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Philosophy 224. Moral Theory: Introduction. The Role of Reasons. A fundamental feature of philosophy ' s contribution to our understanding of the contested character of our moral lives is the insistence that our responses to moral concerns must be justified.

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philosophy 224

Philosophy 224

Moral Theory: Introduction

the role of reasons
The Role of Reasons
  • A fundamental feature of philosophy's contribution to our understanding of the contested character of our moral lives is the insistence that our responses to moral concerns must be justified.
  • That is, we must have reasons for believing what we do about torture or any other moral issue.
  • An essential element of the philosophical attempt to provide justifying reasons is the appeal to moral theory.
what is a moral theory
What is a Moral Theory?
  • Answering this question requires we ask some subsidiary ones.
    • What concepts do moral theories rely on?
    • What do moral theories aim to provide?
    • How and why do moral theories employ moral principles?
    • How are moral theories structured?
the right and the good
The Right And The Good
  • All moral theories employ and deploy these two main concepts.
  • "Right" and it's inverse "Wrong" are typically used to evaluate actions.
  • "Good" and it's inverse "Bad" typically assess the value of agents, experiences, things, or states of affairs.
right wrong action
Right/Wrong Action
  • The concept "Right"has both a narrow and a broad meaning.
    • Narrowly, right actions are those we are morally obligated to do.
    • Broadly, right actions are all actions that are not wrong.
  • The concept "Wrong"as only one meaning.
tripartite deontic schema
Tripartite Deontic Schema
  • Given these accounts of the rightness and wrongness of actions, ethicists typically divide the realm of actions for purposes of moral evaluation into three basic categories.
moral value
Moral Value
  • When we identify something or someone as good or bad, we are speaking to its character, and particularly of that value that it has.
  • Things can have or be valuable in one of two ways.
    • Intrinsic value refers to a character or feature inherent in the thing.
    • Extrinsic value refers to how a thing is related to some other valuable thing (ultimately one with intrinsic value.
  • Intrinsic value is what philosophers are typically concerned with.
tripartite axiological schema
Tripartite Axiological Schema
  • Given the dominance of intrinsic value we can once again identify three basic value categories.
a theory of the right and the good
A Theory of the Right and the Good
  • Given these accounts of the Right and the Good, we can identify three tasks that a moral theory must accomplish.
    • MT must identify the right-making features of actions.
    • MT must provide an account of intrinsic value.
    • MT must specify how these accounts can serve as the basis for the justification of specific moral conclusions.
two main aims of moral theory
Two Main Aims of Moral Theory
  • These three tasks of moral theory provide us with the means of distinguishing two main aims.
    • The theoretical aim (corresponding to the first two tasks) is to identify the underlying features of actions, persons and other morally relevant elements that make them right or wrong, good or bad. In other words, MTs have to explain what makes something morally relevant.
    • The practical aim (corresponding to the third task) is to be action-guiding. In other words, MTs must provide us with resources with which to respond to the moral issues that confront us.
taking aim with moral principles
Taking Aim with Moral Principles
  • One tool that philosophers use to satisfy these aims is the moral principle.
  • A moral principle is a general statement of the right-making characteristics of actions or of the specification of intrinsic value.
    • Principles that focus on actions are called "Principles of Right Conduct."
    • Principles that focus on intrinsic value are called "Principles of Value."
what about the second aim
What About the Second Aim?
  • PRC and PV certainly seem to satisfy the theoretical aim of MTs, but what about the practical aim?
  • The operative presumption is that if the principles are correct, then employing the principles to evaluate proposed actions or possible value assignments provides justifying reasons (as well as motivation) for moral decision making.
conflict of the principles
Conflict of the Principles
  • Though all MTs have to include both a PRC and a PV, typically these principles are not equal in any given theory.
  • Some theories make the Good more important than the Right, some the Right more important than the Good.
  • The former are called "Value-based MTs"the latter are called "Duty-Based MTs."
a plurality of theories
A Plurality of Theories
  • Given that different moral theories emphasize different principles, you shouldn’t be surprised that when we start looking at specific theories, we will find that they highlight different features of our moral lives.
  • In many cases, these differences mask an essential continuity in moral evaluations, but on occasion there will be important evaluative differences.
  • We need to consider how we should evaluate the differing claims of the moral theories we will discuss.
evaluating ethical theories
Evaluating Ethical Theories
  • In addition to a consideration of the adequacy of the arguments offered in support of a particular theory, there are a number of features which a successful ethical theory must exhibit.
  • The two central features correspond to the two main aims of moral theory
    • Corresponding to the theoretical aim is the principle of explanatory power: a theory should help us understand our moral evaluations. The better the explanation, the better the theory.
      • You know murder is wrong. Now ask yourself why? That's a harder question to answer than it might at first seem, and moral theory can fill in the explanatory gap.
    • Corresponding to the practical aim is the principle of practical guidance: a theory should help us make the morally correct choices. The better the guidance, the better the theory.
      • If you are faced with the challenge of having to help a friend decide whether or not to have an abortion, you need a theory that provides determinate, consistent, and actionable verdicts.
the example of ethics by authority
The Example of Ethics By Authority
  • We can begin to appreciate the value of these evaluative principles by putting them to work in a consideration of a popular, but not necessarily successful, approach to moral theory.
  • "Ethics by Authority"refers to a family of approaches to moral justification which share the insistence that all the moral explanation and guidance we need can be located in some "authority."
divine command theory
Divine Command Theory
  • DCT is one example of an authority based moral theory.
  • The key claim of DCT is that, an action is right if and only if [iff] (and because) God does not command that we not do that action.
  • One of the virtues of this approach is that it does satisfy MT's practical aim.
    • The 10 commandments don't leave a lot of wiggle room.
  • However, it does nothing to satisfy the explanatory aim.
    • Why should we honor our parents?
    • To say that "it pleases God"just pushes the question back a level. Why does/should it please God? God's willing it is no explanation of why it is the right thing to will. Insisting that God is good doesn’t help. After all, goodness is a moral quality which still needs an explanation.
ethical relativism
Ethical Relativism
  • ER is another example.
  • It's key claim is that an action (performed by a member of Group G) is right iff the moral norms accepted by G permit the performance of the action.
  • Like with DCT, ER seems appropriately action-guiding, but it doesn’t do any better job with the theoretical aim.
    • Why should the fact that a majority of some members of a group believe that the death penalty is morally acceptable make it so?
    • Most Europeans used to believe that the earth was flat, but that didn’t make it so.
what have we seen
What have we seen?
  • Our consideration of DCT and ER has revealed that these two very common "moral theories"do not satisfy the evaluative constraints which moral theories should satisfy.
  • At the very least, this fact calls into question the ability of these two ways of thinking about morality to do the work we ask of moral theories.
  • When we review later in the semester a range of specific moral theories, we will consider whether they do a better job of satisfying these constraints.