Foot , Hursthouse , and Thompson , along with other philosophers, have argued for a metaethical position, the natural goodness approach, that claims moral judgments are, or are on a par with, teleological claims made in the biological sciences. Specifically, an organism’s flourishing is characterized by how well they function as specified by the species to which they belong. In this essay, I first sketch the Neo-Aristotelian natural goodness approach. Second, I argue that critics who claim that this sort of (...) approach is inconsistent with evolutionary biology due to its species essentialism are incorrect. Third, I contend that combining the natural goodness account of natural-historical judgments with our best account of natural normativity, the selected effects theory of function, leads to implausible moral judgments. This is so if selected effects function are understood in terms of evolution by natural selection, but also if they are characterized in terms of cultural evolution. Thus, I conclude that proponents of the natural goodness approach must either embrace non-naturalistic vitalism or troubling moral revisionism. (shrink)
In his recent book, The Dimensions of Consequentialism, Martin Peterson puts forward a new version of consequentialism that he dubs ‘multidimensional consequentialism’. The defining thesis of the new theory is that there are irreducible moral aspects that jointly determine the deontic status of an act. In defending his particular version of multidimensional consequentialism, Peterson advocates the thesis—he calls it DEGREE—that if two or more moral aspects clash, the act under consideration is right to some non-extreme degree. This goes against the (...) orthodoxy according to which—Peterson calls this RESOLUTION—each act is always either entirely right or entirely wrong. The argument against RESOLUTION appeals to the existence of so-called deontic leaps: the idea is that endorsing RESOLUTION would not give each relevant moral aspect its due in the final analysis. Our paper argues that, contrary to Peterson, all moral aspects remain visible in what can properly be called the final analysis of a moral theory that involves RESOLUTION, moral aspects do not have to remain visible in judgements of all-things-considered rightness or wrongness, respectively, introduction of what Peterson calls verdictive reasons does not change the overall picture in favour of DEGREE. We conclude that multi-dimensional consequentialists should accept RESOLUTION rather than DEGREE. (shrink)
It is common for philosophers to reject otherwise plausible moral theories on the ground that they are objectionably demanding, and to endorse “Moderate” alternatives. I argue that while support can be found within the method of reflective equilibrium for Moderate moral principles of the kind that are often advocated, it is much more difficult than Moderates have supposed to provide support for the view that morality’s demands in circumstances like ours are also Moderate. Once we draw a clear distinction between (...) Moderate accounts of the content of moral principles, and Moderate accounts of morality’s demands in circumstances like ours, we can see that defenses of Moderate views that include both of these components are subject to both methodological and substantive objections. I consider arguments for Moderate views that have been made by Samuel Scheffler and Richard Miller, and argue that both are methodologically problematic because they rely on appeals to intuitions that we have strong grounds to think are unreliable. I conclude that we must take seriously the possibility that Moderate principles, applied to well off people in circumstances like ours, imply demands that are much more extensive than Moderates typically accept. (shrink)
When it comes to caring about and helping those in need, our imaginations tend to be weak and our motivation tends to be parochial. This is a major moral problem in view of how much unmet need there is in the world and how much material capacity there is to address that need. With this problem in mind, the present paper will focus on genetic means to the enhancement of a moral capacity—a disposition to altruism—and of a cognitive capacity that (...) facilitates use of the moral capacity: the ability to grasp vividly the needs of individuals who are unknown and not present. I will address two questions, with more extensive attention to the first question. First, assuming we had excellent reason to believe that the enhancements were safe, effective, and available to all who desired them, would seeking these enhancements be inherently morally acceptable—that is, free of inherent wrongness? Second, would it be wise for a society to pursue these enhancements? I will defend an affirmative answer to the first question while leaving the second question open. (shrink)
A classic objection to act-consequentialism is that it is overdemanding: it requires agents to bear too many costs for the sake of promoting the impersonal good. I develop the complementary objection that act-consequentialism is underdemanding: it fails to acknowledge that agents have moral reasons to bear certain costs themselves, even when it would be impersonally better for others to bear these costs.
According to the view we may term “strong cognitivism”, all reasons for action are rooted in normative features that the motivated subject takes objects to have independently of her attitudes towards these objects. The main concern of this paper is to argue against strong cognitivism, that is, to establish the view that conative attitudes do provide subjects with reasons for action. The central argument to this effect is a top-down argument: it proceeds by an analysis of the complex phenomenon of (...) love and derives a conclusion regarding the nature of more basic mental phenomena—particular desires. More specifically, its starting point is the crude intuition that the significance conferred by love upon its objects is of a distinctively personal kind—an intuition that is expressed by the apparent non-substitutability of two similar subjects only one of whom is loved with respect to their importance for the lover. I argue that the initial notion of non-substitutability can be refined and modified so as to form a real challenge to all versions of strong cognitivism and to establish the existence of attitude-dependent reasons. (shrink)
The independence of irrelevant alternatives is a popular and important axiom of decision theory. It states, roughly, that one’s choice from a set of options should not be influenced by the addition or removal of further, unchosen options. In recent debates, a number of authors have given putative counterexamples to it, involving intuitively rational agents who violate IIA. Generally speaking, however, these counterexamples do not tend to move IIA’s proponents. Their strategy tends to be to individuate the options that the (...) agent faces differently, so that the case no longer counts as a violation of IIA. In this paper, we examine whether this strategy succeeds. We argue that the ways of individuating options required to save IIA from the most problematic counterexamples—in particular, cases where agents violate IIA due to nonconsequentialist moral beliefs—do so only at the expense of severely compromising its central function within decision theory. (shrink)
In replying to certain objections to the existence of God, Robert Adams, Bruce Langtry, and Peter van Inwagen assume that God can appropriately choose a suboptimal world, a world less good than some other world God could have chosen. A number of philosophers, such as Michael Slote and Klaas Kraay, claim that these theistic replies are therefore committed to the claim that satisficing can be appropriate. Kraay argues that this commitment is a significant liability. I argue, however, that the relevant (...) defenses of theism are committed to the appropriateness of, not satisficing, but motivated submaximization. When one submaximizes with motivation, one aims at the optimum but accepts the good enough because of a countervailing consideration. When one satisfices, one aims at the good enough and chooses the good enough because it realizes her aim at the good enough. While commitment to the appropriateness of satisficing may be a significant liability, commitment to the appropriateness of motivated submaximization is not. (shrink)
This paper explores the relationship between a person's claim right not to be harmed and the duties this claim confers on others. I argue that we should reject Jonathan Quong's evidence-based account of this relationship, which holds that an agent A's possession of a claim against B is partly determined by whether it would be reasonable for A to demand B's compliance with a correlative duty. When B's evidence is that demanding compliance would not be reasonable, A cannot have a (...) claim against B. I suggest that some of the putatively problematic cases that Quong identifies can be resolved by plausibly narrowing the scope of the right not to be harmed. I also argue that Quong's view leads to implausible conclusions, and that his account of what happens to A's claim in the face of lesser-evil justifications is inconsistent with his broader view. I then defend the view that agents are required, and not merely permitted, to act on lesser-evil justifications. I further argue that A may not defend herself against the infliction of harms that are justified on lesser-evil grounds. However, she may defend herself in cases where B is only evidentially, and not objectively, justified in harming her. (shrink)
This paper reconstructs an Indian Buddhist response to the overdemandingness objection, the claim that a moral theory asks too much of its adherents. In the first section, I explain the objection and argue that some Mahāyāna Buddhists, including Śāntideva, face it. In the second section, I survey some possible ways of responding to the objection as a way of situating the Buddhist response alongside contemporary work. In the final section, I draw upon writing by Vasubandhu and Śāntideva in reconstructing a (...) Mahāyāna response to the objection. An essential component of this response is the psychological transformation that the bodhisattva achieves as a result of realizing the nonexistence of the self. This allows him to radically identify his well-being with the well-being of others, thereby lessening the tension between self and others upon which the overdemandingness objection usually depends. Emphasizing the attention Mahāyāna authors pay to lessening moral demandingness in this way increases our appreciation of the philosophical sophistication of their moral thought and highlights an important strategy for responding to the overdemandingness objection that has been underdeveloped in contemporary work. (shrink)
The Authority Account provides a new explanation why commonsense morality contains prudential options—options that permit agents to perform actions that promote their own wellbeing more than the action they have most reason to do, from the moral point of view. At the core of that explanation are two claims. The first is that moral requirements are traditionally widely taken to have an authoritative status; that is, to be rules that morality imposes by right. The second is that in order for (...) moral requirements to have such a status, morality must contain prudential options. If both of these claims are true, then they will create a pressure to think of morality as containing prudential options. And according to the Authority Account, the fact that commonsense morality contains such options is the result of this pressure. (shrink)
Whereas most moral philosophers believe that the facts as to what we’re morally required to do are grounded by the facts about our moral reasons, which in turn are grounded by non-normative facts, I propose that moral requirements are directly grounded by non-normative facts. This isn’t, however, to say that there is no place in the picture for moral reasons. Moral reasons exist, and they’re grounded by moral requirements. Arguing for this picture of the moral sphere requires playing both offense (...) and defense; this article provides the defense. I defend this view against the objections that it must deny that one is generally blameworthy for having violated a moral requirement, that it implies the existence of genuine moral dilemmas, that it runs counter to an obviously true view of how moral deliberation should work, and that it cannot explain why it feels as though figuring about what one is morally required to do often takes the form of thinking about what one’s moral reasons are. (shrink)
We discuss the demandingness of Kant’s ethics. Whilst previous discussions of this issue focused on imperfect duties, our first aim is to show that Kantian demandingness is especially salient in the class of perfect duties. Our second aim is to introduce a fine-grained picture of demandingness by distinguishing between different possible components of a moral theory which can lead to demandingness: a required process of decision making, overridingness and the stringent content of demands, due to a standpoint of moral purity. (...) This distinction allows a specification of the sources of demandingness in Kant. The most characteristically Kantian form of demandingness springs from overridingness and purity and comes as a constant threat that an agent might find herself in a situation in which, due to no fault of her own, she is required to sacrifice everything for little to no non-moral goods. Our third aim is to discuss whether Kant has the resources to reply to those who criticize his ethics based on its demandingness. For this purpose we discuss Kant’s notion of “rationalizing” in the context of various types of current conceptions of demandingness and calls for moderate ethical theories. (shrink)
“Myth theorists” have recently called the normative requirement of means-end rationality into question. I show that we can accept certain lessons from the Myth Theorists and also salvage our intuition that there is a normative requirement of means-end rationality. I argue that any appeal to a requirement to make our attitudes coherent as such is superfluous and unnecessary in order to vindicate the requirement of means-end rationality and also avoid the problematic conclusion that persons ought to take the means to (...) whatever ends they happen to intend. (shrink)
According to the principle that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’, it is never the case that you ought to do something you cannot do. While many accept this principle in some form, it also has its share of critics, and thus it seems desirable if an argument can be offered in its support. The aim of this paper is to examine a particular way in which the principle has been defended, namely, by appeal to considerations of fairness. In a nutshell, the idea (...) (due to David Copp) is that moral requirements we cannot comply with would be unfair, and there cannot be unfair moral requirements. I discuss several ways of spelling out the argument, and argue that all are unsatisfactory for a variety of reasons. (shrink)
This paper defends the claim that private associations might be legitimately constrained by a requirement of reasonableness. I present a list of goods that freedom of association protect, and argue that the limits to associational freedom have to be sensitive to the nature of these goods. In defending this claim, I cast doubt on two popular liberal arguments: One is that attitudes cultivated in the private sphere are not likely to spill over into the public arena. The other is that (...) governmental intervention into the inner life of private associations will jeopardise attaining some associational goods. I challenge these assertions in two ways: First, I argue that the value of associations cannot be measured only in terms of the effects it has on their members. We should also pay attention to the long-term effects on society. Second, I argue that imposing some constraints on the sorts of activities associations might pursue does not necessarily threaten any associational good. These challenges are backed up by research coming from social psychology that suggests that an important part of human behaviour is automatic. I focus on the automaticity of social stereotypes and their causal effectiveness in producing behaviour. The upshot of the argument is that spillover effects are likely to happen. I argue that this is problematic for liberalism because citizens have an interest in exercising a sense of justice. The fact that racist or sexist attitudes cultivated in private spills over the public sphere provides weighty reasons to intervene in those associations. (shrink)
The doctrine of double effect, together with other moral principles that appeal to the intentions of moral agents, has come under attack from many directions in recent years, as have a variety of rationales that have been given in favor of it. In this paper, our aim is to develop, defend, and provide a new theoretical rationale for a secular version of the doctrine. Following Quinn (1989), we distinguish between Harmful Direct Agency and Harmful Indirect Agency. We propose the following (...) version of the doctrine: that in cases in which harm must come to some in order to achieve a good (and is the least costly of possible harms necessary), the agent foresees the harm, and all other things are equal, a stronger case is needed to justify Harmful Direct Agency than to justify Harmful Indirect Agency. We distinguish between two Kantian rationales that might be given for the doctrine, a “dependent right” rationale, defended by Quinn, and an “independent right” rationale, which we defend. We argue that the doctrine and the “independent right” rationale for it are not vulnerable to counterexamples or counterproposals, and conclude by drawing implications for the larger debate over whether agents' intentions are in any way relevant to permissibility and obligation. (shrink)
A number of moral philosophers have endorsed instances of the following curious argument: it would be better if a certain moral theory were true; therefore, we have reason to believe that the theory is true. In other words, the mere truth of the theory—quite apart from the results of our believing it or acting in accord with it—would make for a better world than the truth of its rivals, and this fact provides evidence of the theory’s truth. This form of (...) argument may seem to be an obvious non-starter. After all, the fact that the truth of some empirical claim, say, the claim that there is an afterlife, would be desirable does not, by itself, give us any reason to believe it. But I argue that, when it is properly understood, this form of argument—which I call the better world argument—is valid in moral philosophy. I develop and defend a version of the argument that rests on the view that the correct moral theory cannot exhibit a certain form of self-defeat—a form that, as far as I know, has not been discussed in the literature. I also identify two promising applications of this form of argument. The first is a defense of permissions to promote one’s own private aims, rather than promote the greater good, and the second, an argument against the possibility of moral dilemmas. (shrink)
Most philosophers who advance an ethics of care do not claim that their theories are meant to account for all of morality, or that they can, or should, replace the traditional Western philosophical approaches to moral theory. However, one care ethicist, Michael Slote, holds that his theory can be used to understand all of individual and political morality. Moreover, while Kantianism, utilitarianism, and both ancient and contemporary Aristotelian ethics are all uncomfortable with supererogation and are typically committed to assumptions that (...) rule out the possibility of someone acting beyond the call of duty, Slote claims that the way in which his theory accommodates supererogation constitutes a real advantage over other approaches to ethics. My aim in this paper is to cast doubt on the truth of this claim by showing that Slote’s theory has considerable difficulty accommodating supererogation. (shrink)
Discrimination is a central moral and legal concept. However, it is also a contested one. Particularly, accounts of the wrongness of discrimination often rely on controversial and particular assumptions. In this paper, I argue that a theory of discrimination that relies on premises that are very general and widely accepted provides a plausible account of the concept of wrongful discrimination. According to the combined theory, wrongful discrimination consists of allocating a benefit that is not supported by a morally significant fact, (...) or in a way that involves distributive injustice, or both. (shrink)
Dogged resistance to demanding moral views frequently takes the form of The Demandingness Objection. Premise (1): Moral view V demands too much of us. Premise (2): If a moral view demands too much of us, then it is mistaken. Conclusion: Therefore, moral view V is mistaken. Objections of this form harass major theories in normative ethics as well as prominent moral views in applied ethics and political philosophy. The present paper does the following: (i) it clarifies and distinguishes between various (...) demandingness objections in the philosophical literature, (ii) identifies a formidable and interesting form of the demandingness objection that targets a wide scope of moral views, and (iii) defuses this objection by developing a local skeptical argument from unreliability the form of which may, interestingly, be effectively deployed in other areas of philosophy. (shrink)
According to the “Textbook View,” there is an extensional dispute between consequentialists and deontologists, in virtue of the fact that only the latter defend “agent-relative” principles—principles that require an agent to have a special concern with making sure that she does not perform certain types of action. I argue that, contra the Textbook View, there are agent-neutral versions of deontology. I also argue that there need be no extensional disagreement between the deontologist and consequentialist, as characterized by the Textbook View.
Rule consequentialism (RC) is the view that it is right for A to do F in C if and only if A's doing F in C is in accordance with the the set of rules which, if accepted by all, would have consequences which are better than any alternative set of rules (i.e., the ideal code). I defend RC from two related objections. The first objection claims that RC requires obedience to the ideal code even if doing so has disastrous (...) results. Though some rule consequentialists embrace a disaster-clause which permits agents to disregard some of the rules in the ideal code as a necessary means of avoiding disasters, they have not adequately explained how this clause works. I offer such an explanation and show how it fits naturally with the rest of RC. The second disaster objection asserts that even if RC can legitimately invoke a disaster-clause, it lacks principled grounds from distinguishing disasters from non-disasters. In response, I explore Hooker's suggestion that “disaster” is vague. I contend that every plausible ethical theory must invoke something similar to a disaster clause. So if “disaster” is vague, then every plausible ethical theory faces a difficulty with it. As a result, this vagueness is not a reason to prefer other theories to RC. However, I argue, contra Hooker, that the sense of “disaster” relevant to RC is not vague, and RC does indeed have principled grounds to distinguish disasters from nondisasters. (shrink)
Scalar utilitarianism, a form of utilitarianism advocated by Alastair Norcross, retains utilitarianism's evaluative commitments while dispensing with utilitarianism's deontic commitments, or its commitment to the existence or significance of moral duties, obligations and requirements. This article disputes the effectiveness of the arguments that have been used to defend scalar utilitarianism. It is contended that Norcross's central does not succeed, and it is suggested, more positively, that utilitarians cannot easily distance themselves from deontic assessment, just as long as scalar utilitarians admit (...) that utilitarian evaluation generates normative reasons for action. (shrink)
Despite the fact that most of us value integrity, and despite the fact that we readily understand one another when we talk and argue about it, integrity remains elusive to understand. Considerable scholarly attention has left troubling disagreement on fundamental issues: Is integrity in fact a virtue? If it is, what is it a virtue of? Why exactly should we value integrity? What is the appropriate way to have concern for one’s own integrity? Is having integrity compatible with having significant (...) moral flaws? After an overview of common ‘data points’ or platitudes concerning integrity, this article outlines six distinct views of integrity that have been defended and draws attention to problems each has accommodating these data points. (shrink)
The idea that impartial moral theories – consequentialism and Kantian ethics in particular – were objectionably hostile to a person’s integrity was famously championed by Bernard Williams nearly 40 years ago. That Williams’‘integrity objection’ has significantly shaped subsequent moral theorizing is widely acknowledged. It is less widely appreciated how this objection has helped shape recent thinking about the nature and value of integrity itself. This paper offers a critical survey of main lines of response to this objection.
This paper examines accounts of the moral wrongness of killing persons in addition to determining what conclusions, if any, can be drawn from the morality of killing persons about the equality of persons, and vice versa. I will argue that a plausible way of thinking about the moral wrongness of killing implies that the permissibility of killing innocent, nonthreatening persons depends on a person’s age. I address objections to this conclusion and discuss some potential implications of the view.
The article begins with a review of the structural differences between act consequentialist theories and human rights theories, as illustrated by Amartya Sen's paradox of the Paretian liberal and Robert Nozick's utilitarianism of rights. It discusses attempts to resolve those structural differences by moving to a second-order or indirect consequentialism, illustrated by J.S. Mill and Derek Parfit. It presents consequentialist (though not utilitarian) interpretations of the contractualist theories of Jürgen Habermas and the early John Rawls (Theory of Justice) and of (...) the capability theories of Sen and Martha Nussbaum. It also discusses two roles that well-being or a surrogate for well-being typically plays in theories of human rights: (a) well-being plays a role in the justification of at least some exceptions to human rights principles; and (b) some human rights seem to be best understood as rights to some level of well-being or expected well-being (or of a surrogate for one of them). It reviews two consequentialist challenges to the moral adequacy of non-consequentialist accounts of human rights, one based on a duty to relieve suffering and the other generated by Parfit's Non-Identity Problem, and concludes with a contrast between two ways of looking at the history of the development and implementation of human rights conventions and laws. Video abstract (click to view). (shrink)
I defend the Doctrine of Doing and Allowing: the claim that doing harm is harder to justify than merely allowing harm. A thing does not genuinely belong to a person unless he has special authority over it. The Doctrine of Doing and Allowing protects us against harmful imposition – against the actions or needs of another intruding on what is ours. This protection is necessary for something to genuinely belong to a person. The opponent of the Doctrine must claim that (...) nothing genuinely belongs to a person, even his own body. (shrink)
A common intuition is that there is a moral difference between ‘making people happy’ and ‘making happy people.’ This intuition, often referred to as ‘the Asymmetry,’ has, however, been criticized on the grounds that it is incoherent. Why is there, for instance, not a corresponding difference between ‘making people unhappy’ and ‘making unhappy people’? I argue that the intuition faces several difficulties but that these can be met by introducing a certain kind of reason that is favouring but non-requiring. It (...) is argued that there are structural similarities between the asymmetry and moral options and that the asymmetry can be defended as an instance of a moral option. (shrink)
This paper argues that the prominent accounts of logical knowledge have the consequence that they conflict with ordinary reasoning. On these accounts knowing a logical principle, for instance, is having a disposition to infer according to it. These accounts in particular conflict with so-called ‘reasoned change in view’, where someone does not infer according to a logical principle but revise their views instead. The paper also outlines a propositional account of logical knowledge which does not conflict with ordinary reasoning.
I argue for the existence of a ‘ratcheting-up effect’: the behavior of moral saints serves to increase the level of moral obligation the rest of us face. What we are morally obligated to do is constrained by what it would be reasonable for us to believe we are morally obligated to do. Moral saints provide us with a special kind of evidence that bears on what we can reasonably believe about our obligations. They do this by modeling the level of (...) sacrifice a person can realistically bear. Exposure to moral saints thus ‘ratchets-up’ our obligations by combating a type of ignorance that would otherwise defeat those obligations. (shrink)
Requirement‐sensitive legal moralism is a species of legal moralism in which the legitimacy of turning moral into legal demands depends on the existence of a legitimate moral requirement, producing a legitimate social requirement, which can then ground a legitimate legal requirement. Crucially, each step is defeasible by contingent or instrumental, but not intrinsic moral factors. There is no genuinely moral sphere in which the law is not to interfere; only contingent, non‐moral factors can defeat this. Using William A. Edmundson's Three (...) Anarchical Fallacies as a foil, this idea is spelled out; it is shown why considerations based on the harm principle, consent, and the fact of pluralism do not immediately defeat it, but several problems with Edmundson's account are examined to point out where the idea could be further developed. (shrink)
How should we assess the burden of moral demands? A predominant assessment is provided by what Murphy calls the baseline of factual status-quo (FSQ): A moral theory is demanding if the level of agents’ well-being is reduced from the time they begin to comply perfectly with the theory. The aims of my paper are threefold. I will first discuss the limits of the FSQ baseline. Second, I suggest a different assessment, which examines moral demands from a whole-life perspective. My view (...) is that even if agents’ compliance with a moral theory will not cause a substantial reduction to their existing level of well-being, the total quality of life that they may obtain from complying with this theory may still be lower than what they could have obtained by following some other moral theories. The third aim of this paper is that, through this investigation, I hope to explicate the relation between agents’ acceptance of a moral theory and the burden of demands that is created by it. I believe that we can achieve a more comprehensive understanding of the nature of moral demands by paying attention to the psychological development of agents as they accept and internalize a moral theory. (shrink)
According to the Doctrine of Doing and Allowing, the distinction between doing and allowing harm is morally significant. Doing harm is harder to justify than merely allowing harm. This paper is the second of a two paper critical overview of the literature on the Doctrine of Doing and Allowing. In this paper, I consider the moral status of the distinction between doing and allowing harm. I look at objections to the doctrine such as James’ Rachels’ Wicked Uncle Case and Jonathan (...) Bennett’s argument that any acceptable analysis of the distinction leaves it implausible that the distinction is morally relevant. I consider putative defences of the Doctrine from Philippa Foot and Warren Quinn. I argue that neither Foot not Quinn provides a satisfactory justification of the Doctrine of Doing and Allowing, but that the idea of self-ownership discussed by Quinn can be developed to provide a justification of the doctrine. (shrink)
According to the Doctrine of Doing and Allowing, the distinction between doing and allowing harm is morally significant. Doing harm is harder to justify than merely allowing harm. This paper is the first of a two paper critical overview of the literature on the Doctrine of Doing and Allowing. In this paper, I consider the analysis of the distinction between doing and allowing harm. I explore some of the most prominent attempts to analyse this distinction:. Philippa Foot’s sequence account, Warren (...) Quinn’s action/ inaction account, and counterfactual test accounts put forward by Shelly Kagan and Jonathan Bennett. I also discuss Jeff McMahan’s account of the removal of barriers to harm. I argue that analysis of the distinction has often been made more difficult by two mistaken assumption: (1) the assumption that when an agent does or allows harm his behaviour makes the difference to whether or not the harm occurs (2) the assumption that the distinction between doing and allowing and the distinction between action and inaction are interchangeable. I suggest that Foot’s account is the most promising account of the doing/allowing distinction, but that it requires further development. (shrink)
Raimond Gaita's example of saintly love, in which the visit of a nun to psychiatric patients has profound effects on him, has been criticised for being an odd and unconvincing example of saintliness. I defend Gaita against four specific criticisms; firstly, that the nun achieves nothing spectacular, but merely adopts a certain attitude towards people; secondly, that Gaita must already have certain beliefs for the example to work; thirdly, that to be acclaimed a saint requires a saintly biography, not just (...) an incidence of good behaviour; and finally, that there is something oppressive about saintly behaviour. I consider that Gaita does indeed leave himself open to criticism on this last point by claiming that saints love impartially. I argue that his description of the example suggests rather that the customs and practices of partial love are at the heart of saintliness and not some form of 'life-denying' impartiality. If I am right, then this has the twofold effect of making saintliness appear achievable by ordinary mortals and explaining our feelings of wonder in the face of such saintly behaviour. (shrink)
Grounded in what Alan Wertheimer terms the nonworseness claim, it is thought by some philosophers that what will be referred to herein as better-than-permissible acts —acts that, if undertaken, would make another or others better off than they would be were an alternative but morally permissible act to be undertaken—are necessarily morally permissible. What, other than a bout of irrationality, it may be thought, would lead one to hold that an act (such as outsourcing production to a sweatshop in a (...) developing country) that produces more benefits for others than an act that is itself morally permissible (such as not doing business in the developing country at all) with respect to those same others, is not morally permissible? In this article, I argue that each of the two groups of philosophers that are most likely to accept the nonworseness claim—consequentialists and non-consequentialists—have reason to reject it, and thereby also have reason to reject the belief that better-than-permissible acts are necessarily morally permissible. (shrink)
According to the Doctrine of Doing and Allowing, it is more difficult to justify doing harm than it is to justify allowing harm. Enabling harm consists in withdrawing an obstacle that would, if left in place, prevent a pre-existing causal sequence from leading to foreseen harm. There has been a lively debate concerning the moral status of enabling harm. According to some (e.g. McMahan, Vihvelin and Tomkow), many cases of enabling harm are morally indistinguishable from doing harm. Others (e.g. Foot, (...) Hanser) support the Equivalence Hypothesis, according to which enabling harm is morally equivalent to allowing harm. Here I argue that there is every reason to embrace, and no reason to reject, the Equivalence Hypothesis. (shrink)
What are moral principles? In particular, what are moral principles of the sort that (if they exist) ground moral obligations or—at the very least—particular moral truths? I argue that we can fruitfully conceive of such principles as real, irreducibly dispositional properties of individual persons (agents and patients) that are responsible for and thereby explain the moral properties of (e.g.) agents and actions. Such moral dispositions (or moral powers) are apt to be the metaphysical grounds of moral obligations and of particular (...) truths about what is morally permissible, impermissible, etc. Moreover, they can do other things that moral principles are supposed to do: explain the phenomena “falling within their scope,” support counterfactuals, and ground moral necessities, “necessary connections” between obligating reasons and obligations. And they are apt to be the truthmakers for moral laws, or “lawlike” moral generalizations. (shrink)
One response to the demandingness objection is that it begs the question against consequentialism by assuming a moral distinction between what a theory requires and what it permits. According to the consequentialist, this distinction stands in need of defense. However, this response may also beg the question, this time at the methodological level, regarding the credibility of the intuitions underlying the objection. The success of the consequentialist's response thus turns on the role we assign to intuitions in our moral methodology. (...) After presenting the demandingness objection to consequentialism and revealing the underlying methodological stalemate, I break the stalemate by appealing to research in the cognitive neuroscience of intuitions. Given the evidence for the hypothesis that our moral intuitions are fundamentally emotional (rather than rational) responses, we should give our intuitions a modest (rather than robust) role in our moral methodology. This rescues the consequentialist's response to the demandingness objection. (shrink)