A Defense of the Objective/subjective Moral Ought Distinction

The Journal of Ethics 21 (4):351-373 (2017)
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In this paper, I motivate and defend the distinction between an objective and a subjective moral sense of “ought.” I begin by looking at the standard way the distinction is motivated, namely by appealing to relatively simple cases where an agent does something she thinks is best, but her action has a tragic outcome. I argue that these cases fail to do the job—the intuitions they elicit can be explained without having to distinguish between different senses of “ought.” However, these cases are on the right track—I argue that more sophisticated versions of the cases provide strong motivation for the distinction. I then discuss two important problems for the distinction: the “which ‘ought’ is more important?” problem, and the “annoying profusion of ‘oughts’” problem. I argue that each of these problems can be solved in several different ways.



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Citations of this work

Being More Realistic About Reasons: On Rationality and Reasons Perspectivism.Clayton Littlejohn - 2018 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 99 (3):605-627.
Perspectives and Good Dispositions.Maria Lasonen-Aarnio - forthcoming - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.
A Bargaining-Theoretic Approach to Moral Uncertainty.Hilary Greaves & Owen Cotton-Barratt - 2023 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 21 (1-2):127-169.
Epistemic Obligations of the Laity.Boyd Millar - 2023 - Episteme 20 (2):232-246.

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References found in this work

The Nature of Normativity.Ralph Wedgwood - 2007 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
Ifs and Oughts.Niko Kolodny & John MacFarlane - 2010 - Journal of Philosophy 107 (3):115-143.
The Concept of Moral Obligation.Michael J. Zimmerman - 1996 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
The ethics of belief.Richard Feldman - 2000 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 60 (3):667-695.

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