality (living together)
To love others in order to defend from them
Live and forget
Ethics against Sociology
To be! To be a personality
Morality and Civilisation
What is it in common between the great moralists
The counterbalance for civilisation
Two historical images of morality
From The Analects
From the Dhammapada
From the Pentateuch
From the Gospel According to Matthew
From the Coran
Diogenes Laertius about Socrates (Lives of Eminent Philosophers)
Letter to Menoeceus
The Principal Doctrines
Immanuel Kant On a supposed right to lie because of filanthropic concerns
Friedrich Nietzsche Preface to “The Genealogy of Morals”
Thou shalt not kill
The Kingdom of God Is Within You
Albert Schweitzer The Origin of The Teaching of Reverence for Life and its Meaning for Our Culture
Alexander Zinoviev The confession of a cast-off. Ch. My State.