In this paper I discuss various hard cases that an account of moral ignorance should be able to deal with: ancient slave holders, Susan Wolf’s JoJo, psychopaths such as Robert Harris, and finally, moral outliers. All these agents are ignorant, but it is not at all clear that they are blameless on account of their ignorance. I argue that the discussion of this issue in recent literature has missed the complexities of these cases by focusing on the question of epistemic (...) fault. It is not clear that all blameworthy morally ignorant agents have committed an epistemic fault. There are other important issues that pull us in various directions: moral capacity, bad will, and formative circumstances. I argue that bad will is what is crucial, and moral ignorance itself can be a form of bad will. I argue that we should distinguish between two sorts of bad will, and correspondingly, two sorts of blameworthiness. Ordinary blameworthiness, requires moral knowledge, and is based on akratic action. The other kind of blameworthiness, objective blameworthiness, applies when the agent is morally ignorant, and when this indicates bad will. Objective blameworthiness can be undermined by unfortunate formative circumstances. (shrink)
In this paper I present a new argument for prospectivism: the view that, for a consequentialist, rightness depends on what is prospectively best rather than what would actually be best. Prospective bestness depends on the agent’s epistemic position, though exactly how that works is not straightforward. I clarify various possible versions of prospectivism, which differ in how far they go in relativizing to the agent’s limitations. My argument for prospectivism is an argument for moderately objective prospectivism, according to which the (...) right thing to do is what would make sense given reasonable beliefs, reasonable probability estimates and a reasonable understanding of value. My argument is an argument for this form of prospectivism over objectivism. Arguments about prospectivism and objectivism usually use an example with the following form: an agent has a choice between options, one she knows would be acceptable, while the other could either be catastrophic or very good. Objectivists argue that the right thing to do is what would in fact be best (though the agent cannot know which option that is) while prospectivists argue that the agent’s ignorance is relevant, and the right thing to do is to compromise. The question is how we should understand the underlying argument. It is not about action guidance. Moderately objective prospectivism is not action guiding, because an actual agent may not have access to reasonable beliefs, probability estimates and so on. Another common argument is that the objective notion is the primary one. I show that there are no good grounds for this claim. My argument uses the distinction between rightness and goodness to show that a consequentialist theory, that bases rightness on goodness, should take into account how much goodness is at stake. Crucially, potential losses as well as gains are relevant. So long as goodness, rather than rightness, is in the driving seat, we should not be ‘bestness fetishists’. As the name suggest, this would be an irrational privileging of the best option. This argument does not apply to pure deontology: a pure deontology does not use the notion of goodness at all, and so there is nothing to compromise with. If the agent does not know what is right, there is nothing further to say. I end by arguing against a recent strategy that aims to show that although objectivism is true (the right option is the best one), we should sometimes do what is wrong (i.e. what is prospectively best). I argue that in so far as this is correct it is simply prospectivism with awkward terminology. (shrink)
It seems that the debate between objective and subjective consequentialists might be resolved by appealing to the ought implies can principle. Howard-Snyder has suggested that if one does not know how to do something, cannot do it, and thus one cannot have an obligation to do it. I argue that this depends on an overly rich conception of ability, and that we need to look beyond the ought implies can principle to answer the question. Once we do so, it appears (...) that Prichard might have been at least partly right when he claimed that obligations are tryings. I go some way to defending a diluted version of Prichard's view. (shrink)
I discuss three views of promising: the view is that promising is a social practice, and that our obligation to keep promises is related to the practice in some way; Scanlon’s non-practice view, and Wallace and Kolodny’s “hybrid view”. I shall argue that none of these accounts is satisfactory, and propose a fourth view: deflationism. Deflationism is the view that saying “I promise” merely adds emphasis and does not incur any extra obligation.
James Lenman argues that consequentialism fails as a moral theory because it is impossible to predict the long-term consequences of our actions. I agree that it is impossible to predict the long-term consequences of actions, but argue that this does not count as a strike against consequentialism. I focus on the principle of indifference, which tells us to treat unforeseeable consequences as cancelling each other out, and hence value-neutral. I argue that though we cannot defend this principle independently, we cannot (...) do without it in practical rationality. Thus abandoning the principle of indifference would involve abandoning all of rationality, not just consequentialist reasoning. I suggest that we should understand the principle as P. F. Strawson understands inductive reasoning – as being part of rationality. Correspondence:c1 Elinor.Mason@colorado.edu. (shrink)
I argue that motivational internalism should not be driving metaethics. I first show that many arguments for motivational internalism beg the question by resting on an illicit appeal to internalist assumptions about the nature of reasons. Then I make a distinction between weak internalism and the weakest form of internalism. Weak internalism allows that agents fail to act according to their normative judgments when they are practically irrational. I show that when we clarify the notion of practical irrationality it does (...) not support motivational internalism. Weakest internalism only claims that agents are irrational if they entirely lack motivation to do what they judge they ought to. I do not argue against weakest internalism, but I argue that it is not an important view. (shrink)
In these remarks on Feldman's recent book, Pleasure and the Good Life, I concentrate on Feldman's account of pleasure as attitudinal. I argue that an account of pleasure according to which pleasure need not have any feel is implausible. I suggest that Feldman could avoid this problem but retain the advantages of his attitudinal hedonism by giving an account of the attitude such that the attitude has a feel.
Many have assumed that widespread cultural ignorance exculpates those who are involved in otherwise morally problematic practices, such as the ancient slaveholders, 1950s sexists or contemporary meat eaters. In this paper we argue that ignorance can be culpable even in situations of widespread cultural ignorance. However, it is not usually culpable due to a previous self-conscious act of wrongdoing. Nor can we always use the standard attributionist account of such cases on which the acts done in ignorance can nonetheless display (...) bad motivations. Instead, we argue that moral ignorance often results from the exercise of vice, and that this renders subsequent acts blameworthy, regardless of whether the ignorance happens to be widespread. We develop an account of moral-epistemic vice, and argue that two families of moral-epistemic vice may be common. Vices of arrogance involve the motivation to self-aggrandizement, while vices of laziness involve the motivation for comfort. If cases of cultural ignorance involve the operation of these moral-epistemic vices then that ignorance ought to be viewed as culpable. (shrink)
What determines whether an action is right or wrong? Morality, Rules, and Consequences: A Critical Reader explores for students and researchers the relationship between consequentialist theory and moral rules. Most of the chapters focus on rule consequentialism or on the distinction between act and rule versions of consequentialism. Contributors, among them the leading philosophers in the discipline, suggest ways of assessing whether rule consequentialism could be a satisfactory moral theory. These essays, all of which are previously unpublished, provide students in (...) moral philosophy with essential material and ask key questions on just what the criteria for an adequate moral theory might be. (shrink)
I argue against the standard view that it is possible to describe extensionally different consequentialist theories by describing different evaluative focal points. I argue that for consequentialist purposes, the important sense of the word act must include all motives and side effects, and thus these things cannot be separated.
Williams argues that impartial moral theories undermine agents’ integrity by making them responsible for allowings as well as doings. I argue that in some cases of allowings, where there is an intervening agent, the agent has been coerced, and so is not fully responsible. -/- I provide an analysis of coercion. Whether an agent is coerced depends on various things (the coercer must provide strong reasons, and the coercer must have a mens rea), and crucially, the coercee’s action is rendered (...) less than fully voluntary by the coercion. The attack on voluntariness is usually explained by limiting coercion to threats rather than offers. I argue that this approach cannot work. Instead I argue that non-voluntariness (and thus coercion) must be understood in terms of the subjective state of the victim. It is a necessary condition of coercion that the coercee actually suffers alienation from her own actions as a result of domination by the coercer. I defend this account and show that it provides an explanation for why agents who are coerced do not act in a fully voluntary way. -/- . (shrink)
In this paper I suggest that there is a way to make sense of blameworthiness for morally problematic actions even when there is no bad will behind such actions. I am particularly interested in cases where an agent acts in a biased way, and the explanation is socialization and false belief rather than bad will on the part of the agent. In such cases, I submit, we are pulled in two directions: on the one hand non-culpable ignorance is usually an (...) excuse, but in the case of acting in a biased way we feel some pull to find the agent blameworthy. I argue that agents are sometimes blameworthy, (where I really mean that they are blameworthy, and not just that it is permissible to reproach them), even if they do not have any bad will. I argue that although the paradigmatic account of blameworthiness is based on quality of will, we can and should be willing to allow that there are non-paradigmatic cases. I argue that the zone of responsibility can be extended to include acts that we are not fully in control of, and acts whose moral status we are non-culpably ignorant about at the time of acting. This extension of responsibility happens through a voluntary taking of responsibility. I argue that there are certain conditions under which we should take responsibility, and that when we do so, we genuinely are responsible. (shrink)
In this account of recent work on moral responsibility I shall try to disen- tangle various different sorts of question about moral responsibility. In brief, the tangle includes questions about whether we have free will, questions about whether moral responsibility is compatible with free will, and questions about what moral responsibility involves. As far as possible I will ignore the first sort of question, be as brief as possible on the second sort of question, and focus on the third question. (...) This is partly just in the interests of space—the total literature generated by the three questions together would be impossible to summarise here. (shrink)
Cocking and Oakley, ("Indirect Consequentialism, Friendship, and the Problem of Alienation", Ethics 106 (October 1995)) claim that a consequentialist's particular relationships will always be contingent on their maximizing the good, and thus will always be alienated. However, an indirect consequentialist will take into account the fact that her relationships would be alienated were she disposed to terminate them whenever they become suboptimal. If real friendships are worth having, a consequentialist should have them. Thus, she should have a pro-friendship disposition. Railton's (...) counterfactual condition should be interpreted as a claim that consequentialists should be disposed to alter that disposition if it turns out that it is not optimal. (shrink)
In this account of recent work on moral responsibility I shall try to disentangle various different sorts of question about moral responsibility. In brief, the tangle includes questions about whether we have free will, questions about whether moral responsibility is compatible with free will, and questions about what moral responsibility involves. As far as possible I will ignore the first sort of question, be as brief as possible on the second sort of question, and focus on the third question.
In this paper I defend consequentialism against the objection that consequentialists are alienated from their personal relationships through having inappropriate motivational states. This objection is one interpretation of Williams' claim that consequentialists will have "one thought too many". Consequentialists should cultivate dispositions to act from their concern for others. I argue that having such a disposition is consistent with a belief in consequentialism and constitutes an appropriate attitude to personal relationships. If the consequentialist has stable beliefs that friendship is justifiable (...) in consequentialist terms, that friendship requires acting from concern for others, and furthermore if the consequentialist finds that she is concerned for others, then she will be able to form a disposition which involves acting from her concern for others without having one thought too many. (shrink)
Philosophy for Everyone begins by explaining what philosophy is before exploring the questions and issues at the foundation of this important subject. Key topics in this new edition and their areas of focus include: Moral philosophy – the nature of our moral judgments and reactions, whether they aim at some objective moral truth, or are mere personal or cultural preferences; and the possibility of moral responsibility given the sorts of things that cause behavior; Political philosophy – fundamental questions about the (...) nature of states and their relationship to the citizens within those states Epistemology – what our knowledge of the world and ourselves consists in, and how we come to have it; and whether we should form beliefs by trusting what other people tell us; Philosophy of mind – what it means for something to have a mind, and how minds should be understood and explained; Philosophy of science – foundational conceptual issues in scientific research and practice, such as whether scientific theories are true; and Metaphysics - fundamental questions about the nature of reality, such as whether we have free will, or whether time travel is possible. This book is designed to be used in conjunction with the free ‘Introduction to Philosophy’ MOOC created by the University of Edinburgh’s _Eidyn_ research centre, and hosted by the Coursera platform.This book is also highly recommended for anyone looking for a short overview of this fascinating discipline. (shrink)
Subjective rightness (or ‘ought’ or obligation) seems to be the sense of rightness that should be action guiding where more objective senses fail. However, there is an ambiguity between strong and weak senses of action guidance. No general account of subjective rightness can succeed in being action guiding in a strong sense by providing an immediately helpful instruction, because helpfulness always depends on the context. Subjective rightness is action guiding in a weaker sense, in that it is always accessible and (...) comprehensible to the agent. Hence traditional belief formulations say roughly, “do what you believe is best.” This is not yet a satisfactory formulation, because it cannot make sense of our ongoing subjective duty to improve our beliefs. The notion of ‘trying’ does capture the dynamic and diachronic nature of our subjective obligation. Thus, we should formulate subjective obligation in terms of trying: “try to do well by morality.”. (shrink)