Side constraints and the structure of commonsense ethics

Philosophical Perspectives 23 (1):305-319 (2009)
Abstract
In our everyday moral deliberations, we attend to two central types of considerations – outcomes and moral rules. How these considerations interrelate is central to the long-standing debate between deontologists and utilitarians. Is the weight we attach to moral rules reducible to their conduciveness to good outcomes (as many utilitarians claim)? Or do we take moral rules to be absolute constraints on action that normatively trump outcomes (as many deontologists claim)? Arguments over these issues characteristically appeal to commonsense intuitions about various cases. As a result, an important portion of the debate involves empirically tractable questions — questions that can be investigated by probing for people’s judgments in cases in which the two types of considerations come into conflict with one another.
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