Moral Rules as Public Goods

Business Ethics Quarterly 9 (1):103-126 (1999)
Abstract
The kind of commitment to moral rules that characterizes effective interaction between persons in, among others places,manufacturing and commercial settings is characteristically treated by economists and game theorists as a public good, the securing ofwhich requires the expenditure of scarce resources on surveillance and enforcement mechanisms. Alternatively put, the view is that,characteristically, rational persons cannot voluntarily guide their choices by rules, but can only be goaded into acting in accordancewith such rules by the fear of social and formal sanctions. On this way of thinking, rational individuals are condemned to having to settlefor the "second-best" results that are thereby implied. This conclusion rests not only on an appeal to a consequentialist perspective, butalso a separability principle. Against this, it is argued that consequentialism itself offers a basis for the rejection of the separability principle, and a defense of the thesis that, for a wide range of realistic cases, being disposed to voluntarily guide one's choice by rules (on the condition that others can be expected to do so as well) is a necessary condition of engaging in rational interaction
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