This book is a systematic and constructive treatment of a number of traditional issues at the foundation of ethics, the possibility and nature of moral knowledge, the relationship between the moral point of view and a scientific or naturalistic world view, the nature of moral value and obligation, and the role of morality in a person's rational life plan. In striking contrast to many traditional authors and to other recent writers in the field, David Brink offers an integrated defense of (...) the objectivity of ethics. (shrink)
Brink analyzes responsibility and its relations to desert, culpability, excuse, blame, and punishment. He argues that an agent is responsible for misconduct if and only if it is not excused, and that responsibility consists in agents having suitable cognitive and volitional capacities, and a fair opportunity to exercise these capacities.
This essay explores a conception of responsibility at work in moral and criminal responsibility. Our conception draws on work in the compatibilist tradition that focuses on the choices of agents who are reasons-responsive and work in criminal jurisprudence that understands responsibility in terms of the choices of agents who have capacities for practical reason and whose situation affords them the fair opportunity to avoid wrongdoing. Our conception brings together the dimensions of normative competence and situational control, and we factor normative (...) competence into cognitive and volitional capacities, which we treat as equally important to normative competence and responsibility. Normative competence and situational control can and should be understood as expressing a common concern that blame and punishment presuppose that the agent had a fair opportunity to avoid wrongdoing. This fair opportunity is the umbrella concept in our understanding of responsibility, one that explains it distinctive architecture. (shrink)
SOME THINK THAT MORAL REALISTS CANNOT RECOGNIZE THE PRACTICAL OR ACTION-GUIDING CHARACTER OF MORALITY AND SO REJECT MORAL REALISM. THIS FORM OF ANTI-REALISM DEPENDS UPON AN INTERNALIST MORAL PSYCHOLOGY. BUT AN EXTERNALIST MORAL PSYCHOLOGY IS MORE PLAUSIBLE AND ALLOWS THE REALIST A SENSIBLE EXPLANATION OF THE ACTION-GUIDING CHARACTER OF MORALITY. CONSIDERATION OF THE PRACTICAL CHARACTER OF MORALITY, THEREFORE, DOES NOT UNDERMINE AND, INDEED, SUPPORTS MORAL REALISM.
David O. Brink offers a reconstruction and assessment of John Stuart Mill's contributions to the utilitarian and liberal traditions. Brink defends interpretations of key elements in Mill's moral and political thought, and shows how a perfectionist reading of his conception of happiness has a significant impact on other aspects of his philosophy.
Perfectionism is an underexplored tradition, perhaps because of doubts about the grounds, content, and implications of perfectionist ideals. Aristotle, J.S. Mill, and T.H. Green are normative perfectionists, grounding perfectionist ideals in a normative conception of human nature involving personality or agency. This essay explores the prospects of normative perfectionism by examining Kant’s criticisms of the perfectionist tradition. First, Kant claims that the perfectionist can generate only hypothetical, not categorical, imperatives. But insofar as the normative perfectionist appeals to the normative category (...) of personality or agency, rather than a biological category of humanity, it can represent perfectionist demands as categorical imperatives. Second, Kant accepts a moral asymmetry in which we aim at our own perfection but at the happiness, rather than the perfection, of others. However, the importance of autonomy in normative perfection explains why the perfectionist should recognize a self/other asymmetry. Indeed, when we see how the normative perfectionist can answer Kant’s criticisms while respecting Kant’s own claims about the connection between rational nature and moral requirements, we can see the basis for a normative perfectionist interpretation of Kant’s own ethical theory. Insofar as Kantians and normative perfectionists both base ethical demands on an appeal to rational nature, they face a common worry that the appeal to rational nature is empty or incomplete. Normative perfectionists have more and less concessive responses to this worry, providing perfectionist explanations of various apparently non-perfectionist goods. Even if we end up being pluralists about the good, perfectionist elements play an important role. Finally, because the normative perfectionist, like the Kantian, grounds its ideals and requirements in a conception of persons as rational agents, it provides a promising account of the rational authority of perfectionist demands. This comparison of normative perfectionist and Kantian essentials gives us reason to take the normative perfectionist tradition seriously. (shrink)
The situationist literature in psychology claims that conduct is not determined by character and reflects the operation of the agent’s situation or environment. For instance, due to situational factors, compassionate behavior is much less common than we might have expected from people we believe to be compassionate. This article focuses on whether situationism should revise our beliefs about moral responsibility. It assesses situationism’s implications against the backdrop of a conception of responsibility that is grounded in norms about the fair opportunity (...) to avoid wrongdoing that require that agents be normatively competent and possess situational control. Despite the low incidence of compassionate behavior revealed in situationist studies, situationism threatens neither situational control nor normative competence. Nonetheless situationism may force revision in our views about responsibility in particular contexts, such as wartime wrongdoing. Whereas a good case can be made that the heat of battle can create situational pressures that significantly impair normative competence and thus sometimes provide a full or partial excuse, there is reason to be skeptical of attempts to generalize this excuse to other contexts of wartime wrongdoing. If so, moral responsibility can take situationism on board without capsizing the boat. (shrink)
The prospects for moral realism and ethical naturalism have been important parts of recent debates within metaethics. As a first approximation, moral realism is the claim that there are facts or truths about moral matters that are objective in the sense that they obtain independently of the moral beliefs or attitudes of appraisers. Ethical naturalism is the claim that moral properties of people, actions, and institutions are natural, rather than occult or supernatural, features of the world. Though these metaethical debates (...) remain unsettled, several people, myself included, have tried to defend the plausibility of both moral realism and ethical naturalism. I, among others, have appealed to recent work in the philosophy of language—in particular, to so-called theories of “direct reference” —to defend ethical naturalism against a variety of semantic worries, including G. E. Moore's “open question argument.” In response to these arguments, critics have expressed doubts about the compatibility of moral realism and direct reference. In this essay, I explain these doubts, and then sketch the beginnings of an answer—but understanding both the doubts and my answer requires some intellectual background. (shrink)
Recent moral philosophy has seen a revival of interest in the concept of virtue, and with it a reassessment of the role of virtue in the work of Aristotle and Kant. This book brings that reassessment to a new level of sophistication. Nancy Sherman argues that Kant preserves a notion of virtue in his moral theory that bears recognizable traces of the Aristotelian and Stoic traditions, and that his complex anthropology of morals brings him into surprising alliance with Aristotle. She (...) develops her argument through close readings of major texts by both Aristotle and Kant, illustrating points of congruence and contrast. (shrink)
Culpability is not a unitary concept within the criminal law, and it is important to distinguish different culpability concepts and the work they do. Narrow culpability is an ingredient in wrongdoing itself, describing the agent’s elemental mens rea. Broad culpability is the responsibility condition that makes wrongdoing blameworthy and without which wrongdoing is excused. Inclusive culpability is the combination of wrongdoing and responsibility or broad culpability that functions as the retributivist desert basis for punishment. Each of these kinds of culpability (...) plays an important role in a unified retributive framework for the criminal law. Moreover, the distinction between narrow and broad culpability has significance for understanding and assessing the distinction between attributability and accountability and the nature and permissibility of strict liability crimes. (shrink)
Consideration of the objection from the personal point of view reveals the resources of utilitarianism. The utilitarian can offer a partial rebuttal by distinguishing between criteria of rightness and decision procedures and claiming that, because his theory is a criterion of rightness and not a decision procedure, he can justify agents' differential concern for their own welfare and the welfare of those close to them. The flexibility in utilitarianism's theory of value allows further rebuttal of this objection; objective versions of (...) utilitarianism can treat self-determination or autonomy as a dominant good which trumps even large magnitudes of lesser goods such as pleasure. After the resources of utilitarianism are exhausted, though, there remains a worry, generated by the personal point of view, about utilitarianism's impartiality. But this worry is correctly viewed, not as a moral worry about the merits of utilitarianism as a moral theory, but as a worry about morality concerning the rationality or supremacy of impartial moral demands. Whether or not this worry can be answered, the fact that it arises supports rather than undermines a utilitarian account of morality. (shrink)
The situationist literature in psychology claims that conduct is not determined by character and reflects the operation of the agent's situation or environment. For instance, due to situational factors, compassionate behavior is much less common than we might have expected from people we believe to be compassionate. This article focuses on whether situationism should revise our beliefs about moral responsibility. It assesses the implications of situationism against the backdrop of a conception of responsibility that is grounded in norms about the (...) fair opportunity to avoid wrongdoing that require that agents to be normatively competent and possess situational control. Despite the low incidence of compassionate behavior revealed in situationist studies, situationism threatens neither situational control nor normative competence. Nonetheless situationism may force revision of our views about responsibility in particular contexts, such as wartime wrongdoing. Whereas a good case can be made that the heat of battle can create situational pressures that significantly impair normative competence and thus sometimes provide a full or partial excuse, there is reason to be skeptical of attempts to generalize this excuse to other contexts of wartime wrongdoing. If so, moral responsibility can take situationism on board without capsizing the boat. (shrink)
This essay situates some recent empirical research on the origin, nature, role, and reliability of moral intuitions against the background of nineteenth-century debates between ethical naturalism and rational intuitionism. The legitimate heir to Millian naturalism is the contemporary method of reflective equilibrium and its defeasible reliance on moral intuitions. Recent doubts about moral intuitions—worries that they reflect the operation of imperfect cognitive heuristics, are resistant to undermining evidence, are subject to framing effects, and are variable—are best addressed by ethical naturalism (...) as part of a broad dialectical equilibrium. (shrink)
Prudence and authenticity are sometimes seen as rival virtues. Prudence,as traditionally conceived, is temporally neutral. It attaches no intrinsic significance to the temporal location of benefits or harms within the agent’s life; the prudent agent should be equally concerned about all parts of her life. But people’s values and ideals often change over time, sometimes in predictable ways, as when middle age and parenthood often temporize youthful radicalism or spontaneity with concerns for comfort,security, and predictability. In situations involving diachronic, intrapersonal (...) conflicts of value, prudence—in particular,temporal neutrality—appears to require the agent to subordinate her current ideals to her future ones or at least to moderate pursuit of current ideals in light of future ones. But this demand may seem to sacrifice authenticity, if we suppose that authenticity requires acting on the ideals that the agent reflectively and sincerely accepts at the time of action. This tension between prudence and authenticity raises interesting questions about temporal neutrality, the structure of intrapersonal conflicts of value, the nature of ideals, and the demands of authenticity. After examining various aspects of this puzzle, I defend the commitments of prudence in situations involving intrapersonal value conflict and argue that authenticity—understood as being true to oneself— actually supports temporal neutrality. I conclude by suggesting how this defense of prudence lends credibility to the more general demand of temporal neutrality. (shrink)
Whether morality has rational authority is an open question insofar as we can seriously entertain conceptions of morality and practical reason according to which it need not be contrary to reason to fail to conform to moral requirements. Doubts about the authority of morality are especially likely to arise for those who hold a broadly prudential view of rationality. It is common to think of morality as including various other-regarding duties of cooperation, forbearance, and aid. Most of us also regard (...) moral obligations as authoritative practical considerations. But heeding these obligations appears sometimes to constrain the agent's pursuit of his own interests or aims. If we think of rationality in prudential terms–as what would promote the agent's own interests–we may wonder whether moral conduct is always rationally justifiable. Indeed, we do not need to think of rationality in exclusively prudential terms to raise this worry. The worry can arise even if there are impartial reasons–that is, nonderivative reasons to promote the welfare of others. (shrink)
Since his article, ‘Outline for a Decision Procedure in Ethics,’ John Rawls has advocated a coherentist moral epistemology according to which moral and political theories are justified on the basis of their coherence with our other beliefs, both moral and nonmoral. A moral theory which is maximally coherent with our other beliefs is in a state which Rawls calls ‘reflective equilibrium’. In A Theory of Justice Rawls advanced two principles of justice and claimed that they are in reflective equilibrium. He (...) defended this claim by appeal to a hypothetical contract; he argued that parties in a position satisfying certain informational and motivational criteria, which he called ‘the original position,’ would choose the following two principles of justice to govern the basic structure of their society. (shrink)
What role, if any, should our moral intuitions play in moral epistemology? We make, or are prepared to make, moral judgments about a variety of actual and hypothetical situations. Some of these moral judgments are more informed, reflective, and stable than others (call these ourconsideredmoral judgments); some we make more confidently than others; and some, though not all, are judgments about which there is substantial consensus. What bearing do our moral judgments have on philosophical ethics and the search for first (...) principles in ethics? Should these judgments constrain, or be constrained by, philosophical theorizing about morality? On the one hand, we might expect first principles to conform to our moral intuitions or at least to our considered moral judgments. After all, we begin the reflection that may lead to first principles from particular moral convictions. And some of our moral intuitions (e.g., that genocide is wrong) are more fixed and compelling than any putative first principle. If so, we might expect common moral beliefs to have an important evidential role in the construction and assessment of first principles. On the other hand, common moral beliefs often rest on poor information, reflect bias, or are otherwise mistaken. We often appeal to moral principles to justify our particular moral convictions or to resolve our disagreements. Insofar as this is true, we may expect first principles to provide a foundation on the basis of which to test common moral beliefs and, where necessary, form new moral convictions. (shrink)
All forms of consequentialism make the moral assessment of alternatives depend in some way on the value of the alternatives, but they form a heterogeneous family of moral theories. Some employ subjective assumptions about value, while others employ objective assumptions. Some assess the value of alternatives directly, while others assess value indirectly. Some direct agents to maximize value, while others direct agents to satisfice. Some, such as utilitarianism, are impartial and concerned to promote agent-neutral value, while others, such as self-referential (...) altruism and perfectionist egoism, are partial and concerned to promote agent-relative value. This chapter focuses on the contrast between agent-neutral and agent-relative consequentialism. The chief attraction of agent-neutral consequentialism lies in its interpretation of impartiality. This interpretation is robust, and has the resources to answer criticisms that it cannot accommodate agent-relative constraints and options. However, it is difficult to fit associated duties into the intellectual net of agent-neutral consequentialism. Accommodating partiality requires an agent-relative form of consequentialism. (shrink)
Hate speech employs discriminatory epithets to insult and stigmatize others on the basis of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or other forms of group membership. The regulation of hate speech is deservedly controversial, in part because debates over hate speech seem to have teased apart libertarian and egalitarian strands within the liberal tradition. In the civil rights movements of the 1960s, libertarian concerns with freedom of movement and association and equal opportunity pointed in the same direction as egalitarian concerns with (...) eradicating racial discrimination and the social and economic inequalities that this discrimination maintained. But debates over hate speech regulation seem to force one to give priority to equality or to liberty. On the one hand, egalitarian concerns may seem to require restricting freedom of expression. Hate speech is an expression of discriminatory attitudes that have a long, ugly, and sometimes violent history. As such, hate speech is deeply offensive to its victims and socially divisive. Though one might well be reluctant to restrict speech, it might seem that the correct response to hate speech, as with other forms of discrimination, is regulation. On the other hand, libertarian concerns may seem to constrain the pursuit of equality. Though one may abhor hate speech and its effects, the cure might seem at least as bad as the disease. Freedoms of expression are among our most fundamental liberties. Offensive ideas are part of the price one must pay to protect these constitutional rights. (shrink)
It is common to regard love, friendship, and other associational ties to others as an important part of a happy or flourishing life. This would be easy enough to understand if we focused on friendships based on pleasure, or associations, such as business partnerships, predicated on mutual advantage. For then we could understand in a straightforward way how these interpersonal relationships would be valuable for someone involved in such relationships just insofar as they caused her pleasure or causally promoted her (...) own independent interests. But many who regard love, friendship, and other associational ties as an important part of a happy or flourishing life suppose that in many sorts of associations—especially intimate associations—the proper attitude among associates is concern for the other for the other's own sake, not just for the pleasure or benefits one can extract from one's associates. It is fairly clear how having friends of this sort is beneficial. What is less clear is how being a friend of this sort might contribute to one's own happiness or well-being. Even if we can explain this, it looks as if the contribution that friendship makes to one's happiness could not be the reason one has to care for friends, for that would seem to make one's concern for others instrumental, not a concern for the other for her own sake. (shrink)
I argue that disputes within constitutional theory about whether recent supreme court decisions exceed the scope of legitimate judicial review and disputes within legal theory about the nature and determinacy of law are best seen and assessed as disputes over the nature of legal interpretation. I criticize the interpretive assumptions on which these disputes generally depend and defend a theory of interpretation which tends to vindicate the determinacy of law even in hard cases and the style of recent court decisions (...) which many critics find troublesome. (shrink)
Many commentators agree that the trend to try juveniles as adults fails to recognize that there should be an asymmetry in our treatment of juvenile and adult crime such that all else being equal juvenile crime deserves less punishment than does adult crime. This essay explores different rationales for this asymmetry. A political rationale claims that the disenfranchisement of juveniles compromises the state’s democratic authority to punish juveniles in the same way it is permitted to punish adults. A developmental rationale (...) claims that juveniles deserve to be punished less than adults because their immaturity makes them less responsible and, hence, less culpable for their wrongdoing. Gideon Yaffe’s new book The Age of Culpability expresses skepticism about the developmental rationale and defends a version of the political rationale. By contrast, this essay finds important limits to the political rationale and defends a qualified version of the developmental rationale. In the process, it argues against treating the asymmetry between juvenile and adult crime as a categorical one. (shrink)
Consequentialism is often criticized for failing to accommodate impersonal constraints and personal options. A common consequentialist response is to acknowledge the anticonsequentialist intuitions but to argue either that the consequentialist can, after all, accommodate the allegedly recalcitrant intuitions or that, where accommodation is impossible, the recalcitrant intuition can be dismissed for want of an adequate philosophical rationale. Whereas these consequentialist responses have some plausibility, associational duties represent a somewhat different challenge to consequentialism, inasmuch as they embody neither impersonal constraints nor (...) personal options, but rather personal constraints. Our intuitions about associational duties resist capture within the intellectual net of consequentialism, and such duties do admit of a philosophical rationale at least as plausible as anything the consequentialist has to offer. (shrink)
This article examines whether a retributivist conception of punishment implies legal moralism and asks what liberalism implies about retributivism and moralism. It makes a case for accepting the weak retributivist thesis that culpable wrongdoing creates a pro tanto case for blame and punishment and the weak moralist claim that moral wrongdoing creates a pro tanto case for legal regulation. This weak moralist claim is compatible with the liberal claim that the legal enforcement of morality is rarely all‐thing‐considered desirable. Though weak (...) moralism has some plausibility, it does not follow from weak retributivism if legitimate state functions are limited in certain ways. (shrink)
David Brink presents a study of T. H. Green's Prolegomena to Ethics (1883), a classic of British idealism. Green develops a perfectionist ethical theory that brings together the best elements in the ancient and modern traditions and that provides the moral foundations for Green's own influential brand of liberalism. Brink's book situates the Prolegomena in its intellectual context, examines its main themes, and explains Green's enduring significance for the history of ethics and contemporary ethical theory.
This volume collects David Lyons' well-known essays on Mill's moral theory and includes an introduction which relates the essays to prior and subsequent philosophical developments. Like the author's Forms and Limits of Utilitarianism (Oxford, 1965), the essays apply analytical methods to issues in normative ethics. The first essay defends a refined version of the beneficiary theory of rights against H.L.A. Hart's important criticisms. The central set of essays develops new interpretations of Mill's moral theory with the aim of determining how (...) far rights can be incorporated in a utilitarian framework. They Mill's analysis of moral concepts promises to accommodate the argumentative force of rights, and also provide a significant new reading of Mill's theory of liberty. The last essay argues that the promise of Mill's theory of justice cannot be fulfilled. Utilitarianism is unable to account for crucial features of moral rights, or even for the moral force of legal rights whose existence might be justified on utilitarian grounds. (shrink)
This collection of essays contains revised versions of papers delivered at a conference entitled “Duty, Interest, and Practical Reason: Aristotle, Kant, and the Stoics” that was organized by Stephen Engstrom and Jennifer Whiting at the University of Pittsburgh in 1994. One of the main aims of the conference was to bring together scholars on Aristotle, the Stoics, and Kant to reevaluate the common view that Greek and Kantian ethics represent fundamentally opposed conceptions of ethical theory and the roles of morality (...) and happiness in practical reasoning. According to a common view, the ancients are eudaimonists; they derive or justify the virtues by showing how they contribute to the agent’s own eudaimonia or happiness. By contrast, Kant sharply criticizes eudaimonism for deriving or justifying morality in terms of happiness. This criticism applies to eudaimonism of all sorts, even Stoic eudaimonism, which is perhaps closer in some respects to Kant’s own views, and of which he is somewhat less critical than he is of other forms of eudaimonism. For Kant, moral duty and respect for the moral law must be grounded in reason itself and cannot be made to depend on any independent standard. These and related assumptions about ancient and Kantian ethics have helped structure much contemporary systematic work in ethical theory, as well as common conceptions of these ethical traditions. But this common view has been under reexamination lately; some of the most interesting work in the history of ethics in recent years has been in Greek and Kantian ethics, and much of it challenges one or another aspect of the received view of the ethical theory and moral psychology of Kant or the Greeks. However, with some exceptions, renewed interest and recent work in these two traditions has proceeded in parallel. The conference aimed to correct this, by bringing together some of the most distinguished scholars of ancient and modern ethics to compare and assess the role of moral duty and happiness in the two traditions. Most of the essays have such a comparative assessment as their main theme; but even those that focus more exclusively on one of the traditions contribute indirectly to this comparative assessment. (shrink)
This essay articulates a conception of responsibility and excuse in terms of the fair opportunity to avoid wrongdoing and explores its implications for insanity, incompetence, and psychopathy. The fair opportunity conception factors responsibility into conditions of normative competence and situational control and factors normative competence into cognitive and volitional capacities. This supports a conception of incompetence that recognizes substantial impairment of either cognitive or volitional capacities as excusing, provided the agent is not substantially responsible for her own incompetence. This conception (...) helps frame the question whether psychopathy is excusing. The most common rationale for excusing psychopathy appeals to claims about cognitive incompetence. However, there are good philosophical and empirical reasons to be skeptical that psychopaths lack the relevant cognitive capacities. There is more to be said for a volitional rationale for excuse. The crucial question here is whether the problems psychopaths have with impulse control and conforming their behavior to the relevant moral and criminal norms are systematic enough to demonstrate genuine volitional incompetence. The available empirical evidence should leave us skeptical about the merits of this volitional rationale for excuse. (shrink)