Publicity in morality
David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Consider the idea that moral rules must be suitable for public acknowledgement and acceptance, i.e., that moral rules must be suitable for being ‘widely known and explicitly recognized’, suitable for teaching as part of moral education, suitable for guiding behaviour and reactions to behaviour, and thus suitable for justifying one’s behaviour to others. This idea is now most often associated with John Rawls, who traces it back through Kurt Baier to Kant. My book developing ruleconsequentialism, Ideal Code, Real World, accepted the ‘publicity requirement’ on moral rules. Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek and Peter Singer attack my moral theory on precisely this matter. Here I reply to their attack. The question under discussion is whether moral rightness is a matter of the application of principles or rules that must be suitable for public acceptance. No, answered Henry Sidgwick, holding that perhaps the principles that determine moral right and wrong should be kept secret, because publicizing these principles would not maximize utility. Since I think not-purely utilitarian forms of consequentialism may be more plausible than purely utilitarian forms, let me make the point in terms of consequentialism instead of utilitarianism. The standard form of act-consequentialism is maximizing and ‘global’, i.e., direct about everything. This act-consequentialism includes, among the acts to be evaluated by their consequences, instances of espousing principles, teaching morality, blaming, feeling indignation, feeling guilt, and punishing. On this form of act-consequentialism, an act that maximizes good consequences might be one that others should blame and even punish, since blaming and punishing the agent of the good-maximizing act might also for some reason maximize good consequences. Likewise, on this standard form of act-consequentialism, it may be right to do what it would be right neither to advocate openly nor even to recommend privately. All these ideas are entailed by the kind of act-consequentialism that evaluates, by their consequences, all ‘acts’—in a very broad sense of the term that takes in not only acts of doing or allowing but also acts of blaming, punishing, and recommending. De Lazari-Radek and Singer accept that there are strong consequentialist considerations in support of ‘board support for transparency in ethics’ and avoiding esoteric morality in most circumstances..
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