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journal of philosophical research
editor associate editor editorial board
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Charles Sayward Robert Audi
University of Nebraska
University of Nebra ska
William P. Alston
Syracuse University Founding Editor Bowling Green State University Philosophy Documentation Center Representative University of Delaware American Philosophical Association Representative University of Calgary Canadian Philosophical Association Representative Ohio State University Immediate Past Editor
Richard H. Lineback
Robert G. Turnbull
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Published with the sponsorship of the Philosophy Documentation Center, the American Philosophical Association, the Canadian Philosophical Association, and the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Produced with the financial aid and material assistance of the Philosophy Documentation Center and the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.
OPhilosophy Documentation Center 1993 ISSN 0153-8364 All rights reserved . Panayot Butchvarov succeeds Robert Audi as Editor.We are pleased to announce that beginning with the 1994 Volume.
theories that tell us what things are good and bad. We conclude that the consequentialist can make no sense of the concept of wrongness. We reject this on the grounds that there is not a satsifactory way for a consequentialist to account for the badness of actions. We first consider the suggestion that rightness and wrongness are a matter of degree. Introduction onsequentialism has traditionally been viewed a s a theory of right action. otherwise it is wrong. We explore two concepts of wrongness: to do something wrong is to be blameworthy. 1993 A CONSEQUENTIALIST CASE FOR REJECTING THE RIGHT FRANCES HOWARD-SNYDER AND ALASTAIR NORCROSS PURDUE UNIVERSITY AND SOUTHERN METHODIST UNIVERSITY ABSTRACT Satisficing and maximizing versions of consequentialism have both assumed that rightness is an all-ornothing property. from the point of view of the consequentialist. 1. According to this maximizing function. rightness and wrongness are not matters of degree. and the fact that something is wrong creates a reason not to do it. as opposed to states of affairs. actions should be evaluated purely in terms that admit of degree.JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHICAL RESEARCH VOLUME XVIII. We argue that this is inimical to the spirit of consequentialism. and that the second is just as much a feature of badness as of wrongness. Deontolo- . in functions that tell us what actions are right and wrong. If so. The most common function from the good to the right can be expressed as follows: an act is right if and only if it produces at least as much good as any alternative available to the agent. and that. Consequentialists have employed theories of value. this raises the question of whether the claim that something is wrong says any more than that it is bad. Consequentialists are not alone on this score. We argue that the first of these is not available to the consequentialist because of her views on blame. We consider the possibility that a consequentialist should simply equate wrongness with badness.
but which is in some way better than the alternatives. and that the second is just as much a feature of badness as of wrongness. and the fact that the act would be wrong is a reason not to do it. who hears of an epidemic in another town may choose to go to the assistance of the people who are suffering there. We explore two concepts of wrongness: the fact that an act was wrong makes the agent blameworthy. some who have rejected consequentialism because of its views on wrongness may be more attracted to a theory constructed along the lines that we suggest. Perhaps.' Such an action is not morally required of the doctor. We shall conduct our discussion in terms of utilitarianism. properties that make an action right and wrong-e. a killing of an innocent person. being a keeping of a binding promise. since this is the most popular form of consequentialism. is rightness and wrongness not a matter of degree? We will argue that. We conclude that the consequentialist can make no sense of the concept of wrongness.g. Utilitarianism is said to require the doctor to go and help the victims of the epidemic. A supererogatory act. a doctor. or a telling of a lie-are not naturally thought of as matters of degree. Does that mean that rightness and wrongness should be treated as matters of degree? If so. actions should be evaluated purely in terms that admit of degrees. So the property of an act that makes it right or wrong-how much good it produces relative to available alternatives-is naturally thought of as a matter of degree.g. None of our points. Goodness and badness are clearly matters of degree. We argue that the first of these is not available to the consequentialist because of her views on blame. . although in doing so he will be putting himself at great risk. will rely on the utilitarian value theory. though. We are not undertaking to argue for consequentialism against any rival moral theory. however. Why. E. 2. is generally characterized as an act which is not requited. this raises the question of whether the claim that something is wrong says any more than that it is bad. There is an important difference. Our argument is directed towards those who are already attracted to consequentialism. however. though. The Supererogation Objection We can approach our topic by focussing first on an objection which is commonly raised for consequentialist theories such as utilitarianism: that they leave no room for supererogation. In typical deontological theories. But this is not the case with consequentialism. So one wouldn't expect the rightness or wrongness of an act to be a matter of degree for deontology. from the point of view of a consequentialist. but it produces more utility than the morally permissible alternative of remaining in his home town. Such theories are said to classify as wrong all acts that fail to maximize.110 HOWARD-SNYDER AND NORCROSS gists concur that rightness and wrongness are not matters of degree. then.. There seem to be two connected motivations for rejecting this.
On a maximizing theory the required amount is the most good available. Maximizing utilitarianism would not allow that. At . If an action does not produce at least the required amount of good. no less than the traditional ones. in some obvious physical sense.* For example. even though the best option would have been to go and help with the epidemic. Such similarities should be reflected in moral similarities. A moral theory which says that there is a really significant moral difference between giving 9% and lo%. This would allow that an agent can do her duty without performing the best action available to her. looks misguided. 3. We see nothing to recommend this claim. people who fail to make certain extreme sacrifices for the greater good are usually not wrong. And second. and how much utility or disutility they will produce. To do your duty is to do the best thing you can possibly do. and it would make it possible for her to go beyond the call of duty. or between giving 11% and 12%. but not between giving 11% and 12%. it may be perfectly permissible for the doctor to stay at home. including deontologists such as Kant and Ross. otherwise it is right. Both forms of utilitarianism share the view that a moral miss is as good as a mile. assume that the rightness of an action is an all-or-nothing property. The utilitarian can avoid these consequences by retreating to a form of satisficing utilitarianism. It is abundantly clear that the difference between two wrong actions-one slightly wrong and the other seriously wrong-can be at least as great as the difference between a slightly wrong action and a minimally right one.) Suppose Jones is obligated to give 10% of his income to charity. The difference between giving 8% and 9% is the same. The position of the boundary between right and wrong may be affected by such factors as how much self-sacrifice is required of the agent by the various options. people sometimes go beyond the call of duty. It seems harsh to demand or expect that the doctor sacrifice his life for the villagers. and that’s all there is to it. On the other hand. if all the doctor could do and needed to do to save the villagers were to send a box of tablets or a textbook on diseases. the wealthy are required to give up a minimal proportion of their incomes for the support of the poor and hungry. (Most people. Wrongness: All-or-Nothing or Scalar Satisficing versions of utilitarianism.g. For example. then it is wrong. one can allow that the boundary between right and wrong can in some cases be located on the scale at some point short of the best. e. then he would be required to do all he could to save them. On a non-maximizing theory what is required may be less than the best. would accept this. Suppose that we have some obligations of beneficence. then you do something wrong.REJECTING THE RIGHT 111 First. Here’s an argument for the view that rightness and wrongness isn’t an all-or-nothing affair. If you don’t produce a s much good as is required. as the difference between giving 9% and lo%.
with getting money to people who need it. If this distinction is to be interesting. assuming that other things are equal. also attach great significance to finishing in the top three. or between the final four and the others-we seem be laying down arbitrary conventions. it must say that there is a big difference between right and wrong.3 A related reason to reject an all-or-nothing line between right and wrong is that the choice of any point on the scale of possible options as a threshold for rightness will be arbitrary. or pairs of wrong actions. seventh and eighth. To see this. We do.112 HOWARD-SNYDER AND NORCROSS least. An extra $5. By contrast. The utilitarian will tell you to spend the same amount of time persuading each to give the larger sum. It does not matter whether the $5. the utilitarian cannot accept this. whereas if one chose to give 10% one would be right. One might think that the difference between the best and the next best option constitutes a really significant moral difference. We do. and a small difference between pairs of right actions. attach great significance to the difference between winning a race and coming second. We could just as easily honor the top three equally and not distinguish between them. and the difference between giving 11% and 12% is just the difference between one supererogatory act and a slightly better one. at lo%. True enough. no utilitarian should accept this. This is because she is concerned with certain sorts of consequences. but as with many other .000 from Jones (who has already given 11%)would satisfy this goal as well as an extra $5. between giving 9% and giving IO%. suppose that Jones were tom between giving 11%and 12%and that Smith were torn between giving 9% and 10%. The difference between giving 9% and 8% is just the difference between a wrong action and a slightly worse one. even if the two runners are separated by only a fraction of a second. We give medals to the top three and to no others. even when a much larger interval separates the runners. or between the top three and the rest. but we don’t think that it shows that there really is a greater significance in the difference between first and second than in any other difference. quite apart from the difference in goodness between the options. Even maximization is subject to this criticism. such that if one chose to give 9% one would be wrong. in this case. We certainly don’t attach anything like the same significance to the difference between finishing. good and bad are scalar concepts.000 comes from one who has already given 11% or from one who has given a mere 9 % . An all-or-nothing theory of right and wrong would have to say that there was a threshold. And saying that giving 10% is right and giving only 9% is wrong seems analogously conventional and arbitrary.g. e. after all..000 from Smith (who has given 9%). Given the argument of the last paragraph. after all. say. When we draw these lines-between the first and the rest. She will be equally concerned about the difference between giving 11% and 12% as the difference between giving 9% and 10%.
on the account of good and bad states of affairs we offered the utilitarian. The second is that. Perhaps this is because the man’s situation is improved by the drink. and hence. If it is negative. This distinction is not arbitrary or conventional. such as rich and tall. Why not say something similar about right and wrong: that they are scalar phenomena but that there is a point (perhaps a fuzzy point) at which wrong shades into right? Well. . the action is good. so that the drink slows the deterioration. so long as his situation is better after the action than before. it doesn’t give us reason to attach much significance to the distinction. Determine whether his conscious experience is better than no experience. but it might well be that the situation is bad if she gives it to him and bad if she doesn’t. Good and Bad Actions It will often happen that all the states of affairs an agent has the power to produce are bad or all are good. and a negative one if it isn’t. It is also implausible to say that it would be a bad thing to give the man a drink. To explain this point we need to explore what a utilitarian might say about the difference between good and bad actions.REJECTING THE RIGHT 113 scalar concepts. It doesn’t make the difference between a minimally good state of affairs and a minimally bad state of affairs more significant than the difference between pairs of good states of affairs or between bad states of affairs. It could be that his situation is gradually deteriorating. let alone reverse it. Perhaps we can say that. Mother Theresa has to choose whether to give a drink of water to a dying man. Assign it a positive number if it is. he will be slightly better off than he would otherwise be. The utilitarian can give a fairly natural account of the distinction between good and bad states of affairs. There are two reasons to reject this suggestion. Perhaps the dividing line between right and wrong is just the dividing line between good and bad. For example. 4. He is now less badly off than he was before. the state of affairs is bad. even though it is still bad. If she gives him the water. but doesn’t even halt it. the state of affairs is good. we speak of a state of affairs a s good or bad (simpliciter). If the sum if positive. what would that point be? We said earlier that differences in goodness should be reflected by differences in rightness. Then add together the numbers of all morally significant beings affected by some possible action. Note that although this gives an account of a real distinction between good and bad. But this won’t do. For example: consider each morally significant being affected by some action. to make the former pair redundant. and also does wrong if she doesn’t. The first is that it seems to collapse the concepts of right and wrong into those of good and bad respectively. it is not clear that there is any satisfactory account of the difference between good and bad actions with which to equate the difference between right and wrong actions. But it is utterly implausible to say that she does wrong if she gives it to him.
an underlying concept is that of making a difference to the world. Within (ii) there are two possibilities: (ii)a We imagine a world identical to the actual world before t. it seems. makes the world better than it would have been if the action hadn’t been performed.4 Both immobility and absence from the scene fail to give us a satisfactory neutral point with which to compare the results of an agent’s actions. Clearly. on this proposal. as we shall argue shortly. but he would have been even worse off without the drink. It would be a very strange account of the difference between good and bad actions that judged this to be a bad action. Donagan defines an action a s “a deed done in a particular . That is. Mother Theresa’s action is good. The current proposal is that a utilitarian judges an action as good or bad (or neither) by comparing the world that results from it with the world that would have resulted if it hadn’t been performed. If the resulting world is of equal value. perhaps more importantly. A good action. If we are to judge an action by comparing its consequences with what would have happened otherwise. When we think of someone doing a good or a bad thing. We compare. but. When we wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t done something. When we wonder what the world would have been like if a particular action hadn’t been performed at time t. miraculously or not. (ii) We imagine the agent to have been absent from the scene at the t. though. Any action that results in a worse world is bad. in which the agent is non-miraculously absent from the scene at t. but at the same time in different worlds. Not only do they give the wrong moral judgements about some actions. or t o be removed from the scene.114 HOWARD-SNYDER AND NORCROSS He is actually worse off after he gets the drink than he was before. how do we imagine things to have been changed? Two approaches with prima facie plausibility can be easily dismissed: (i) We imagine the agent to have remained immobile at t. A good action makes the world better than it would have been if the action hadn’t been performed. There are problems with the proposal. (ii)b We imagine a world as similar as possible to the actual world before t. The best account we know is to be found in the writing of Alan Donagan. we need an intuitively acceptable account of the latter notion. not states of affairs at different times in the same world. because the dying man is better off than he would have been if she hadn’t given him the drink. in which the agent miraculously vanishes from the scene at t. they don’t seem to capture what we mean when we ask what would have happened if the action hadn’t been performed. Any action that results in a better world is good. The comparisons they invite are simply not the correct ones. The latter world provides a neutral point in terms of value. we don’t suppose ourselves to be immobilized. we can’t simply compare states of affairs before and after a particular action. the action is neither good nor bad. we imagine what would have had to have been different before t in order for the agent to have been absent at t.
Whatever problems there are with this analysis of the difference between doing and allowing7. but it will be unacceptable nonetheless.. His deeds as an agent are either interventions in that natural process or abstentions from intervention. Hence.REJECTING THE RIGHT 115 situation or set of circumstances. and when he abstains. Those that make a difference to the course of nature. including his bodily and mental states. The course of nature can include not only the agent’s physical presence. [consisting] partly of [the agent’s] own bodily and mental ~ t a t e s ” He continues: . or what would have happened anyway. would change according to the laws of nature. who is a lazy good-for-nothing. he asks what would have happened in “the course of nature” (his phrase).6 In considering what would have happened if an agent hadn’t acted. . Donagan doesn’t imagine her to be immobile or absent from the scene. Consider an agent. If someone allows to happen what would have happened anyway.” It is the exercise of human agency that gives an agent the option to intervene in the course of nature or to allow nature to take its course. but the freedom fighter happens to be in the toilet. her behavior is morally neutral. it seems to have a good deal of intuitive support. The chief policeman announces that they have been given reliable information that the freedom fighter is in the bar. He is like a deus ex machina whose interventions make a difference to what otherwise would naturally come about without them. those that leave the course of nature unchanged are abstentions. Even those who claim that it is generally worse to do bad things than to allow them to happen (and that it is better to do good things than to allow them to happen?) will admit that some allowings can be very bad and some can be very good. the situation is conceived as passive. When he intervenes. and . are interventions. All of an agent’s deeds are either interventions or abstentions. as external to it. from the point of view of action. the situation.~ Should he be deprived of all power of action. A couple of examples will suffice. and just happens to be the spitting image of a courageous freedom fighter who is wanted by the oppressive government. who are more inclined to invest the doing/allowing distinction with moral significance than are consequentialists. Instead. does this account of what would have happened anyway fare as part of an analysis of the difference between good and bad actions? The major problem with this latest suggestion is that it entails that letting nature take its course is never good or bad. This may be more amenable to anti-consequentialists. qua agent. Both Agent and the freedom fighter are in a bar one night when the forces of evil arrive.. as allowing to happen whatever would not have happened had he intervened. he can be described as causing whatever would not have occurred had he abstained. How. then. and the agent. but also changes in her “bodily and mental states. called Agent.
He tells her that the buttons control the fates of ten people. or to press none at all. named Scientist. It is. He immediately spots Agent. he explains. of what would have happened if Agent hadn’t exercised her agency. according t o any plausible account of good and bad action.”s The police shoot Agent. He was. The earlier suggestion. or presses ‘10’. before the freedom fighter. only nine will die. all ten will die. If the button marked ‘10’ is pressed.9 If we have a theory of good and bad actions. then. However. we consider different versions of the view that an action is wrong if and only if it is blameworthy. about to press ‘10’. depending on whether we suppose Agent miraculously or non-miraculously absent. but she chose to let things happen as they would have happened had she not exercised her agency at all. this would be neutral. But the account we are considering judges them both to be morally neutral. . emerges from the restroom. and leave the bar satisfied. and so on down to ‘0’. all ten will die. that none of the accounts we have been considering. Either would be a very bad thing to do. According to the analysis of good and bad actions we are considering. has done a good thing! she This example also counts against both immobility and absence from the scene. also falls foul of this example. We argue that this view-even on the most plausible construal of it-is unacceptable to the utilitarian. that we consider what would have happened if Agent had remained immobile. She is free to press any button she wishes. seizing her chance to redeem her pitiful life.116 HOWARD-SNYDER AND NORCROSS they won’t leave until they kill her. He is seated at a desk with eleven buttons. If no button is pressed within the next thirty seconds. It is also clear that none of these can explain the difference between right and wrong actions. In the absence of any other plausible alternatives. we must reject the suggestion that the dividing line between right and wrong is the line between good and bad. Absence from the scene fares differently. What is perhaps even more counterintuitive. he turns control of the buttons over to Agent. Suppose that Agent stumbles onto an experiment conducted by a twisted scientist. Agent. Allowings can also be very bad. because they are in a tearing hurry to get to the donut shop before it closes. unaware of what has happened. It seems. numbered ‘0’ through ‘lo’. helps the utilitarian provide a satisfactory account of the difference between good and bad actions. it had better classify this a s a good action. Suppose Agent either doesn’t press any button. Agent had the chance to reveal her identity and save her life. in front of him. The police thrust Agent against a wall and tell her to hurry up and say whatever she has to say before they shoot her. however. hard to imagine a better candidate for a good action than this one. to honor her arrival. mumbles “it is a far far better thing that I do now than I have ever done before. Is there an alternative account of wrongness? In the next section. if Agent presses ‘9*. if ‘9’ is pressed.
But if WA is to be understood a s WA1. And we tend to consider it wrong to blame or punish someone for an action that was not wrong. You can give someone one more lashing. or between one right action and another. it leads to a definitional circle or regress. There is an alternative account of appropriateness according to which it is still normative. What does it mean to say that it is ‘appropriate’ to sanction? Since appropriateness is a normative notion.” In that case. One can feel shame to different degrees too. Wrongness as Blameworthiness We tend to blame and punish agents for their wrong actions and not for actions that are not wrong.REJECTING THE RIGHT 117 5.’ Trying to understand the wrongness of one action in terms of the wrongness of other actions is unenlightening. I 2 Let us suppose that WA2 expresses the sort of connection between wrongness and . Consider the following definition of wrong action: WA: An action is wrong if and only if it is appropriate to impose various sanctions on the agent. . Some philosophers have argued that being blameworthy is of the essence of wrong action. (We take it that ‘wrong’ and ‘ought not to be done’ are interchangeable. The difference between one lashing and two lashings is not significantly different from the difference between two lashings and three. since censure comes in degrees. This account would not require us to draw a sharp line between the right and the wrong. Punishment. then wrongness might also come in degrees. at least not a line which has any more significance than the line between one wrong action and another. If this is what wrongness consists in. The degrees can be as fine as you like. or the difference between no lashings and one. the most natural understanding is to think of it as meaning ‘obligatory’. one more day or hour in prison. That account says that an action is appropriate if and only if it is optimific. WA would then amount to: WA2: An action is wrong if and only if it is optimific to punish the agent This suggestion avoids the uninformative circularity of WA 1. praise and shame come in degrees.10 This conception of wrongness is attractive. You can ostracize him for one more hour or one more year. from the consequentialist point of view.) But we don’t have a better grasp on the notion of ‘ought to sanction’ than we have on the notions of ‘ought to keep promises’ or ‘ought to feed the hungry. It tells us to understand what is wrong in terms of what it is wrong not to do. The scalar nature of punishment is well-suited to reflect the scalar nature of wrongness. WA would be: WA1: An action is wrong if and only if we ought to impose various sanc- tions on the agent.
118 HOWARD-SNYDER AND NORCROSS censure that people have in mind. if there is good reason to reject this method of deciding whether someone has done wrong. and does very well indeed. If action x is wrong. For example. 2. their power to produce utility. but the usefulness of the praise. x would be wrong.I3 The utilitarian will. in distributing our praise of human qualities. We might call this the principle of universalizability. On the other hand. Hence. and if Sidgwick’s account of when it is appropriate to punish is correct. with a view to its future production: accordingly. This is because our concept of wrongness is constrained by one or both of the following principles which conflict with WA2. be optimific to punish the agent of x but not the agent of y. ‘deserving of praise’. Can it provide the utilitarian with a distinction between badness and wrongness? We believe that WA2 is not available to the utilitarian as a way of distinguishing wrong actions from bad actions. It might. Moreover. we have to consider primarily not the usefulness of the quality. We submit that there is reason to reject the claim that the wrongness of an action is determined by whether punishing the agent would produce more utility than not. on utilitarian principles. To see this consider what Sidgwick says about praise. as has been before said. From a Utilitarian point of view. such as someone’s untimely death or suffering. according to WA2. of course. If someone does the best she can. For he cannot identify wrong actions with actions which it is optimific to sanction. then she has done nothing wrong. But it can sometimes be optimific to punish a utility-maximizer. imagine that Agnes has always produced as much utility as it was possible for her to produce. their value is determined by their consequences. with the same intention and the same consequences. then an action y done by someone in exactly similar circumstances. . then we should be able to determine whether an act is wrong by determining whether punishing the agent of that act will produce more utility than not. none of her actions has led to any unfortunate consequences. say the same about censure as Sidgwick says about praise: we should assess whether it is good to punish or blame someone by assessing the utility of doing so. however. Punishing or blaming are actions just like promise-keeping or killing and. we must mean by calling a quality. that it is expedient to praise it. If there is a conceptual connection of the sort asserted by WA2 between an action’s being wrong and its being appropriate to punish the agent. but y would not. 1. like those actions. is also wrong. then there is reason to reject WA2.
Agnes) who has done no wrong. for the utilitarian. Suppose that punishing her will produce very slightly more utility than not doing so. even if we grant that it was appropriate to punish her. In the next section. If her innocence did create a presumption against punishing her. Given any one of these constraints on any recognizable understanding of wrongness. Both kinds of reasons can be overridden. particularly in the sorts of bizarre cases that philosophers come up with. Rightness and Goodness as Guides to Action We raised the question of whether there was a connection between wrongness and censure because this seemed to be the best candidate for explaining the distinction between wrongness and badness.. not punishing an innocent person. we need a connection that allows for exceptions. The utilitarian will judge that punishing her is better than not. Imagine someone (say. or prima facie appropriate not to blame someone who has done no wrong. Why not say that wrongness makes it prima facie appropriate to censure the agent?15This prima facie appropriateness can be outweighed by such factors as the agent’s motivational state or very extreme consequences of. it might be urged. e. however. So the suggestion is: WA3: An action is wrong if and only if it blame its agent. then that presumption should be enough to outweigh the very slight gain in utility. This conceptual .14 It might be objected that the conflict between principles (1) and (2) and WA2 can be explained away if we see the relationship between the concepts of wrongness and censure as less simple than the one we have suggested. But this is not how the utilitarian sees things. The utilitarian does not think it is prima facie appropriate to blame the agent of every wrong action. Instead of saying that wrongness is a necessary and sufficient condition for the appropriateness of censure. We submit that there can be no conceptual connection. This suggestion will not work. we argue that this is not a strike against utilitarianism. i s prbra facie appropriate to Presumably also. This would account for our disinclination to say that Agnes did something wrong. the utilitarian cannot say that whether an action is wrong is determined by whether it is optimific to punish the agent for doing it. the fact that an agent has done no wrong is a primafacie reason not to punish the agent.g. 6. It is absurd to say that she has done something wrong just in virtue of the fact that it is appropriate to punish her. between wrongness and punishability or blameworthiness.REJECTING THE RIGHT 119 Punishing her as a scapegoat might nevertheless produce more utility than not doing so. say. if the agent has suffered a great deal as a result of his action. This is because the soZe determinant of the appropriateness of blame or punishment is how much utility will be produced by doing so. We recognize intuitively that the appropriateness of punishing or blaming someone for doing wrong is occasionally outweighed by other considerations.
So it is an inadequate morality. does not tell us what we ought to do. as we have described it. And if a theory does not tell us what we ought to do. or what it is wrong to do. To meet this challenge. This is not to say that it is a bad thing for people to use the word ‘right’.” This argument has three premises: 1. the theory you have described does not tell us what we ought to do. Opponents may grant that utilitarianism is unable to provide an account of wrongness and that it should not be seen as giving an account of right and wrong action. There is no further fact of the form ‘x is right’.120 HOWARD-SNYDER AND NORCROSS resource is not available to the utilitarian. ‘wrong’ or ‘ought’. and even to set up systems of punishment and blame which assume that there is a clear and significant line between right and wrong. By your own admission. If a theory doesn’t tell us what we ought to do. If it means ‘tell us . it is no good. but only as giving an account of what is good and what is better than what. Why think it is a strike against an ethical theory that it fails to give an account of wrongness? Here’s what people have told us in conversations on the topic: “A moral theory is no good unless it guides our action. 2. Utilitarianism. And there seems to be no other way to draw the distinction. or ‘x is to-be-done’. And so different functions can be assessed as better or worse depending on the results of employing them. The fundamental moral fact about an action is how good it is relative to other available alternatives. It may well be that societies that believe in such a line are happier than societies that don’t. If it is practically desirable that people should think that rightness is an all-or-nothing property. It might still be useful to employ the notions of rightness and wrongness for the purposes of everyday decision-making. If a theory doesn’t guide our action. They will undoubtedly go on to claim that this is a strike against that theory. In that case. our proposed treatment of utilitarianism suggests an approach to the question of what function to employ to move from the good to the right. we need first to understand what motivates it. all the morally relevant facts about those options have been discovered. 3. or of which actions ought to be per: formed. Once a range of options has been evaluated in terms of goodness. utilitarianism should not be seen as giving an account of right action. In different societies the results of employing different functions may well be different. The expression ‘guide our action’ can mean several things. in their moral decision-making. These different results will themselves be comparable in terms of goodness. To assess this argument we need to disambiguate its first premise. it doesn’t guide our action. it does not guide our action.
this reason can be overridden by other reasons.” It seems that the consequentialist internalist should take the position that the belief that a state of affairs is bud is also a motivating reason to avoid producing it. For it may be true that one cannot consistently want to avoid doing wrong. it can do so without intervening oughts. Sidgwick’s point rests on internalism. In that case the fact that an act is wrong gives one a reason to avoid doing it f one cares about avoiding i wrongdoing.16 As Sidgwick acknowledges. Here’s why: A fawn’s suffering in a forest fire is a bad state of affairs. then there would be no reason to do so. the fact that a state of affairs is bad gives reason to avoid producing it as much as does the fact that producing it is wrong. if it does constitute a reason to prevent it. but when it is. then it seems no defect in a theory that it lacks a concept of wrongness. We shall construe it to mean something more like. Now let’s suppose externalism is true. ‘provide us with reasons for acting’. by itself. then the fact that it involves the production of a bad state of affairs. On that reading.REJECTING THE RIGHT 121 what we ought to do’ then premise (1) is question-begging. this is only one motive among others which are liable to conflict with it. Internalism is controversial. If this is what wrongness amounts to. believe that an act is wrong and d o the act without feeling guilt. and shall argue that (2) is false. The fact that this is a bad state of affairs is what grounds the fact that one ought not to start forest fires. it still exerts its pull in the form of guilt or uneasiness. even if no one is responsible for it. because we can replace each occurrence of the word . and the belief that one state of affairs is better than the other may well give the believer a stronger reason to produce the first than the second. Instead of coming down on one side or the other of this controversy. such a reason is necessarily a motivating reason. we shall concede ( l ) . the view that oughts are essentially motivating. On the other hand. we shall argue that. or that God ought not to allow the fawn to suffer like this. when I speak of the cognition or judgement that ‘X ought to be done’-in the stricter ethical sense of the term ought-as a ‘dictate’ or ‘precept’ of reason to the persons to whom it relates. I imply that in rational beings a s such this cognition gives an impulse or motive to action: though in human beings. or that a human agent. If the fact that an act is wrong gives us reason to avoid it. ought to put the animal out of its misery as quickly as possible (if there are such facts). Suppose internalism is correct. whether one accepts internalism or externalism. Furthermore. and is not alwaysperhaps not usually-a predominant motive. observing the situation. If the badness of this state of affairs did not provide a reason to prevent it. Here is Sidgwick in defence of something like (2): Further. In that case the belief that an act is wrong gives one a reason not to do it. But this doesn’t provide a distinctive account of wrongness. of course. gives us reason to avoid it.
the deontologist may acknowledge that five deaths are better than one. such as prudential and aesthetic reasons. This is not to concede the point to our opponents. the best action will be the one that produces the best consequences. and so on.”~~ This is not correct. then he will be motivated to do so.18 Whether internalism is correct or not. This should come as no surprise. A particular species of consequentialism. even that there is more moral reason to perform it than any other action. For example. but insist that the better behavior is to allow the five to . many of us do not care about doing what we ought either. Whether moral facts are reasons for all who recognize them (the debate over internalism) is an issue beyond the scope of this paper. if faced with a choice between killing one and letting five die. We can still claim this distinctive feature for consequentialism: it includes the view that the goodness of an action depends on the goodness of its consequences. (Most of us would acknowledge that one has more moral reason to behave in a supererogatory fashion than simply to do one’s duty.) This distinguishes consequentialism from deontology. Well. but there are no restrictions on the kind of good that a consequentialism may be a theory of. the next best will be the one that produces the next best consequences. and so on. is a theory of the good. The fact that one action is better than another gives us a moral reason to prefer the first to the second. it looks a s if premise ( 2 ) in the above argument is false. the stronger the moral reason to perform it. My judgement that pizza is better for me than cauliflower will guide my action differently depending on how much better I judge pizza to be than cauliflower. feel guilt if he doesn’t. It is true that few of us care about doing the best we can. which allows that one may have a stronger moral reason to perform an action which produces worse consequences. the significance each of us gives to such moral reasons relative to other reasons. The fact that there is a moral reason to perform some action. is not something which can be settled by a moral theory. doesn’t mean that one ought to perform it. but whether they are or not. what is it a theory of. There are two other reasons we have encountered for requiring consequentialism to provide an account of the right. We are left with nothing that is distinctive about con~equentialism. Morality thus guides action in a scalar fashion. such as utilitarianism. If the agent cares about doing the best he can. But then. Prudential reasons certainly seem to function in this way. Other action-guiding reasons also come in degrees.122 HOWARD-SNYDER AND NORCROSS ‘wrong’ and its cognates in the above sentence with other moral terms such as ‘an action which produces less than the best possible consequences’ or simply ‘bad’ and the principle remains true. Of the acts available to the agent. We can also claim that the better the action. The first might be expressed like this: “You say that consequentialism is not a theory of the right. Abolishing the notion of ‘ought’ will not seriously undermine the action-guiding nature of morality. then? It is surely not a theory of the good.
22. 2Michael Slote. is its claim that right and wrong are not fundamental ethical concepts. nor does it make it vaccuous.REJECTING THE RIGHT 123 die. It is true that contemporary discussions of the relative merits of utilitarianism and deontology have often focused on particular examples. In addition. That utilitarians have felt the need to provide accounts of rightness is testimony to the pervasion of deontological approaches to ethics. 1985) chapter 3. Cordirtion-scrzse Morality arid Corzseqireririalisrtr (Boston:Routledge and Kegan Paul.2oOne advantage of the suggestion we offer here over. first of all. discusses this suggestion. “Supererogation and Rules. according to this suggestion.23 ENDNOTES ‘See for example. According to that view. we have argued that consequentialism is best conceived as a theory of the good. The only possible ways of doing so are by linking wrongness to badness or to punishability. morality provides stronger reasons for allowing five deaths than for killing one. and not as a theory of the right. consists in comparing their judgements about which acts are right or wrong. 7. Having shown this.” Ethics 71 (1961): 276-88. asking of the different theories what options are right or wrong. Conclusion In this paper. that if consequentialism does include an account of rightness and wrongness. We have also encountered the following reason for requiring utilitarianism to provide an account of the right as well as the good: The utilitarian will have to provide a function from the good to the right in order to compare her theory with various deontological alternatives21. and these moves are unavailable to the consequentialist. . is that it allows satisficing consequentialists and scalar consequentialists to count as consequentialists. then it should treat them as matters of degree. We have shown. No longer are all acts which fail to produce the best consequences classified as wrong. Our chief method for comparing moral theories. Joel Feinberg. Part of what makes utilitarianism such a radical alternative to deontology. the view that it is of the essence of consequentialism to insist that the agent ought always to do whatever will produce the best consequences. However. say. in our view. since it doesn’t detract from its action-guiding capacity. to assume that a moral theory must provide an account of the right in order to be subjected to critical scrutiny begs the question against our proposed treatment of utilitarianism. we argue that consequentialism should not include an account of rightness and wrongness. we have argued that the fact that consequentialism is not an account of the right is not a strike against that theory. A further advantage of consequentialism’s rejection of the right is that it provides a solution to the problem of supererogation.
CrinrinalJristice Erhics (Winter/Spring. However. in Utilifarianisnt. at first sight. we could understand it as meaning ‘permissible’. 428. *Apologies to Charles Dickens. I4It might occur to the reader to wonder whether a satisficing version of (WA2) would work better that the ‘optimific’ version. judges. We mean that there is a . 1977). p. l5When we say that someone has a prbrajacie obligation to do x. that human agents have the power to break the laws of nature. But it doesn’t. endorse this view. Note that the chief objection to the obligatory reading also applies to the permissibility reading. reissued (Chicago: University of Chicago Press.124 HOWARD-SNYDER A N D NORCROSS 31t might be objected that maximizing utilitarianism does in fact give a scalar account of wrongness. 3-10. The Theory of Moraliry. 42-3. Mill.” Erhics. We shall focus on the obligatory reading here. and J. paragraph 14. She immediately looks up to see a large rock about to hit her. police. consider this alternative: Agent is out mountain-climbing and notices that the freedom fighter is directly below her. That is. ‘*At first sight. October 1993. to say that judges and others ought to punish in an optimific manner means that it is optimific for third parties to punish them if they failed to do so. Some actions are closer to being right than are others. it appears that she should do x. and ordinary people in everyday life to punish in a way that produces the best consequences. Mackie in “Moralityand the Retributive Eiiiotioiis. 5Alan Donagan. Robert Adams. 42. if not of rightness. it might look as though it enjoins legislators. ” 1lAlternatively. we do not mean that. “Negation and Abstention: Two Theories of Allowing. and it may well turn out that this is not the case. in Chapter 5 of The Wilde Lectures on Religion and the Foundation of Ethics (unpublished manuscript). see Jonathan Bennett. For a useful discussion of this passage and the distinction between doing and allowing contained therein. 6Donagan. She could move. S. IOEthicists as diverse as J. 13Henry Sidgwick. L. (Chicago: Chicago University Press. 4This involves a backtracking counterfactual. the claim that an action is closer to the best action than is another is quite consistent with the claim that it is no less wrong than the latter. and killed. The Merhods of Ethics 7th ed. pp. 1962). According to (WA2). but then the freedom fighter would be killed. She allows herself to be hit. by the rock. this analysis seems to suggest that human agency is somehow outside nature. since it seems the most popular.chapter 5 . 9If you are uncomfortable with the fact that the consequences of Agent’s behavior run through the wills of other agents. thus saving the freedom fighter. The principles we have expressed here would produce conflicts with such a version also. and so are less wrong. ’For example. 1982). (WA2) appears to endorse maximization.
%late. points this out. e. p. We are not here thinking of cases in 17There can be reasons that are not necessarily motivating. In such cases you would still be motivated to act prudentially. which other motivations-moral. 2 q h e full story about what distinguishes consequentialism from deontology will have to be more complicated than this. You may have a prudential reason to act in a certain way. which can be outweighed by other considerations. op. be aware of the reason. 22We conducted the argument largely in terms of utilitarianism. and yet be not in the least motivated so to act. but you may be not in the least motivated to do so. 1982) for a discussion of this notion. 34. The motivation may be outweighed by other motivations. but more motivated to act in other ways. or any other truth.g. self-indulgent and the like-simply overwhelm prudential motivations. If you simply didn’t care about your own well-being. It will have to incorporate the claim that the consequentialist ranking of states of affairs is not agent-centered. IsSidgwick. For example. . 19We have heard this objection from Daniel Howard-Snyder and Shelly Kagan. prudential reasons. We take ther term “scalar” from Slote. prudential reasons.REJECTING THE RIGHT 125 presumption in favor of her doing x. cir. and even be aware of. Similarly. op. cir. the belief that a particular action is the best way to satisfy one of your desires may provide a necessarily motivating reason to perform that action.. 2lThis was suggested by an anonymous referee. John O’LearyHawthorne. and Michael Slote for helpful comments. for you may not care about arithmetic truth. But someone who didn’t care about her own well-being could still have. 23We are indebted to Jonathan Bennett. There may be reasons other than moral reasons that are necessarily motivating. See Samuel Scheffler. Daniel Howard-Snyder. but it seems to us that everything we have said in this paper about utilitarianism can be said about other forms of consequentialism. aesthetic. The Rejecrioiz of Coizse(liieiirialisirl (Oxford: Clarendon Press.. if you are asked what is the sum of five and seven. prudential reasons would not be in the least motivating. you have a reason to reply ‘twelve’. who discusses scalar morality in Chapter 5 .
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