The Case for Authority

In S. Schleidgen (ed.), Should we always act morally? Essays on Overridingness. Tectum. pp. 159-189 (2012)

Attila Tanyi
University of Tromsø
The paper deals with a charge that is often made against consequentialist moral theories: that they are unacceptably demanding. This is called the Overdemandingness Objection. The paper first distinguishes three interpretations of the Objection as based on the three dimensions of moral demands: scope, content, and authority. It is then argued that neither the scope, nor the content-based understanding of the Objection is viable. Constraining the scope of consequentialism is neither helpful, nor justified, hence the pervasiveness of consequentialism cannot be the ground for the Objection. Although recent approaches interpret the Objection as a claim about the excessively demanding content of consequentialism, it is argued that the stringency of consequentialism is also unproblematic insofar as demandingness is concerned. These results show that the only way to put the Objection is by focusing on the inescapability of consequentialism. The Objection thus takes the following form: consequentialism is overdemanding because it requires us, with decisive force, to do things that we do not have decisive reason to perform. However, in the last part of the paper it is shown that defending this interpretation of the Objection is at best an open-ended and perilous enterprise. The paper concludes that the case for authority is weak: although this is the only defensible way to advocate the Objection, its successful defence depends on the truth of further substantial philosophical positions.
Keywords consequentialism  moral demands  moral reasons  common sense morality  moral rationalism  normative relativism
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