My purpose in this paper is to argue that we are not vulnerableto inescapable wrongdoing occasioned by tragic dilemmas. I directmy argument to those who are most inclined to accept tragicdilemmas: those of broadly Nietzschean inclination who reject``modern moral philosophy'''' in favor of the ethical ideas of theclassical Greeks. Two important features of their project are todeny the usefulness of the ``moral/nonmoral distinction,'''' and todeny that what are usually classified as moral reasons always oreven characteristically ``trump'''' nonmoral reasons in anadmirable (...) agent''s deliberations.I show critics of modern moral philosophy such as BernardWilliams that their acceptance of tragic dilemmas underminestheir project of denying the moral/nonmoral distinction and thepriority of moral reasons. The possibility of tragic dilemmasrequires an account of practical deliberation in which moralreasons appear as already in-force obligations, with blame andguilt ready to be invoked, while nonmoral reasons appear as merereasons. This makes moral reasons importantly different fromnonmoral reasons in how they achieve their deliberative weight,and also makes them characteristically weightier. Thus,accommodating tragic dilemmas reinforces the moral/nonmoraldistinction and the priority of moral reasons, the very thingsthese critics want to deny. By accepting the possibility oftragic dilemmas, these critics are undermining their own project.The standard normative theories are dead set against tragicdilemmas, and the critics of modern moral philosophy shouldreject tragic dilemmas for the good of their project. Thus we allshould reject tragic dilemmas. (shrink)
I examine recent work on moral dilemmas and argue that there are no moral dilemmas which issue in inescapable wrongdoing . In the first three chapters I examine some important arguments for and against tragic dilemmas---arguments from deontic logic, Martha Nussbaum's view that vulnerability is essential to human values, Bernard Williams' argument from guilt , and the argument from the fragmentation of value---and show that these arguments for and against are inconclusive. ;In Chapter 4 I attempt to provide a reason (...) to reject tragic dilemmas which will have force for those most inclined to accept dilemmas---those, such as Williams and Nussbaum, who are engaged in a critique of modern moral philosophy. Central to their critique is their denial of the distinction between moral and nonmoral reasons and of the primacy of the moral. I show that an account of practical deliberation which can accommodate the possibility of tragic dilemmas has the effect, not of undermining the distinction between moral and nonmoral reasons and the primacy of the moral, but of strengthening that distinction and that primacy. This is because a picture of practical deliberation which can accommodate the possibility of tragic dilemmas makes moral reasons distinct from nonmoral reasons in how they achieve their deliberative weight. ;In Chapter 5 I present an alternative picture of practical deliberation which I commend to these critics. In my alternative picture, moral reasons have deliberative weight for an agent for the same reason nonmoral reasons do: because the agent sees things from a point of view from which such reasons are important. My picture takes seriously the critics' view that moral value is continuous with other sorts of value and is not overriding and supremely regulative; but my picture does not accommodate the possibility of tragic dilemmas. I conclude that their project of criticizing modern moral philosophy is better served by accepting my picture and thus rejecting the possibility of tragic dilemmas. (shrink)
In this paper I argue for modesty concerning what theoretical reason can accomplish in the moral dilemmas debate. Specifically, I contend that philosophers' conclusions for or against moral dilemmas are driven less by rational argument and more by how the moral world intuitively appears to them.