At the heart of ethics reside the concepts of good and bad; they are at work when we assess whether a person is virtuous or vicious, an act right or wrong, a decision defensible or indefensible, a goal desirable or undesirable. But there are many varieties of goodness and badness. At their core lie intrinsic goodness and badness, the sort of value that something has for its own sake. It is in virtue of intrinsic value that other types of value (...) may be understood, and hence that we can begin to come to terms with questions of virtue and vice, right and wrong, and so on. This book investigates the nature of intrinsic value: just what it is for something to be valuable for its own sake, just what sort of thing can have such value, just how such a value is to be computed. In the final chapter, the fruits of this investigation are applied to a discussion of pleasure, pain, and displeasure and also of moral virtue and vice, in order to determine just what value lies within these phenomena. (shrink)
Michael J. Zimmerman explores whether and how our ignorance about ourselves and our circumstances affects what our moral obligations and moral rights are. He rejects objective and subjective views of the nature of moral obligation, and presents a new case for a 'prospective' view.
This superbly crafted account of the notion of moral responsibility and of its relations to freedom, control, ignorance, negligence, attempts, omissions, compulsion, mental disorders, virtues and vices, desert, and punishment fills that gap. The treatment of character and luck is particularly sophisticated and well-argued.
Many philosophers hold that whether an act is overall morally obligatory is an ‘objective’ matter, many that it is a ‘subjective’ matter, and some that it is both. The idea that it is or can be both may seem to promise a helpful answer to the question ‘What ought I to do when I do not know what I ought to do?’ In this article, three broad views are distinguished regarding what it is that obligation essentially concerns: the maximization of (...) actual value, the maximization of expected value, and the perceived maximization of actual value. The first and third views are rejected; the second view is then refined and defended. The unfortunate upshot is that there may be no very helpful answer to the question just mentioned. As to the question posed in the title of the article, the answer unsurprisingly depends on what ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ are taken to mean. (Published Online November 24 2006). (shrink)
This paper considers three general views about the nature of moral obligation and three particular answers concerning the following question: if on Monday you lend me a book that I promise to return to you by Friday, what precisely is my obligation to you and what constitutes its fulfillment? The example is borrowed from W.D. Ross, who in The Right and the Good proposed what he called the Objective View of obligation, from which he inferred what is here called the (...) First Answer to the question. In Foundations of Ethics Ross repudiated the Objective View in favor of the Subjective View, from which he inferred a Second Answer. In this paper each of the Objective and Subjective Views and the First and Second Answers are rejected in favor of the Prospective View and a Third Answer. The implications of the Prospective View for another question closely related to the original question are then investigated: what precisely is your right regarding my returning the book and what constitutes its satisfaction? (shrink)
Many writers accept the following thesis about responsibility: (R) For one to be responsible for something is for one to be such that it is fitting that one be the object of some reactive attitude with respect to that thing. This thesis bears a striking resemblance to a thesis about value that is also accepted by many writers: (V) For something to be good (or neutral, or bad) is for it to be such that it is fitting that it be (...) the object of some pro-attitude (or indifference, or some contra-attitude). V has been the subject of intense debate in recent years, in part because of its incorporation into what has come to be called the “buck-passing” account of value. In particular, V is open to three challenges: that it is not necessarily the case that whatever is good is the fitting object of a pro-attitude; that it is not necessarily the case that whatever is the fitting object of a pro-attitude is good; and that, even if there is a strict equivalence between what is good and what is the fitting object of a pro-attitude, still the former is not to be analyzed in terms of the latter. The resemblance between V and R has not been previously commented on, but, once it is recognized, it is clear that R is open to challenges that resemble those to which V is vulnerable. This paper explores both the challenges to V and the parallel challenges to R and discusses responses that may be given to these challenges. The interrelation between V and R is then examined, and a general lesson is drawn concerning how to adjudicate disputes about the nature of moral responsibility. (shrink)
The following argument is addressed: (1) a person is morally responsible for an event's occurring only if that event's occurring was not a matter of luck; (2) no event is such that its occurring is not a matter of luck; therefore, (3) no event is such that someone is morally responsible for its occurring. Two notions of control are distinguished: restricted and complete. (2) is shown false on the first interpretation, (1) on the second. The discussion involves a distinction between (...) resultant and situational luck, And it is argued that, Even when luck's role in life, And the unfairness that stems from it, Is acknowledged, Moral responsibility remains possible. (shrink)
Recent Work on Intrinsic Value brings together for the first time many of the most important and influential writings on the topic of intrinsic value to have appeared in the last half-century. During this period, inquiry into the nature of intrinsic value has intensified to such an extent that at the moment it is one of the hottest topics in the field of theoretical ethics. The contributions to this volume have been selected in such a way that all of the (...) fundamental questions concerning the nature of intrinsic value are treated in depth and from a variety of viewpoints. These questions include how to understand the concept of intrinsic value, what sorts of things can have intrinsic value, and how to compute intrinsic value. The editors have added an introduction that ties these questions together and places the contributions in context, and they have also provided an extensive bibliography. The result is a comprehensive, balanced, and detailed picture of current thinking about intrinsic value, one that provides an indispensable backdrop against which future writings on the topic may be assessed. (shrink)
There has been considerable debate regarding the relative merits of two theses about moral obligation known as actualism and possibilism. Both theses seek to give expression to the general idea that one ought to do the best one can. According to actualism, one’s obligations turn on what would happen if one chose some course of action, whereas, according to possibilism, they turn on what could happen if one chose some course of action. There are two strands to the debate: the (...) substantive verdicts that the two theses render in particular cases, and the accounts that they yield of the conceptual structure of moral obligation. Possibilism is conceptually appealing, whereas actualism is not, but the latter may seem to render superior substantive verdicts. In this paper, it is argued that, by turning from the objectivist’s emphasis on what is actually best to the prospectivist’s emphasis on what one’s evidence indicates is best, possibilists can provide an account of moral obligation that is both conceptually and substantively attractive. (shrink)
Many philosophers endorse the idea that there can be no moral responsibility without a moral community and thus hold that such responsibility is essentially interpersonal. In this paper, various interpretations of this idea are distinguished, and it is argued that no interpretation of it captures a significant truth. The popular view that moral responsibility consists in answerability is discussed and dismissed. The even more popular view that such responsibility consists in susceptibility to the reactive attitudes is also discussed, and it (...) is argued that this view at best supports only an etiolated interpretation of the idea that moral responsibility is essentially interpersonal. (shrink)
Intrinsic value has traditionally been thought to lie at the heart of ethics. Philosophers use a number of terms to refer to such value. The intrinsic value of something is said to be the value that that thing has “in itself,” or “for its own sake,” or “as such,” or “in its own right.” Extrinsic value is value that is not intrinsic.
The ancient question of what a good life consists in is currently the focus of intense debate. There are two aspects to this debate: the first concerns how the concept of a good life is to be understood; the second concerns what kinds of life fall within the extension of this concept. In this paper, I will attend only to the first, conceptual aspect and not to the second, substantive aspect. More precisely, I will address the preliminary, underlying question of (...) how to understand what it is in general for something to be good for someone, from which an understanding of the more particular concept of a good life may be derived. (shrink)
In _The Immorality of Punishment_ Michael Zimmerman argues forcefully that not only our current practice but indeed any practice of legal punishment is deeply morally repugnant, no matter how vile the behaviour that is its target. Despite the fact that it may be difficult to imagine a state functioning at all, let alone well, without having recourse to punishing those who break its laws, Zimmerman makes a timely and compelling case for the view that we must seek and put into (...) practice alternative means of preventing crime and promoting social stability. (shrink)
This paper argues that Moore's principle of organic unities is false. Advocates of the principle have failed to take note of the distinction between actual intrinsic value and virtual intrinsic value. Purported cases of organic unities, where the actual intrinsic value of a part of a whole is allegedly defeated by the actual intrinsic value of the whole itself, are more plausibly seen as cases where the part in question has no actual intrinsic value but instead a plurality of merely (...) virtual intrinsic values. (shrink)
Kent Bach has argued that certain traditional problems of action theory (conceming the individuation of actions, their timing, their location, and the manner in which they enter into causal relations) arise only on the supposition that actions are events, and he has argued further that actions are not events. In this paper these arguments are examined and rejected.
It has recently been argued that the principle that "ought" implies "can" entails the principle that moral responsibility requires alternate possibilities, and hence that the acceptance of the former principle requires acceptance of the latter. This paper disputes the alleged entailment and gives reasons for accepting the former principle while rejecting the latter.
It is gratifying to me, though perhaps it will be disappointing to you, to discover that Neil Levy and I agree on much of what to say about the morality of punishment. His summary of the contents of The Immorality of Punishment is both generous and, for the most part, accurate, and the concerns that he raises are certainly reasonable. In what follows, I will address what I take to be the most significant of these concerns.IAs Levy notes, in the (...) book I discuss alleged moral justifications of legal punishment that have been proposed both from a retributivist and from a non-retributivist perspective. What I take to be my two most significant arguments—the Argument from Ignorance and the Argument from Luck—concern the former perspective, but let me say something first about some of the reasons I gave for doubting that legal punishment can be morally justified on non-retributivist grounds. I considered three such grounds: rehabilitation, by either educative or non-educative means, of the pe .. (shrink)
The main point of this paper has been to show that the concept of evaluative incompleteness deserves consideration. In addition, I have suggested that it is plausible to accept that certain states of affairs in fact are evaluatively incomplete. But I have not sought to prove that this is so; indeed, I do not know how such proof might be given. Just which states of affairs, if any, are evaluatively incomplete is an extremely vexed question, and it is not one (...) to which I have attempted to supply any systematic answer. My aim has been merely to point out that it is arguable that certain states of affairs are evaluatively incomplete — a fact that ought not to be overlooked due to an unquestioning acceptance of (II) and a fact which, certainly, ought not to be ruled out by fiat due to an adherence to definitions and assumptions which imply that (II) is false. (shrink)
Frankfurt has attacked the principle that a person is morally responsible for what he has done only if he could have done otherwise, And he has thereby sought to undermine the traditional debate between compatibilists and incompatibilists. The role that the principle plays in this debate is clarified. Frankfurt's type of argument is then assessed for its implications concerning both the principle and the debate. It is argued that the debate, Even if not the principle, May well emerge intact.
Kent Bach has argued that certain traditional problems of action theory arise only on the supposition that actions are events, and he has argued further that actions are not events. In this paper these arguments are examined and rejected.