The hard problem of intertheoretic comparisons

Philosophical Studies 179 (4):1401-1427 (2022)
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Metanormativists hold that moral uncertainty can affect how we ought, in some morally authoritative sense, to act. Many metanormativists aim to generalize expected utility theory for normative uncertainty. Such accounts face the “easy problem of intertheoretic comparisons”: the worry that distinct theories’ assessments of choiceworthiness are incomparable. The easy problem may well be resolvable, but another problem looms: while some moral theories assign cardinal degrees of choiceworthiness, other theories’ choiceworthiness assignments are merely ordinal. Expected choiceworthiness over such theories is undefined. Call this the “hard problem of intertheoretic comparisons.” This paper argues that to solve the hard problem, we should model moral theories with imprecise choiceworthiness. Imprecise choiceworthiness assignments can model incomplete cardinal information about choiceworthiness, with precise cardinal choiceworthiness and merely ordinal choiceworthiness as limiting cases. Generalizing familiar decision theories for imprecise choiceworthiness to the case of moral uncertainty generates puzzles, however: natural generalizations seem to require reifying parts of the model that don’t correspond to anything in normative reality. I discuss three ways of addressing this problem: by demystifying the reified elements by using them as promiscuously as possible; by constructing alternative decision theories that don’t require the troublesome elements; and by employing an alternative model of metanormative decision problems, and of moral uncertainty generally.



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Jennifer Rose Carr
University of California, San Diego

Citations of this work

Normative Uncertainty without Theories.Jennifer Rose Carr - 2020 - Tandf: Australasian Journal of Philosophy 98 (4):747-762.

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References found in this work

Moral Uncertainty.William MacAskill, Krister Bykvist & Toby Ord - 2020 - Oxford University Press.
Moral uncertainty and its consequences.Ted Lockhart - 2000 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Normative Uncertainty.William MacAskill - 2014 - Dissertation, University of Oxford

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