In this paper I present a new argument for prospectivism: the view that, for a consequentialist, rightness depends on what is prospectively best rather than what would actually be best. Prospective bestness depends on the agent’s epistemic position, though exactly how that works is not straightforward. I clarify various possible versions of prospectivism, which differ in how far they go in relativizing to the agent’s limitations. My argument for prospectivism is an argument for moderately objective prospectivism, according to which the (...) right thing to do is what would make sense given reasonable beliefs, reasonable probability estimates and a reasonable understanding of value. My argument is an argument for this form of prospectivism over objectivism. Arguments about prospectivism and objectivism usually use an example with the following form: an agent has a choice between options, one she knows would be acceptable, while the other could either be catastrophic or very good. Objectivists argue that the right thing to do is what would in fact be best (though the agent cannot know which option that is) while prospectivists argue that the agent’s ignorance is relevant, and the right thing to do is to compromise. The question is how we should understand the underlying argument. It is not about action guidance. Moderately objective prospectivism is not action guiding, because an actual agent may not have access to reasonable beliefs, probability estimates and so on. Another common argument is that the objective notion is the primary one. I show that there are no good grounds for this claim. My argument uses the distinction between rightness and goodness to show that a consequentialist theory, that bases rightness on goodness, should take into account how much goodness is at stake. Crucially, potential losses as well as gains are relevant. So long as goodness, rather than rightness, is in the driving seat, we should not be ‘bestness fetishists’. As the name suggest, this would be an irrational privileging of the best option. This argument does not apply to pure deontology: a pure deontology does not use the notion of goodness at all, and so there is nothing to compromise with. If the agent does not know what is right, there is nothing further to say. I end by arguing against a recent strategy that aims to show that although objectivism is true (the right option is the best one), we should sometimes do what is wrong (i.e. what is prospectively best). I argue that in so far as this is correct it is simply prospectivism with awkward terminology. (shrink)
Williams argues that impartial moral theories undermine agents’ integrity by making them responsible for allowings as well as doings. I argue that in some cases of allowings, where there is an intervening agent, the agent has been coerced, and so is not fully responsible. -/- I provide an analysis of coercion. Whether an agent is coerced depends on various things (the coercer must provide strong reasons, and the coercer must have a mens rea), and crucially, the coercee’s action is rendered (...) less than fully voluntary by the coercion. The attack on voluntariness is usually explained by limiting coercion to threats rather than offers. I argue that this approach cannot work. Instead I argue that non-voluntariness (and thus coercion) must be understood in terms of the subjective state of the victim. It is a necessary condition of coercion that the coercee actually suffers alienation from her own actions as a result of domination by the coercer. I defend this account and show that it provides an explanation for why agents who are coerced do not act in a fully voluntary way. -/- . (shrink)
I argue that motivational internalism should not be driving metaethics. I first show that many arguments for motivational internalism beg the question by resting on an illicit appeal to internalist assumptions about the nature of reasons. Then I make a distinction between weak internalism and the weakest form of internalism. Weak internalism allows that agents fail to act according to their normative judgments when they are practically irrational. I show that when we clarify the notion of practical irrationality it does (...) not support motivational internalism. Weakest internalism only claims that agents are irrational if they entirely lack motivation to do what they judge they ought to. I do not argue against weakest internalism, but I argue that it is not an important view. (shrink)
In this account of recent work on moral responsibility I shall try to disen- tangle various different sorts of question about moral responsibility. In brief, the tangle includes questions about whether we have free will, questions about whether moral responsibility is compatible with free will, and questions about what moral responsibility involves. As far as possible I will ignore the first sort of question, be as brief as possible on the second sort of question, and focus on the third question. (...) This is partly just in the interests of space—the total literature generated by the three questions together would be impossible to summarise here. (shrink)
In this account of recent work on moral responsibility I shall try to disentangle various different sorts of question about moral responsibility. In brief, the tangle includes questions about whether we have free will, questions about whether moral responsibility is compatible with free will, and questions about what moral responsibility involves. As far as possible I will ignore the first sort of question, be as brief as possible on the second sort of question, and focus on the third question.
James Lenman argues that consequentialism fails as a moral theory because it is impossible to predict the long-term consequences of our actions. I agree that it is impossible to predict the long-term consequences of actions, but argue that this does not count as a strike against consequentialism. I focus on the principle of indifference, which tells us to treat unforeseeable consequences as cancelling each other out, and hence value-neutral. I argue that though we cannot defend this principle independently, we cannot (...) do without it in practical rationality. Thus abandoning the principle of indifference would involve abandoning all of rationality, not just consequentialist reasoning. I suggest that we should understand the principle as P. F. Strawson understands inductive reasoning – as being part of rationality. Correspondence:c1 Elinor.Mason@colorado.edu. (shrink)
It seems that the debate between objective and subjective consequentialists might be resolved by appealing to the ought implies can principle. Howard-Snyder has suggested that if one does not know how to do something, cannot do it, and thus one cannot have an obligation to do it. I argue that this depends on an overly rich conception of ability, and that we need to look beyond the ought implies can principle to answer the question. Once we do so, it appears (...) that Prichard might have been at least partly right when he claimed that obligations are tryings. I go some way to defending a diluted version of Prichard's view. (shrink)
I argue against the standard view that it is possible to describe extensionally different consequentialist theories by describing different evaluative focal points. I argue that for consequentialist purposes, the important sense of the word act must include all motives and side effects, and thus these things cannot be separated.
In this paper I defend consequentialism against the objection that consequentialists are alienated from their personal relationships through having inappropriate motivational states. This objection is one interpretation of Williams' claim that consequentialists will have "one thought too many". Consequentialists should cultivate dispositions to act from their concern for others. I argue that having such a disposition is consistent with a belief in consequentialism and constitutes an appropriate attitude to personal relationships. If the consequentialist has stable beliefs that friendship is justifiable (...) in consequentialist terms, that friendship requires acting from concern for others, and furthermore if the consequentialist finds that she is concerned for others, then she will be able to form a disposition which involves acting from her concern for others without having one thought too many. (shrink)