Practical Reasoning and Normative Relevance: A Reply to Ridge and McKeever

The central concern of McKeever & Ridge’s paper is with whether or not the moral particularist can formulate a defensible distinction between default and non-default reasons. [McKeever & Ridge 2004] But that issue is only of concern to the particularist, they argue, because it allows him or her to avoid a deeper problem, an unacceptable “flattening of the normative landscape”. The particularist ought, McKeever & Ridge claim, to view this corollary of his or her position as a serious embarrassment. Unpacking the metaphor somewhat, the putative problem is that certain moral reasons seem, at their face value, directly to exhibit their relevance to moral decision and others, equally clearly, do not. Examples of the former class are, for example, the fact that an action 2 would inflict pain seems directly to indicate that this is a reason against carrying out the action. McKeever & Ridge cite as an example of an implausible candidate for direct moral relevance the fact that a person’s shoelace is a certain colour. [Little 2000, p. 291] They explain direct relevance as dependent on the content of a moral reason. It is the triviality of the content of this reason, namely, the fact that the colour of a person’s shoelaces is a certain way that makes it seem utterly implausible as a moral reason. McKeever & Ridge further argue that, “there surely is an important difference between considerations of shoelace colour and considerations of pain, pleasure, promising and the like.” [McKeever & Ridge 2004 p.2] They approvingly cite Lance & Little’s observation that an aspect of moral wisdom is that a morally wise person understands “that there is a deep difference in moral status between infliction of pain and shoelace colour”. [Lance & Little, forthcoming].
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