Moral Necessity and the Personal

Croatian Journal of Philosophy 4 (1):123-138 (2004)
Abstract
I claim that the dominant moral-realist understanding of action and moral responsibility cannot provide a comprehensive account of morality since it neglects the irreducibly personal component of the individual’s moral experience. This is not to embrace non-cognitivism, however; indeed, I challenge the whole realist framework of most contemporary moral philosophy. To this end I explore the phenomenon of moral necessity, exemplified by Luther’s declaration that he “has to” continue his protests against the church. I am careful to distinguish this kind of necessity from physical or psychological necessity, from means-end necessity and from the Categorical Imperative, and I suggest that it is far more widespread and far more complex than the realist or non-cognitivist would allow. Thesedeclarations are personal in that they do not entail any necessary universalisability of the judgement; however, their personal nature does not mean that they must collapse into the merely personal realm of whim and preference. Instead, Luther can be said to experience a legitimately objective demand that he behave thus and so, even though others would not experience such a demand in a relevantly similar situation. This irreducible heterogeneity of the moral, I suggest, lies at the heart of the intractability of many moral arguments. My argument can be derived as broadly Wittgensteinian (without being exegetical), and draws on the work of Peter Winch and Bernard Williams
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