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By In Normative Ethics Comments (8)

The Self-Other Asymmetry

As Michael Slote (1984) has rightly pointed out, “ordinary moral thinking seems to involve an asymmetry regarding what an agent is permitted to do to himself and what he is permitted to do to others.” For one, agents are permitted to sacrifice their own greater good in order to secure a lesser net benefit for others, but not permitted to sacrifice someone else’s greater good in order to secure a lesser net benefit for others. For another, whereas it seems morally permissible to allow yourself to suffer unnecessarily, it seems morally impermissible to allow someone else to suffer unnecessarily. To make this a bit more concrete, consider the following illustrations. First, whereas it seems morally permissible to cut off my right arm in order to save someone else’s pinky finger, it seems morally wrong to cut off someone else’s right arm (even with his or her consent) in order to save yet another person’s pinky finger. Second, whereas it seems imprudent but not immoral of me to negligently leave thumbtacks on the ground where only I tread, it seems wrong of me to negligently leave thumbtacks on the ground where others tread.

Now what exactly is the nature of this asymmetry? I propose that it’s this:

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By In Normative Ethics Comments Off on Hooker And Imperfect Duties, Part Deux (Kantian resources)

Hooker And Imperfect Duties, Part Deux (Kantian resources)

So I was composing a reply to pressing comments from both Brad Hooker and Doug Portmore on the original post on this topic (which can be found here, as can their comments), when I realized that the reply was going longer than seems appropriate for a comment. So I’ve taken inspiration from Dave and decided just to log it as a full-fledged post. (I see that just last week, Jonathan Weinberg did a similar thing here, over on what I think is another great blog, Experimental Philosophy. Maybe this is becoming – or has already become – a blogospheric norm.) Let me kick it off by thanking both Brad and Doug for the comments…

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By In Normative Ethics Comments (11)

Is Rule-Consequentialism Too Pervasive?

According to Hooker’s version of rule-consequentialism (RC), the criterion of rightness is as follows: “An act is wrong if and only if it is forbidden by the code of rules whose internalization by the overwhelming majority of everyone everywhere in each new generation has maximum expected value in terms of well-being (with some priority for the worst off).”

Now Hooker believes that one criterion by which we should assess moral theories is how well the implications of a given moral theory cohere with our considered moral convictions. In his book Ideal Code, Real World, he seems to suggest that RC does pretty well on this criterion, but perhaps he has overlooked the fact that RC will be too pervasive. A moral theory is too pervasive if it pervades every aspect of our lives, such that every voluntary human action, including those that have no effect on others, is potentially morally wrong.

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By In Normative Ethics Comments (9)

Hooker and Imperfect Duties

Brad Hooker Week on PEA Soup continues… In Chapter 8 of his Ideal Code, Real World, Hooker considers some ways of dealing with the problem of how much the relatively well off are obligated to do for the less well off. The trick here is to come up with some sort of principle that covers our intuitions about various cases (and in particular to find a principle that is not overdemanding). One way of dealing with the problem is to adopt the distinction between perfect and imperfect duties and then incorporate an imperfect duty of beneficence. Hooker rejects this solution, for two reasons, neither of which I find wholly adequate (being the Kantian that I am).

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By In Normative Ethics Comments (3)

Hooker on the Cost of Internalizing a Moral Code: Part II

In the last post, I asked, following Dave and Josh’s lead, whether Hooker’s notion of the costs of internalizing a moral code left him with a dilemma: either he is inconsistent about what costs are to be included in the calculation that determines the ideal moral code, or his Rule-Consequentialism would seem to countenance a very conservative moral code—one that contains rules that, on reflection, seem to go against our considered moral judgments—and, hence, his theory seems to violate to a significant extent one of his own criteria of adequacy for a moral theory. I then outlined what kinds of costs were to be counted in the calculation that determines the ideal moral code. I suggested that, for Hooker, the total cost was the sum of internalization costs, transition costs, and maintenance costs. I’ll now get to the possible dilemma.

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Hooker on the Cost of Internalizing a Moral Code

Josh, Doug, Dave, Richard Rodewald, and I were discussing the last two chapters of Brad Hooker’s Ideal Code, Real World, in which Hooker goes to great lengths to discuss the importance of taking into account the costs associated with having each member of an overwhelming majority of each new generation accept a particular moral code. This raises the question of just what costs are supposed to be counted in the calculation that determines the ideal moral code. Both Josh and Dave suggested that, when we get to the details of what these costs are, it looks like Hooker is either inconsistent about what such costs include, or he vastly underestimates some of these costs to the point that it looks like the ideal moral code would be so conservative as to fly in the face of some of our considered moral beliefs–and thus his Rule-Consequentialism would violate to a significant extent one of the criteria of adequacy that he endorses for a correct moral theory. This post will lay out what costs are supposed to be counted in the calculation that determines the ideal moral code, and, in the next post, I’ll get to the dilemma.

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By In Normative Ethics Comments (4)

Agency and the Paradox of Deontology

Lest our readers begin to think that this blog will turn out to be some sort of consequentialist love-fest, here’s something from the deontology corner of PEA Soup.

I recently gave a paper at UNC-Greensboro, in which I defend deontology against Samuel Scheffler’s objection that its restrictions are paradoxical. Among the many helpful comments offered by the audience, one point that received some healthy discussion was whether the case that supposedly generates the putative paradox is actually possible. The case is this (there are other versions of it, but this is the one I focus on): either Agent 1 kills Victim 1, or Agents 2-6 will kill Victims 2-6. Deontology (let’s grant) obligates Agent 1 to not kill Victim 1, so this means that five other killings will occur, and as such deontology fails to minimize the overall number of killings. But if killing is so wrong, it seems paradoxical to require more, rather than fewer, overall violations of the duty to not kill.

Now early on, I was tempted to say that the case itself could not occur, but given that it doesn’t seem logically impossible, and it’s otherwise hard to prove a universal negative, I instead worked up a solution (I think) that renders deontology non-paradoxical given that such a case could arise. So I simply grant the case. Some of the comments from folks at UNC-G, however, got me reconsidering the idea that maybe the case itself is problematic.

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