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Moral Rules Author(s): Russ Shafer-Landau Reviewed work(s): Source: Ethics, Vol. 107, No. 4 (Jul., 1997), pp.

584-611 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 12/08/2012 20:24
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Moral Rules* Russ Shafer-Landau
The traditional conception of ethical theory sees it as the project of developing a coherent set of rules from which one can infer all determinate moral verdicts. I am not optimistic about the prospects for constructing such a theory. To explain this pessimism, we need to understand what moral rules are and what roles they might play in ethical theory. I. THE NATURE OF MORAL RULES A moral rule states or expresses a relation claimed to obtain between a moral property and other, grounding properties that are correlated with its instantiation. The correlation between moral properties and their grounds is always alleged to be universal. In other words, moral rules either obviously do or can be easily translated to take the following form: for every x, if Gx, then Mx, where 'G' stands for some grounding property or properties, and 'M' stands for some moral property. The relevant domain is everything possibly subject to ethical assessment. It should be clear from this schematic representation that the universality of a moral rule is independent of its scope. The scope of a moral rule is determined by the concreteness of its incorporated grounding properties. The moral rule that prohibits all killing has a broader scope than one that prohibits all killing except that done in self-defense. So universal rules may be very narrowly drawn, or quite highly general.' It should also be clear that no metaethical commitments follow from the claim that moral rules are universal. Moral

* My thanks to Jack Bricke, Ann Cudd, David Gill, Kinch Hoekstra, Don Marquis, and Henry Richardson for identifying weaknesses in earlier drafts. Work on this article was supported by a General Research Fund grant (3756-20-0038) from the University of Kansas. 1. See R. M. Hare ("Principles," Proceedingsof theAristotelianSociety73 [1972]: 1-18) and Martha Nussbaum (Love'sKnowledge [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990], pp. 38-39, 67-68) for instructive remarks on the distinction between generality and universality. Ethics 107 (July 1997): 584-611 ? 1997 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0014-1704/97/0704-0004$02.00


every act of maleficence generated some presumption against its performance. But this fails to capture the idea that the instantiation of a grounding property. Thus for every case. or somewhere in between. and it overrides all possibly competing considerations. Despite this disagreement. we should read such rules as follows: for every x. create rebuttable presumptions that something possessing the grounding property specified by the moral rule will also possess the linked moral property. in determining the moral status of a situation. if Gx. 2. Rather. The probabilistic reading is compatible with the contribution being zero. namely. If absolute. Realists will take such talk literally.2 Likewise. In this regard. if it is covered by a moral rule. then the grounding property does not properly find itself in a moral rule. relative to other considerations. there are no circumstances where its force is abridged.3 This is surely true to the spirit of Ross's work. on the other hand. every promise carried with it some to-be-doneness. a moral rule can be either absolute or prima facie. a moral rule is genuine just in case the instantiation of a nonmoral grounding property invariably justifies assent to a particular moral evaluation. since he thought that. For an antirealist. always makes some negative or positive contribution to the situation's moral status. 21-42) for a criticism of this way of putting the logical form of a prima facie rule. But it does not reduce to nothing. 1980]. . that the grounding property in any wellformed prima facie rule must be universally morally relevant. however. a prima facie moral rule tells us only that the instantiation of its grounding property makes it (to some degree) probable that the correlative moral property is instantiated. Prima facie rules. The prima facie nature of a moral rule does not undermine its universality. the logical form of moral rules by itself is silent on the question of their stringency. But their logical form implies nothing about whether such conditionals are to be construed realistically. we agree on the key issue. the instantiation of the relevant grounding property in a prima facie rule makes some contribution to the instantiation of the linked moral property. noncognitively. Those with antirealist preferences are invited to make the necessary substitution in all that follows. and so we need to look elsewhere for a proper understanding of what it is for the instantiation of a grounding property to create a moral presumption. This is opposed to a view of prima facie rules that sees 'prima facie' as a probabilistic sentential operator. On this reading. 3. pp. See Donald Davidson ("How Is Weakness of the Will Possible?" in his Essays on Actions and Events [Oxford: Oxford University Press. if it did. depending on the circumstances of a given case. it can never be overridden. for example. then presumptively Mx. Thus my talk of "moral properties" is intended to be metaphysically neutral. The stringency of a moral rule refers to its weight.Shafer-Landau Moral Rules 585 rules are universally quantified conditionals. This contribution may be slight.

For instance. The classification and discussion of moral theories I offer below depend on viewing prima face rules in just this way. because the grounding properties that serve as invariably good epistemic clues might not invariably contribute to the instantiation of the linked moral property. one is epistemically justified in believing that the correlative moral property is instantiated. A property's failure to impart the same kind (not the same degree) of influence in every case in which it is instantiated bars it from serving as a grounding property in a moral rule. can perform this function. but instead to concentrate on their role as elements in fixing the truth (endorsability. then in every case. An epistemic reading is problematic. always a good-making (better: a generosity-making) feature of actions. absent defeaters. However. justifiable. suitably understood. My aim here is not to focus on the epistemic or investigative role that rules might play. ROLES FOR MORAL RULES Moral rules can play at least two roles. any such contribution may be overridden by competing considerations. But strict adherence to rules may also hinder a sensitive appraisal of the ethical options before us. a grounding property is invariably morally relevant if and only if its instantiation always makes the same kind of concrete contribution toward the instantiation of some moral property. . A standard model of this role-the subsumptive. Literature and life provide obvious examples of those whose rigorism quells moral imagination and precludes compassion when it is genuinely needed. it contributes something valuable to an action and makes it obligatory unless some weightier conflicting consideration is present. I think that some rules. it may be that whenever one sees someone giving money to a panhandler. for antirealists) of some moral conclusion. if promise keeping is a prima face duty. For instance. In the presence of weightier competing reasons. A prima facie rule is genuine (true. the positive value of fidelity is not extinguished. On my view. correct) if and only if its grounding property is invariably morally relevant. If there is just a single grounding property whose instantiation is invariably "evidential. it may be that giving such money is not." then the epistemic reading cannot be a fully satisfactory account of the nature of a prima facie rule. II. however. as a matter of fact. legitimate." but only variably "contributory. The first is investigative-our awareness of rules might assist us in coming to appreciate the ethical status of the options we confront. For the grounding properties of prima facie rules. just overridden.586 Ethics July 1997 Another view of prima facie rules sees the presumption that they create as an epistemic one: the instantiation of a grounding property invariably makes it such that. then that is a good (albeit defeasible) epistemic reason for thinking the person generous.

One absolutist theory covers more than another just in case it fixes a greater number of ethical verdicts. The rule cites a grounding property that is correlated with some moral feature. in virtue of instantiating the grounding properties specified by a prima facie rule. One way to distinguish among the many possible versions of each model is on the basis of coverage. Absolutist theories differ in their own way on matters of coverage. D. Rules tell us what kinds of actions can be morally obligatory. Such a theory sees the set of prima facie moral rules as delimiting the set of morally relevantfeatures. then the set of prima facie rules cannot delimit all morally relevant features. The absolutist model accepts the idea that moral rules can identify morally relevant features. depending on the constellation of other grounding properties instantiated in a given case. These are properties that sometimes. Ross's familiar model of prima facie rules offers a very different picture. One prima facie theory covers more than another just in case it identifies a greater number of grounding properties. create some particular moral presumption. a prima facie theory may claim to cover every morally laden case. but the deontic status of an action is not entailed by its instantiating the grounding property of a prima facie rule. The strongest version of absolutism would claim that every determinate ethical verdict can be deduced 4. . but not always. that is. however.Shafer-Landau Moral Rules 587 or absolutist model-requires that conclusory ethical assessments be deducible from a moral rule conjoined with a description of a concrete case. This is another way of saying that a feature of the world is morally relevant if and only if it instantiates a grounding property in a prima facie moral rule. The absolutist and the prima facie models each offer a very different conception of what the appropriate role for moral rules might be in ethical assessment. Ross. It claims more for itself. by endorsing the idea that moral rules can (in conjunction with specific descriptions) fix a moral verdict in particular cases. The Right and the Good (Oxford: Clarendon. these may be overridden. W. Weaker theories allow for the possibility of grounding properties that cannot be captured by prima facie rules. At the limit. particular judgments cannot be deduced from a conjunction of rule and case description. Though the grounding properties in prima facie rules invariably create certain moral presumptions. According to this model.4 For Ross. 1930). certain features of a situation are morally relevant in virtue of being subsumable under a moral rule. The prima facie model limits this role to that of identifyingmorally relevantfeatures. If there are any such. and the case description certifies that the grounding property is instantiated by the act or trait under scrutiny.

then both the prima facie and the absolutist models would have to be abandoned.3 Indeed. III. If the strongest version of particularism were true. it does not by itself commit us to a view of whether such verdicts are always available.588 Ethics July 1997 from an absolute rule. . The weakest form of particularism would allow rules a delimiting role. 1988]. 2). Though sympathetic with many of their claims. Recently. chap. 7) and Albert Jonsen and Stephen Toulmin (The Abuse of Casuistry [Berkeley: University of California Press. But this may be a Pyrrhic victory. A weaker form would allow rules to identify morally relevant features. 1. thus undermining confidence that we have ever really accurately captured their content. where an action has moral property M in virtue 5. citation of a prima facie rule is rarely determinative of the moral verdict to be reached in the case at hand. Absolutism promises justificatory security once the relevant moral rules are identified. who seem to assume that practitioners of rulebased ethics must view their enterprise as one of parceling out a thoroughly determinate moral order. largely because they aren't expected to stand as major premises in deductive syllogisms. For both models assume that the grounding properties in their rules invariably identify features whose (presumptive or absolute) moral relevance is fixed. here I disagree with Mark Johnson (Moral Imagination [Chicago: University of Chicago Press. but deny that rules could fix the moral status of any situation. A moral rule that overrides its competitors in one instance may be overridden in another. It is important to note that a commitment to absolutism does not entail a commitment to thoroughgoing ethical determinacy. chaps. It seems easier to identify prima facie rules. But complex or novel moral cases invariably arise where we feel the need to alter absolutist rules. because the prima facie model appears to leave us no means ofjustifying our intuitive judgments about particular cases. Weaker theories would allow for a range of conclusory ethical judgments that are not deducible from absolute rules. IDENTIFYING MORALLY RELEVANT FEATURES Particularists are those who deny that moral rules can fulfill the three roles just enumerated. Both the absolutist and prima facie models have their special attractions and difficulties. Nothing convinces like a good moral deduction. The absolutist model purports to tell us how moral verdicts are fixed when they can be fixed. 1993]. Jonathan Dancy has rejected both models of rules by endorsing this strongest version of particularism: "We cannot in general say. advocates of any but the strongest version of absolutism might claim that those situations not covered by an absolute rule are precisely those that are morally indeterminate. The strongest form of particularism would deny that rules can even identify morally relevant features. but would deny that rules alone can identify every morally relevant feature.

pp. always such as to give rise (conclusively or presumptively) to a particular moral property. The particularist argues that for any imaginable prima facie rule. there are no moral rules because there are no features of the world that are always morally relevant. right to lie to another. 60-66. 92-107. Yet rules purport to identify grounding properties that are universally and uniformly morally relevant. we can imagine some scenarios in which the injunction entirely lacks weight: where others are being justly punished. Moral Vision (Oxford: Basil Blackwell. It often proceeds by trying to show that there are exceptions to many putatively universal injunctions.. See Dancy." Mind 92 (1983): 530-47. B and C. B and C count generally as reasons for calling actions M. they can hardly have conclusive. novelty. And if the grounding properties in such rules can't have even presumptive weight. esp."7 In short. that the presence of A. pp. pp. may depend on the precise nature of the other properties of the action. But. pp. 193. As a prima facie rule. or where an experiment on pain is being conducted with the informed consent of the participants.." Mind 90 (1981): 367-85. See also Dancy. David McNaughton. this purports to specify a consideration that has at least some moral weight in all situations where pain is imposed. much less always morally relevant in the same way."6 And here is David McNaughton: "Whether or not one particular property is morally relevant.. that is. 9. It is not the case that where my reasons for calling an action good are that it has properties ABC I am committed to calling any other action which has the properties ABC good. 8. 1993). . Jonathan Dancy. Consider a candidate prima facie rule: one ought not to cause pain to others. 533-34. then prima facie rules cannot exist. in advance. "On Moral Properties.8 If this is so. and Moral Reasons (Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Ibid.Shafer-Landau Moral Rules 589 of having nonmoral properties A. and uniqueness that stand as a barrier to wholesale ethical codifiability. pp. right to intentionally inflict pain. wrong to please another. Moral Reasons. "Ethical Particularism and Morally Relevant Properties. esp. 541-42. overriding weight.. and in what way. the possibilities of surprise. 376-77. we can envision scenarios in which the grounding property expressed in the rule does not yield even the presumptive moral weight claimed for it... 7. for this strategy. absolutist model as well. 1988). p. says the particularist. What can be said on behalf of a particularism that denies the existence of universally relevant grounding properties? Usually the case begins by noting the extreme complexity of our ethical life. 60-61. So the failure of the prima facie model would signal the failure of the subsumptive.9 6. We cannot know. He can readily draw cases where it is wrong to return what's borrowed.. what contributions any particular nonmoral property will make to the moral nature of an action. Dancy argues in just this way.

we are faced with two choices. Dancy's examples may tempt one to the view that sees a property's value as entirely reversible depending on context only because he has focused on candidate properties that are very generally described. or as cases in which the value these properties usually possess is absent. Killing a healthy and happy child is always prima facie wrong. though here its importance is overridden. There isn't any reason to restrict ourselves to the deontic realm. then her action is prima facie courageous. Strong particularists assume that for any putative grounding property. and fidelity is selfevident. one's cruelty always contributes negatively to a moral assessment of one's actions. but its permissibility must be a matter of overriding the wrong-making features present in each such action. there will be some scenarios for which the first alternative is true. beneficence. If we assume that we may lie to him. to determining whether an action is rude. Giving to another from unselfish motives. There may be very rare circumstances where such action is. The first has it that there is nothing even presumptively right here about telling the truth. every such action is wrong. it is not very difficult to identify some that are universally and uniformly relevant. permissible. Taking pleasure at another's pain. is always relevant to determining whether one acts generously. or from the performance of a wrong action is always presumptively wrong. especially if one has very little oneself. it is always prima facie wrong to be cruel. or whether the property isn't always relevant. all-things-consideredjustified. Consider Kant's inquiring murderer. The second alternative claims that truth telling is always positively valuable. or another's undeserved pain. all the while knowing the dangers involved. though crucially important elsewhere.590 Ethics July 1997 Dancy's aim is to show that these grounding properties are only variably relevant. If a person saves the lives of others while putting herself at grave risk. But once we narrow the scope of the grounding properties. or obligatory. Likewise. But this consensus underdetermines a choice between seeing the value of the particular properties as overridden. The difficulty with such a view is that we lack an account of how to decide in a given case whether a property's omnipresent relevance is being overridden. since our ethical concerns are not limited to determining whether actions are forbidden. Dancy and Mc- . and in the same way. One doesn't undermine such confidence merely by drawing cases where it is appropriate to lie or scrimp or be faithless. Acting intentionally to cause offense is always relevant. truth telling can entirely alter in its moral value depending upon context. Absent justification. It seems to many-certainly to Ross-that the prima facie value of truth telling. Almost everyone will agree that such behavior is sometimes called for. and this is just what it is to be prima facie forbidden. The problem is that examples alone cannot establish this.

The plausibility of any one of these examples is sufficient to undermine this strongest sort of particularism. then it makes perfect sense to express this fact in a rule (very likely a prima facie one). Properties are invariably morally relevant if and only if every one of their instantiations is morally relevant. And second.10 IV. 10. The delimiting thesis can be put as follows: a feature of the world can acquire moral relevance if and only if it is covered by a moral rule. and so cannot be grounding properties in the strict sense. To take these in reverse order: some examples I provide do not employ moral properties as grounding properties. the crucial question is whether we can construct them at all. if and only if it instantiates a grounding property in a moral rule. Nor does it matter that many of the examples I supplied rely on grounding properties that have some definitional association with their correlated moral properties. because rule-based grounding properties in the strict sense are simply those whose instantiation is invariably relevant to the instantiation of some other property. that is. for instance. In any event. Moral rules exist just in case the instantiation of a moral property is invariably related to that of some other property (or properties). There is no reason to suppose that moral properties cannot be invariably relevant in this way. Falsifying the delimiting thesis appears to be simplicity itself. cruelty is in every instance a wrong-making feature. Some may balk at my use of thick concepts to construct counterexamples to the strong particularist thesis. 'good'. that we can is sufficient to undermine strong particularism. So the delimiting thesis is true if and only if every morally salient feature of the world instantiates an invariably morally relevant property. First.Shafer-Landau Moral Rules 591 Naughton deny the existence of any moral rules because they deny the existence of their essential building blocks-grounding properties of universal and uniform moral relevance. Though it is admittedly easier to construct rules from thick rather than thin moral properties. etc. But much more needs to be done before knowing whether rules are capable of delimiting the set of morally relevant features. Trepidation may arise from two sources.) that figure in most "fundamental" moral rules. If. 'praiseworthy'. thick concepts have a relatively small set of grounding properties that are definitionally associated with them. and so escape whatever force this second objection may have. DELIMITING MORALLY RELEVANT FEATURES The Case against Delimiting If these or other examples succeed. then prima facie moral rules exist. this second objection misses the mark. 'bad'. . 'wrong'. unselfishness) are themselves moral properties. That the rule relates two moral properties to each other does not make it any less a moral rule. Thick properties seem to me especially good illustrations of this possibility. A property can be a grounding property in a moral rule if and only if it is invariably relevant. and so differ from more general terms of moral appraisal ('right'. The weakest of the roles for moral rules can be fulfilled-such rules can identify uniformly relevant grounding properties. One need cite just a single example of a variably morally relevant property. some of the grounding properties that I cite (cruelty.

or almost every. A property can be intrinsically valuable and also be such that many or all of its instantiations bring about good consequences. So it is invariably valuable only if it is intrinsically valuable. If the appearances don't deceive us here. The moral salience of generosity certainly appears to be dependent on context. To falsify the delimiting thesis. A property is intrinsically valuable if and only if every one of its instantiations is intrinsically valuable. or is intrinsically valuable. One might think the delimiting thesis false if one could show that there are many extrinsically valuable properties (properties whose instantiations were either consequentially or constitutively valuable). that is. aiding an assassin. Generosity does not invariably lead to good consequences and does not always figure in a larger valuable activity. to be variably relevant. but not always. valuable property is intrinsically valuable. or to a property whose invariant value is being overridden. It would sometimes. valuable for its own sake. then there is no prima facie duty to be generous. So if the delimiting thesis is true. Generosity is a typical example. Thus some actions would be morally valuable independently of being derivable from a rule. Consider what seems an obvious case: generosity. invariably valuable property must be intrinsically valuable. Few if any properties are such that their every instantiation is consequentially or constitutively valuable. acceptable in . Perhaps generosity even to layabouts or would-be murderers has some good to it. then every valuable property is invariably valuable. even if overridden by the ill effects of such kindness. First Reply: Intrinsic Value and Moral Relevance The first problem with offering such examples is the now-familiar one of knowing whether an example refers to a property possessed of variable relevance. Properties that are intrinsically valuable may be extrinsically valuable as well. or almost every. be presumptively right to be generous. But this doesn't undermine the delimiting thesis. a child. one would have to point to examples of variably relevant properties. So every. Generosity is uniformly morally valuable only if it invariably yields good consequences. overindulging an but there seem to be exceptions-spoiling exploitative relative.592 Ethics July 1997 a property whose value alters with context. independently of context or consequences. If the delimiting thesis is true. One can show this. Kicking someone's shins is impermissible in the schoolyard. every. The delimiting thesis would be false. because the classes of intrinsic and extrinsic value are not mutually exclusive. How could we know? There are three options. It is ordinarily admirable to be generous. It does seem easy to do this. is invariably a constitutive element in some larger valuable action or plan.

then generosity simpliciter could not be a grounding property in a moral rule. but not always. it may be true that these other. no matter the horrific consequences that might ensue. Second Reply: Specification The delimiting thesis may be true even if we could show some cases of generosity utterly lacking in value. they are so only because they instantiate some other." which is false if generosity is of variable relevance. as the examples of kicking and handshaking showed. when they are (dis)valuable. We could resolve this debate if we had a plausible account ofjustifying assignments of intrinsic value. Those with competing intuitions will cite such cases as instances in which generosity's usual value is entirely absent. More important. If these conditions are enumerable. a right-making feature of actions. keeping promises). the rule would have to be nar- . then hope would remain for the delimiting thesis. there are no such rules because such activities are not invariably (dis)valuable. Handshaking per se isn't morally relevant. A property is morally relevant just in case the (presumptive) moral value of an action or trait is most directly explained by the property's being instantiated. instead of the rule "generosity is presumptively right. generosity. morally significant when consummating a promise. This is what we would expect. One thing is clear: we can't resolve the debate about the delimiting thesis by citing examples. It's not the kicking. So we cannot frame a moral rule that has kicking or handshaking as a grounding property. but the harm that the kicking brings about. or reversed.g. Generalists (those who endorse an ineliminable place for rules in ethics) would have to refashion their rules to append exceptive clauses to the general grounding properties. It must be morally relevant properties that are variably valuable in order to undermine the delimiting thesis. morally relevant properties do delimit the set of moral values. harming others. But generosity might still be invariably relevant under certain specified conditions. Providing examples of variably valuable properties isn't quite enough. Those with intuitions favoring the thesis will see some good in each case of. it generates certain moral expectations and obligations when and because it is an instance of promise keeping. morally relevant property (e. For example. Instead.. If generosity were often.Shafer-Landau Moral Rules 593 a karate ring. This allows us to clarify the way in which the delimiting thesis might be falsified. Shaking hands is morally neutral when first meeting someone. but we are still largely in the dark on that matter. For all we've said. the delimiting thesis is false if and only if there are morally relevant properties whose different instantiations exhibit different (presumptive) moral value. that makes a bully's behavior condemnable. say.

Schematically. improvisation. c. generalists who are prepared to concede the variable value of broad properties like generosity can claim that it is precisely their appreciation of this complexity that underwrites their abandonment of the allegedly overgeneral. or whether all such features will be instances of uniformly relevant properties." Arizona Law Review 37 (1995): 209-25. C2. Assume for purposes of argument that we do know that the broad Rossian grounding properties are variably relevant. because one is drawn to a familiar picture of moral justification from which the delimiting thesis very naturally follows. For instance. then Mx. I provide a discussion of specification. or C3. there are two sorts of specification that might be undertaken. One might still endorse the delimiting thesis. a killing is explained 11. (ii) If Gx. then we have a theory no different from particularism... (ii) compensatory claims cannot be justified by means of such rules. Contrast Judith Jarvis Thomson. with an emphasis much different from Richardson. Mass. the possibility of novel situations. and hence welcome the move to specification. or other nonrepeatable properties. if the rules become so narrow as to incorporate temporal indexicals. say. (iv) specification entails an odd moral ontology.: Harvard University Press. I defend specificationism against each of these criticisms in "Specifying Absolute Rights. and context-sensitive appreciation of moral salience cannot be known in advance to undermine the generalist project. the badness of. "Specifying Norms as a Way to Resolve Concrete Ethical Problems. We cannot know in advance whether the casuistry of cases will yield irreducibly singular morally salient features. But specificationism promises repeatably instantiable grounding properties. in a festschrift volume for Joel Feinberg: see my "Specifying Absolute Rights. The picture is one in which we justify moral attributions in particular cases only by reference to the repeatably relevant properties that are being instantiated there. 33-48. Rossian prima facie rules. Strictly speaking. For a defense of this kind of move." reprinted in her Rights. We might (i) narrow the grounding property itself. 12. (iii) specified rules yield a convoluted moral epistemology. pp. Of course. The strongest criticisms are that (i) specified rules fail to be appropriately morally explanatory. proper names. Indeed. see Henry Richardson."' The plausibility of this move cannot be decisively determined except through consideration of the candidate specified rules that are brought forward. . except in circumstances C1. 12 Appeals to the complexity of morality. "Self-Defense and Rights. (i) If G1xor G2x or G3x. then Mx. b. and moves them to carve out narrower moral rules. "generosity is (presumptively) right except in circumstances a. Restitution and Risk (Cambridge. 1986)." . or (ii) retain the generally described grounding property but append exceptions that enumerate the kinds of occasions on which it loses its ordinary force. The only way to tell whether this promise can be discharged is to examine the candidates seriatim. a referential use of definite descriptions.594 Ethics July 1997 rowed to read. Thomson seeks to preempt consideration of candidate rules by a set of general arguments against specification. the need for flexibility." Philosophyand Public Affairs 19 (1991): 279-310.

it assumes that for every morally relevant feature of the world. The particularist will explain the wrongness of some killing by citing the features of the killing and its circumstances. I mean all references to such facts to be construed according to the reader's metaphysical preferences. If puzzled about whether or why these features are relevant in the way particularists insist. They must allow that repeatable features can combine to form nonrepeatable morally laden situations. Shelly Kagan appreciates the force of the relevant generalist intuition here. On this account.13 Particularists. the interlocutor must simply be invited to look again. but deny it a similar role when exemplified elsewhere. of course. No commitment to realism or other forms of objectivism is intended by the reference to brute facts. If we had to concede that the bad-making feature of this killing is different from that of any other. carefully. It may be true. will disagree about the need to invoke general properties to explain singular moral attributions. explaining value would be impossible if we were to allow a feature to once assume moral importance. .14 not explicable by reference to uniformly valuable properties. But it pays to see precisely how it is used in the anti-particularist argument: 13. the generalist view does have deep intuitive appeal. Adherents of the delimiting thesis must allow that people may exemplify unique traits and that these traits may assume moral relevance. The generalist insists. Particularist moral explanations are too brief if and only if there really are uniformly relevant properties that can be invoked to assist explanation. The notion of sui generis moral relevance is allegedly mysterious and is thought to confer no explanatory power. Still. This conception presupposes the truth of the delimiting thesis. The moral relevance of particular features is a brute fact. all the while remaining suspicious of what I am calling the delimiting thesis. 14. They should grant that certain things and all people are nonreplaceable. however. "The Additive Fallacy. see Kagan. complementary discussion of many of the issues I raise in this article. that to describe what is valuable in each case is to invoke properties whose value is pervasive. Thus we simply beg the question if we try to support the delimiting thesis by relying on the familiar generalist picture of moral justification." Ethics 99 (1988): 5-31. then (according to this account) we effectively abandon the possibility of rational moral explanation and justification. For a fine. its relevance can be explained only by identifying it as an instance of a uniformly relevant property.Shafer-Landau Moral Rules 595 by its being an instance of a kind of action that is invariably immoral.

particularism wouldn't be underminedjust because it contains references to brute facts. 4. the possibly very high number of brute facts to which . Generalists might profit from this argument only if they add two additional premises: 5. its value is either a brute fact. But as yet we've no reason to suppose that the ceteris paribus clause of (5) is satisfied in the context of the generalism-particularism debate. in which case particularists would not be saddled with having to rely on brute facts. Other things equal. then the generalist must have recourse to brute moral facts: for some uniformly relevant properties. If something is valuable. But then we'd lack any reason for rejecting particularism. We might be able to justify assignments of value without invoking more general properties. If premise (1) is true. Particularists must often (or always. But absent any argument. So even if (5) and (6) were true. of intrinsically valuable properties with their specified exceptions. Further. the claim that reliance on brute facts vitiates explanatory power. This must be so if we are to avoid an infinite explanatory regress. Therefore particularism. or its value is explicable as being an instance of an invariably relevant property. most of these would be underivable from any broader invariably morally relevant property. Generalist theories will contain fewer citations of brute facts than particularist theories. Appeal to brute facts vitiates the explanatory power of a theory that contains such an appeal. theory A is more likely than B to be true if A contains fewer citations of brute facts. The problem is that generalism would be undermined as well. Suppose we grant that the kind of explanatory failure that comes from failing to cite uniformly valuable properties is fatal for a theory. there is no more general property from which to deduce their relevance. but because it contains a greater number of such references than generalist theories do. 2. we must assume that whatever method of justification is offered is equally available to the particularist. If premise (2) is true. Thus the generalist must identify the value of some invariably relevant property or properties as a brute fact. to the extent that it must appeal to brute facts. Endorsing these premises entails that reliance on brute facts isn't by itself sufficient to undermine a theory. If premise (1) is true. we could save generalism by rejecting premise (2).596 Ethics July 1997 1. lacks explanatory power. perhaps thousands. 3. it follows that generalism lacks explanatory power. Premise (1) may be false. Premise (6) is probably true. For all we know. 6. if strong particularists) appeal to brute moral facts. a generalism that endorses the move to specification may contain hundreds.

Though rarely discussed. Since we are unable in advance to fix the weight of each competing prima facie consideration. To explore this role. or those cases where all of the relevant prima facie rules concur in their recommendation. Suppose we had such an account. the case against the delimiting thesis cannot proceed until we have a defensible theory enabling us to identify intrinsic value. we must go beyond the rules themselves-to intuition or to some absolute rule-to provide a resolution in cases of conflict. If the rules that can identify (and possibly delimit) morally relevant features are merely prima facie. We've yet to receive anything like a convincing rebuttal of moderate particularism (the sort that allows for prima facie rules but rejects the delimiting thesis). Alternatively. The assumption underlying the traditional view is that the weights of prima facie rules can alter depending on circumstances. We can stave off widespread indeterminacy either by defending intuitionism or by showing some form of absolutism justified. If . Indeterminacy would be rife in the moral domain. invariably relevant property. this leaves us far short of a fixing role for moral rules. If intuitionism and absolutism are misguided. The alternative is to embrace a form of absolutism. in conjunction with specific case descriptions. Here the choice is between different kinds of monism (that identify just a single absolute rule) and different types of pluralism (that allow for many such rules). V. The note is cashable if and only if they can adduce examples containing features whose moral relevance cannot be explained by reference to any repeatably instantiable. prima facie rules are here thought incapable of fixing a moral verdict.Shafer-Landau Moral Rules 597 a generalist need appeal shows that the argument from (1). we need to distinguish three possible generalist paths in which rules. The delimiting thesis would be false only if (i) correctly applying this account shows that some of the properties we take to be invariably morally relevant are not. might fix moral conclusions. then there is no way to nonarbitrarily adjudicate such conflicts. As it stands. moderate particularists have nothing but a promissory note to offer by way of criticizing the delimiting thesis. But what of the cases in which prima facie rules point in conflicting directions? Traditionally. then moral rules could supply conclusory moral verdicts in those cases where just a single prima facie rule applies. Or we could challenge the underlying assumption of the traditional view. FIXING MORAL STATUS: PRIMA FACIE RULES Even if the delimiting thesis is true.(6) cannot carry much weight. it is at least possible to see certain strategies for prima facie rules as capable of yielding determinate conclusory moral verdicts. and (ii) no suitably narrow specification of these properties is uniformly valuable.

The alternative is to assign cardinal weights to the prima facie rules. this method shows both how we can allow lower-ranked requirements to sometimes override higher ones and how we can combine the edicts of a plurality of rules. and keeping promises +5. And.598 Ethics July 1997 there were an invariant weighting of all prima facie rules. But it seems fantastic to suppose that the intrinsic merit of each specified kind of generosity must be either permanently greater or less than that of each specified kind of honesty. This model strikes me as entirely unbelievable. A rank ordering that establishes once and for all a hierarchy of prima facie considerations would be either ordinal or cardinal. then even though truth telling always counts for more. This will solve both problems encountered by the ordinal model. more damaging. This model will surely minimize moral indeterminacy. Perhaps this is something we could live with. For instance. there is no plausible account of what the cardinal units would represent. a cardinal model presupposes the truth of some fixed scalar ranking of prima facie rules. But different circumstances may yield a different outcome. such an ordering is deeply implausible. as I suggest. but it won't eliminate it unless prima facie rules succeed in delimiting the class of morally relevant features. But if. truth telling. then we must return to the traditional view that . since many think that we should leave room for pockets of indeterminacy in morality. we can envision scenarios where we are required to keep a promise even if we have to lie to do so. But we get this far in solving conflicts only if we grant the plausibility of the model of cardinal weights. This last is a feature of any merely ordinal ranking. then these weights would provide a way of fixing moral verdicts without invoking absolute rules or an intuition that could detect which of many variable weights a prima facie consideration possessed in a given case. if (fancifully) telling the truth = + 6. I don't know of a way to prove the impossibility of a fixed cardinal ordering of all prima facie rules. For starters. The problem with this model is that it fails to show how a lower-ranked prima facie rule can ever outweigh a higher-ranked one. For if some morally relevant features of situations escaped incorporation into rules-if some morally relevant properties were only variably valuable-then the relevance they bring to a case would be omitted from a calculus that takes only the cardinal weights of prima facie rules into account. orjustice. Suppose the ordering is provided by an exhaustive ordinal ranking of all the prima facie rules. and so an ordinal ranking will do little to alleviate worries of pervasive ethical indeterminacy. Unlike the method of ordinal ranking. It will also fail to yield any resolution in cases where a prima facie rule conflicts with a plurality of lower-ranked rules. This is possible because an act of promise keeping may be enjoined by many rules whose total weight overrides the total associated with those rules that in this particular context support truth telling.

None of these values can be reduced to or derived from another of them. since the value monism that it presupposes is almost certainly false. This last option recalls Mill's efforts to save his hedonism by arguing that virtue and knowledge are really just different species of pleasure. then prima facie rules will usually be incapable of fixing moral verdicts. Knowledge is not pleasure. For such theories. This won't be easy. on any such account. In my opinion. Certain kinds of pleasure. there is just a single kind of fundamental value. and if most morally laden cases are governed by conflicting prima facie rules. They either blind themselves to the real worth of certain experiences or activities or ultimately enlarge the nature of the alleged single value to such an extent as to make the theory pluralistic in all but name. Any such theory is implausible. is its eliciting the appropriate response from an . Efforts to identify just a single basic value typically falsify the true scope of the realm of value for the sake of theoretical simplicity. The economy of a rule monism is maximized if its axiology is monistic as well. or a form of pleasure. FIXING MORAL STATUS: MONISTIC ABSOLUTISM The absolutist thesis can be put as follows: there is at least one invariably determinative grounding property. and does not derive what value it has entirely from the pleasure it occasions. The success of rule monism thus hinges on its ability to identify a rule that can (i) acknowledge a plurality of irreducible values and (ii) avoid commitment to an invariant ranking of value types while (iii) offering a method of determinately ranking instances of these values in different contexts. What makes an action right. But saying it is one thing. VI. and the single absolute moral rule makes rightness some function (usually a maximizing one) of goodness. we simply claim it to be a constituent of pleasure. For every sort of experience or activity that appears to be intrinsically valuable and distinct from pleasure. If that is right. however.Shafer-Landau Moral Rules 599 sees the grounding properties of prima facie rules as possessed of variable weights. There is no plausible candidate supervalue to which all others can be reduced. So there is just a single absolute moral rule. A property is invariably determinative if and only if its every instantiation fixes the moral status of the situation in which it appears. autonomy. making it so another. We need to explore absolutist and intuitionist theories if we are to avoid the almost complete moral indeterminacy that would otherwise result. and family love are each valuable for their own sake. Rule monists believe that there is one and only one morally determinative grounding property. the most promising monistic option here is to adopt some sort of constructivism. knowledge. There are as many monistic theories as there are views about which grounding properties are mere pretenders. and which the real thing.

Thus the kind of constructivism that can be serviceable to the rule monist is one in which the appropriate agents of choice neither proceed with rules in hand. We enshrine the responses of the agents of construction as the appropriate means of fixing moral conclusions. John Rawls. and Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press. ed. see Thomas Scanlon. For instance.15 The differences among these theories needn't concern us here. are tantamount to rule-pluralistic theories. however. Firth's and Griffin's theories are of this kind. Bernard Williams and Amartya Sen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. and a special problem for the monistic versions. The Status of Morality (Dordrecht: Reidel. 1985). 16. Well-Being (Oxford: Oxford University Press. see James Griffin. for each of them. fix the moral verdicts by their responses. A reasonless 15. The point is that. 103-28. and Griffin. 1993). Either I can give reasons for my preference or I cannot. "Ethical Absolutism and the Ideal Observer." Philosophy and PhenomenologicalResearch 12 (1952): 317-45. or whose choices can be reconstructed as a set of moral rules. Only a certain kind of constructivism will assist the rule monist. Choice X is morally more important than Y because I prefer X. pp. A Theory of Justice (Cambridge.17 The prospects for rule monism hinge on whether a general problem for constructivism. an act is right if (and only if) it (i) elicits approval from a duly specified ideal observer.600 Ethics July 1997 agent (or agents) whose choices are determinative of right conduct. So. nor make choices from which rules can be inferred. (ii) conforms to a rule no one could reasonably reject as the basis of informed.16 In discovering or reconstructing what the appropriate agents of choice will decide upon." in Utilitarianism and Beyond. or (iii) would be desired as choiceworthy by oneself if possessed of relatively full information. we really do have just a single rule-do what the (idealized) agents would recommend-and we can't know what they'd recommend by trying to identify a battery of rules that they would employ or generate. Mass. or Scanlon's. under specified conditions of choice. Scanlon. see Roderick Firth.) Consider Griffin's theory. . But why should we take the responses of these agents as constitutiveof correct ethical assessments? (Perhaps they are merely good evidentiary guides for correct ethical choice. "Kantian Constructivism in Moral Theory." Journal of Philosophy 77 (1980): 515-72. 17. we arrive at a set of rules which we then take to be determinative ofjustified moral or political judgments. 1971). can be disposed of. the objects of constructed choice are sets of rules. an agent or group of agents. For (iii). Those constructivisms whose verdict-fixing agents employ rules to parcel out right and wrong. in Rawls's work. Firth. In this case. For (ii). given adequate information about my choices and situation. 1984). For (i). The general problem is this.: Harvard University Press. unforced general agreement. and so will be of little use to the rule monist. for instance. "Contractualism and Utilitarianism. 1982). and Thomas Carson.

then we may be. Anarchy. 1974). VII. State and Utopia (New York: Basic. all things considered. If idealized agents fail to identify always relevant and determinative grounding properties in the cases they survey. If moral absolutism is correct. 2. p. Morality does not require such actions or omissions. My desires fall away as epiphenomena. thereby undermining their absolute status. they are bound to conflict with one another." If there are any such. This is precisely what is admitted by rule monists who have their idealized agents respond to cases without the use of absolute rules. rather than my desires. once we allow that the idealized agents will not reach their decisions by applying rules to cases. allows that cases of "catastrophic moral horror" may require suspension of absolute side constraints. I have called these grounding properties "invariably determinative properties. The same holds for any process of construction.18 18. I'd prefer to examine another traditional argument against absolutism. 30n. It is the grounds on which the agents of construction choose. Robert Nozick. then there are no invariably determinative moral rules. which seems weakened once we appreciate the possibility of specifying grounding properties.Shafer-Landau Moral Rules 601 preference hardly seems the sort of thing to fix moral conclusions. morally required to do or forbear from certain activities even though such action or omission generates horrific consequences. a staunch absolutist. Rather than pursue this line of criticism. rather than their responses. that fix moral verdicts. if once determinative of a verdict. a reason-based conclusion lets us substitute those reasons as the justifying grounds for the conclusion. This abandonment of rules on the part of idealized agents and the correlative rejection of uniformly determinative properties surely give weak particularists all they might want. FIXING MORAL STATUS: PLURALISTIC ABSOLUTISM The Argumentfrom Moral Horror A central feature of absolute rules is that their grounding properties. Suppose this challenge could be answered. Even Nozick. must always be so (otherwise the rule would be consigned to prima facie status). Therefore moral absolutism is false. On the other hand. . then some moral rules are absolute. doing no real justificatory work. Still. A familiar way to reject the existence of absolute rules is to insist that whatever their content. 3. Call this the "argument from moral horror": 1. don't we effectively give up the ship in favor of particularism? Its weakest form claims that there are no features of the world such that the presence of any one is invariably sufficient to determine a moral verdict. There arejust the unsystematizable responses of idealized agents.

Someone wants to lose weight and wants to know how long to maintain a new diet. Because of the great variety of ways in which such results can occur. A dietician offers the following advice: "Cut twenty percent of your caloric intake. The first is to reject premise (1) and deny that absolutism generates tragic consequences. by arguing that a set of suitably narrowed absolutist rules will not require behavior that results in "catastrophic moral horror. though. very serious harm. Rules drawn too narrowly will incorporate concrete details of cases in the description of the grounding properties. is how far. and in what way." The second response is to reject premise (2) and defend the moral necessity of obedience even if tragic consequences ensue. But it does create a presumptive case against absolutism. so too we need to narrow the scope of such properties to show them universally determinative. How could we frame an absolute rule that enjoinedjust the actions we want. by itself. this will make you thinner. The question. The opposite problem is realized when we allow the grounding properties to be drawn broadly enough as to be repeatably instantiated. Is this problematic? Consider an analogous case. to the effect that it binds except where such obedience will lead to catastrophic consequences. It's too general." The dietician's advice is flawed because it doesn't give. horrific results. cheat. Absolutist responses to the argument standardly take one of two forms. If you reach a point where you've gotten too thin and weak. Rejecting Premise (1) Consider the first strategy. This is tantamount to a specificationist program that begins by admitting that the standard candidates-don't kill. commit adultery-cannot plausibly be construed as absolute rules.602 Ethics July 1997 Attention to the dire consequences that may be brought about by allegiance to absolute rules needn't move us to the consequentialist camp-it didn't incline Ross or Nozick in that direction. lie. increase your calories. The . enough information to the person trying to follow it. Just as we had to narrow their scope if we were to show them universally relevant. The double dangers that the absolutist must avoid at this juncture are those of drawing the grounding properties too broadly. Some middle ground must be secured. or too narrowly. there doesn't seem to be any more precise way to specify the exceptive clause without reducing it to an indefinitely long string of too-finely described scenarios. while offering an escape clause for tragic cases? There seems to be no way to do this other than by appending a proviso to the rule. but also weaker. for instance. yielding a theory that is particularist in all but name. this added concreteness is to be pursued. but at the cost of allowing the emerging rules to conflict.

(ii) appreciates the nature of the threatened harm. . Preventing catastrophe is presumptively obligatory. Such a rule is crucially underspecific. Rendering the notion of "catastrophic" more precise seems bound to yield a rule that omits warranted exceptions. Or it may cover all such exceptions. crucial to an understanding of bravery. Nor is it given by a further set of rules. but absolutists have yet to tell the convincing story that would override the presumption. (iv) provided the danger is not too great. Not that providing definitional criteria is any guarantee that underspecificity will be eliminated. To know whether someone is brave. If abiding by the rule will occasion harmful results. You must kill him to save the innocents."'9 Efforts to remove this underspecificity by providing a set of definitional criteria typically serve only to falsify the resulting ethical assessments. (What would such rules look like?) These notions. There is no inconsistency in taking such a stand. One is brave if and only if one (i) faces significant danger. one wants to know how harmful they have to be to qualify as too harmful. we need to exercise a kind of judgment that is something very different from trying to apply rules to cases. for instance. are themselves underspecific. Imagine that you are a sharpshooter in a position to kill a terrorist who is credibly threatening to detonate a bomb that will kill thousands. This lack of specificity results from an absence of necessary and sufficient conditions that could determine the extension of the concept "catastrophic consequences. The obligation might be defeasible. and (iii) stands fast before it. this isn't sufficient to fix everything that belongs within and without the set of brave things. imagine the futility of trying to precisely set out in advance what is to count as catastrophic consequences. If you merely wound him. Suppose that in obedi- 19.Shafer-Landau Moral Rules 603 qualified moral rule is similarly uninformative. Neither option should leave us very sanguine about the prospects of specifying absolute rules so as to ensure that such rules can be obeyed without occasioning catastrophic consequences. Though we can define 'bravery'." as "too great"-even as "standing fast"-is not itself determined by the rule. Rejecting Premise (2) The alternative for the absolutist is to stand fast and allow that morality requires adherence to rules that will sometimes yield catastrophic horrors. The rule doesn't really say-'catastrophic' is just a synonym for 'too harmful'. But the ethic that requires conduct that is tantamount to failure to prevent catastrophe is surely suspect. or some consequences catastrophic. But what's to count as "significant. but at the cost of making the exceptive clause so finegrained that it will be nothing less than an indefinitely long disjunction of descriptions of actual cases that represent exceptions to the general rule. he will be able to trigger the firing mechanism. and this undermines efforts to apply it as a major premise in deductive moral argument.

This last has been thought implausible. The former says that harms brought about by indirect intention may be permissible even though similar harms brought about by direct intention are forbidden. A similar problem arises for proponents of the doctrine of doing and allowing. Absolutists who allow that obedience to their favored rules may occasion catastrophe typically seek ways to exculpate those whose obedience yields tragic results. Intentions and Consequences: The Doctrine of Double Effect. Option (1) would allow conflict among rules that would yield moral dilemma. by eliminating the prospects of conflict. If (1) alone is the proper reading of maximal stringency. then so-called absolute rules can conflict and will no longer be always determinative. "Four Versions of Double Effect." Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 16 (1991): 515-44. To avoid this possibility.5 1." Philosophy and Public Affairs 10 (1989): 334. then genuinely tragic cases of moral dilemma may arise. The stronger (2) is necessary if absolute rules are to fix moral verdicts. The truth of either doctrine would ensure that agents always have a permissible option to pursue-namely. obedience to an absolute moral rule. Possible.) To serve a fixing role.604 Ethics July 1997 ence to an absolutist ethic you refrain from shooting. tried to provide a distinction between perfect and imperfect duties that would be both conceptually plausible and morally . Something must be said about the agent whose obedience to absolute rules occasions catastrophe.21 their adequate defense would still leave us short 20.20 Quite apart from the fact that these doctrines have yet to be adequately defended. The motivating spirit behind both doctrines is to legitimate certain kinds of harmful conduct. or (ii) violation of an absolute rule is sometimes permissible. Only by thinking of absolute rules as never overridden and always overriding will one ensure a fixing role for such rules. 1988)]. the presence of a grounding property in such a rule must be determinative of a verdict. This explanation forces a particular reading of what it is for a rule to be maximally stringent. It is ably criticized in a wide-ranging article by Donald Marquis. 21. endorses [1] but not [2]. Thousands die. seeking to defend the existence of moral dilemmas. or the doctrine of doing and allowing. and many others following in their footsteps. It is possible that an absolutist ethic will blame you for doing your duty. The standard strategy is to endorse some version of the doctrine of double effect. The most sophisticated defense of the doctrine is presented by Warren Quinn. The terrorist detonates the bomb. and to forestall the possibility that absolute rules might conflict. This notion is ambiguous between (1) never overridden and (2) always overriding. The general problem for advocates of double effect is their inability to identify a conceptually coherent account of direct and indirect intention that also bears the moral weight needed to make distinctions among their paradigm cases. and so we have a ready explanation of the absolutists' desire to avoid conflict among their favored rules. and absolute rules can conflict. The latter says that bringing about harm through omission or inaction may be permissible even though similar harms brought about by positive action are forbidden. absolutists need to show either that (i) no such conflict can arise. Kant and Mill. to exculpate certain harm doers. "Actions. (Walter Sinott-Armstrong [Moral Dilemmas (Oxford: Basil Blackwell. If failure to obey an absolute rule is always wrong. but unlikely.

If (F) is false. But all efforts to define the separate spheres have failed to mark an invariably morally relevant distinction. But no one has provided a conceptually plausible account of the negative and the positive duties that also justifies (i) the assumption that negative requirements cannot conflict. then we have reason to retain our initial inclination to fault those whose conduct knowingly occasions catastrophe. that an ethic requiring conduct that yields catastrophic horrors is mistaken. We may always have a permissible option in cases where we must choose between killing and letting die.Shafer-Landau Moral Rules 605 of a justification of the absolute rules that are to complement them." whose truth would undermine the inevitability of conflict among absolute rules. or (-F) at least one determinate moral verdict is not fixed by an absolute rule. Neither of these doctrines is itself a defense of absolutism. If these familiar exculpatory doctrines are unjustified. they are really "helping doctrines. but this by itself is no argument for thinking that the prohibition on intentionally killing innocents is absolute. and (ii) the absolute moral priority of negative requirements over positive ones. It might sometimes be true that agents deserve blame for doing their duty. This doesn't prove absolutism false. It might be true that agents deserve blame even though they've done their duty while prompted by a sense of duty. then every determinative grounding property must be invariably determinative. rather. Fischer and Mark Ravizza. one of the following must be true: (F) every determinate moral verdict is fixed by an absolute rule. Assume now that this argument significant. The standard strategy is to divide requirements into a set of negative and positive ones. Every property that once fixes a verdict would fix verdicts in every situation in which it is instantiated. It has been soundly criticized by John M. If (F) is true. Quinn ("Actions. intending death or merely foreseeing it. then some properties that are once determinative will fail to be determinative in other contexts. Because such properties do not invariably ground conclusory moral verdicts. "Quinn on Doing and Allowing." PhilosophicalReview 101 (1992): 343-52. these properties cannot properly be located in an absolute rule. . But how much simpler to suppose that their duty lies elsewhere. Coverage On the assumption that there are some determinate moral verdicts. Intentions and Consequences: The Doctrine of Doing and Allowing." PhilosophicalReview 98 [1989]: 287-312) has provided the most sophisticated defense of the doctrine of doing and allowing. while allowing the positive obligations to be overridable. elevating the negative to absolute or perfect status. The argument from moral horror gave us reason to believe that there are no absolute moral rules.

Assume further that we have overriding reason to believe that there are some absolute moral rules. though there are exceptions. then every morally relevant property must be either never morally determinative or always morally determinative. in conjunction with specific case descriptions. all-things-considered. 2. (F) also entails that every property that is once instantiated but fails to be determinative may never be determinative. or retain them as mere epistemic guides. it is initially plausible to assume the soundness of the following argument: 1. can fix all determinate conclusory moral assessments. Therefore (F) is false. what distinguishes a prima facie rule from an absolute rule is that the grounding properties of the former are variably determinative and those of the latter cannot be. absolute rules. So if (F) is true. Rather than rely on the soundness of that argument. but not always impermissible. In short. That an action is a cruel one is often sufficient to show it is wrong. since the soundness of that argument would show that every determinative property is variably determinative. The whole point of such a model is to allow the moral importance of a grounding property to sometimes override another and to sometimes be overridden. The question naturally arises as to the extent of cases for which determinate verdicts are made available by such rules. A complete battery of absolute rules would force us to eliminate prima facie rules. Giving most of one's accumulated wealth to charity often decisively inclines us to an attribution of generosity. then premise (2) is true as well. Premise (1) is an analytic truth. If the argument from moral horror is sound. Thus if (F) is true. If (F) is true. If (F) is true. there are no variably determinative properties. . there are no prima facie rules. Note that (F) is incompatible with a model of prima facie rules. Since it is initially plausible to suppose that there are some prima facie rules. Taking pleasure at another's pain usually fixes a verdict of blameworthiness. then there are no variably determinative properties. 3. Thesis (F) is true if and only if every morally determinative property is invariably determinative. Killing a child is presumptively wrong. Some properties are variably determinative. we might instead support premise (2) by citing the examples of invariably relevant properties I identified in Section III.606 Ethics July 1997 has been defeated. though there are exceptions. Is every determinative property invariably determinative? What is at issue here is really another kind of delimiting thesis claims that absolute rules are capable of delimiting the (F)-that domain of moral verdicts. but not always.

Enter the familiar move of insisting that we have mistaken an overgeneral. the theoretical underpinnings of absolutist theories entail no commitment to (F). then absolute rules will. that some grounding properties are universally determinative. This debate recalls that between the particularist and specificationist regarding the delimiting thesis.Shafer-Landau Moral Rules 607 These examples conclusively support (2) only if they are conclusive examples of variably determinative properties. Not only have absolutists failed to provide anything like an exhaustive battery of absolute rules. if the argument from moral horror is sound. To sustain this move. there is no argument in the literature that supports (F). At worst. at best. but also that their substitutes are invariably relevant and invariably determinative. And there is nothing in the structure of absolutist theories that would require them to do so. They are not. But surely the burden of proof is on those who would explain away the appearances and in so doing argue that there can be no prima facie rules. advocates of (F) must show not only that the candidate grounding properties I identified above are never morally relevant. then there are no invariably determinative grounding properties. If this is so. Those who endorse (F) will claim that these properties are in fact never determinative. Further. it is determinative.22 It would be strange to view such properties as invariably relevant but never determinative. but I will assume that this is implausible. Perhaps the proponent of (F) could show this. we have reason to follow the appearances and so accept the view that some grounding properties are variably morally determinative. we would see that wherever it appears. As far as I know. Once we carve out the specified property. rather than the far stronger claim that variably determinative grounding properties cannot exist. But while earlier specificationists could appeal to a deeply ingrained rationale for their position-the view that explaining moral salience requires that grounding properties be repeatably. it must be because they aren't really invariably relevant. Absolutists have always been intent on proving that there are some absolute rules. they have not even attempted to justify the claim that all determinative moral properties are invariably determinative. fix verdicts in only a subset of determinate morally laden cases. variably relevant counterfeit for its correlative invariably relevant specified property. . they will fix none. 22. If these properties are never determinative. The examples offered above provide presumptive evidence against (F). uniformly relevant-no such rationale is forthcoming for (F). Given this. They could claim that the properties are always determinative. contrary to first impression.

The choice between (2) and (3) cannot be resolved until we possess a developed method for determining whether. a property's invariable. or whether its relevance has altered because of context. The presumption would be neutralized by providing a candidate property that intuitively appears to be invariably determinative and that survives counterexamples. we have no grounds for believing thesis (6) true. This presumption would be overridden by a sound theoretical account of the necessity of an exceptionless. A complicating factor is the generalist possibility of making sound specificationist moves.608 Ethics July 1997 VIII. No properties are invariably determinative (prima facie model/weak particularism). CONCLUSION. Some properties are invariably relevant. uniform relevance is being overridden. No properties are invariably relevant (strong particularism). 2. and the discussion of the two absolutist responses. 5. were designed to show that there is a presumption in favor of thesis (4) and against thesis (5). to think it false. So we can't use this consideration to tip the burden of proof in either direction. always overriding moral rule. and some reason. it might be helpful to review the spectrum of theses that we've considered thus far: 1. others variably determinative (moderate absolutism). in which a putative instance of a variably relevant property is more concretely described. But it is too strong only if moderate particularism is true. I remain skeptical that either alternative has been successfully made out. All properties that are once relevant are invariably relevant (the delimiting thesis). 6. That seems exceedingly strong. The argument from moral horror. though perhaps not conclusive reason. Sections V-VII can be seen as an extended argument against thesis (6). the delimiting thesis implies a position that assigns intrinsic value to (almost) every morally relevant property. in a given case. On the one hand. I have argued in Section III that thesis (1) is false. So far as I can tell. We might presumptively oppose moderate particularism because it is incompatible with a view of moral justification that has deep intuitive appeal. others are variably relevant (moderate particularism). Locating the burden of proof in this debate is difficult. or is neutral between it and moderate particularism. All properties that are once determinative are invariably determinative (absolutism that endorses [F]). 4. 3. Some properties are invariably determinative. thus rendering it uniformly and universally relevant. but a full accounting cannot take place short of patient and . Yet we saw that this picture either undermines the delimiting thesis as well. AND SOME IMPLICATIONS At this point.

one cannot deduce a belief stating an undeducible moral fact from such a source. See Scheffler. justify particular moral judgments only by subsuming them under rules. 1982). then every moral conclusion is an undeducible moral fact. and "Agent-Centered Restrictions. even if some moral beliefs are directly justified. If thesis (6) is false. Such properties are specially bad bases for inductive inference. no metaphysical commitments are implied. for instance. And it is very unlikely that such beliefs are appropriately derivable from directly justified beliefs. too. since coherentists. if there are no directly justified moral beliefs." (As with brute facts.) If justified conclusory moral belief requires citation of a covering rule. But I cannot comment here on the success of his arguments. or derived by appropriate methods from directly justified beliefs. noninferentially justified. TheRejectionof Consequentialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press. We are faced with an undeducible moral fact just when a variably determinative property is instantiated.Shafer-Landau Moral Rules 609 thorough investigation of absolutist theories or a sound argument showing the impossibility of such theories. . precisely because their moral weight (and possibly their relevance) alters in different circumstances. then worries about naturalistic fallacies must be dispelled before entertaining the possibility of mediately justifying beliefs stating undeducible moral facts. Their difference with foundationalists is not about what consti23. at least as it is traditionally understood. Coherentism will fare no better.) How can we have epistemic access to undeducible moral facts? Foundationalism is one natural answer. is unlikely to assist us in justifying claims to have identified undeducible moral facts. I take it that Samuel Scheffler's arguments against agent-centered restrictions imply the unsoundness of all absolutist theories.23 One's choice of theses has important implications for moral epistemology and ontology. a belief is justified if and only if it is either directly. then we must align a moral epistemology with the fact that some moral verdicts are not deducible from moral rules. The conjunction of [5] with the requirement that we cite a covering rule would entail a thoroughgoing moral skepticism. infallible. then we must suspend judgment about every case whose verdict is fixed by a variably determinative property. Beliefs stating undeducible moral facts will not satisfy any of the traditional criteria for directlyjustified belief: they are not analytic. (If thesis [5] is false. Let us inelegantly call such verdicts "undeducible moral facts. According to foundationalists. or indubitable. Second. So the only foundationalist hope is to argue that there are directly justified moral beliefs. Rationality and the Virtues. But this will be extremely hard (perhaps impossible) to show. So foundationalism. and that undeducible moral facts can be inductively derived from them. incorrigible. First." Mind 94 (1985): 409-19.

Intuitive judgment may be defeasible. For instance. but about the ways in which the justification-conferring rules are justified (namely. (That we have reason to endorse the existence of some moral "universals" does not. since we have not shown that we can be epistemically justified in our claims to have identified undeducible moral facts. If there is a sound argument favoring ontological parsimony. Moral indeterminacy is ordinarily explained precisely as thesis (6) would explain it-situations create indeterminacies if they fail to be covered by an absolute rule. Specificationists will individuate their moral properties much more finely.24 The debates about appropriate roles for moral rules also have direct implications for moral ontology. rather than as specificationists would have us do. if (6) is false. we must turn from traditional theories and endorse some new kind of moral epistemology. This doesn't undermine either foundationalism or coherentism. I provide the details of such a theory in "Ethical Intuitionism Redux" (unpublished manuscript).) And the issues raised in the discussions surrounding specificationist alternatives may fruitfully be seen in the context of a larger ontological debate about the individuation of properties. without claiming that they are self-evident or analytic or indubitable. Moral indeterminacy arises whenever a moral judgment is neither true nor false. not direct justification). the detailed arguments must be offered elsewhere. with coherentists. Issues about the extent of moral indeterminacy are also at play in the debates about the proper role for moral rules. if we want to avoid skepticism on this front.. by coherence. settle the issue about whether these types are to be construed realistically. Moral justification wouldn't essentially involve the correct grasp of moral rules.e. My thought is that only an externalist. If. but rather the development of the appropriate kinds of sensitivities. then the foundationalist problems of mediatelyjustifying beliefs stating undeducible facts will beset coherentism as well. noninferentially). or a true judgment reveals that no option in a given comparison most exemplifies a particular moral property. Judgments about cases not derivable from rules can bejustified directly (i. of course. if we reject thesis (6). rejection of thesis (1) allows us to eliminate moral nominalism as a candidate moral ontology. The intuitions we have about cases involving undeducible moral facts will be justified just in case they emerge from an appreciative process that reliably yields correct ethical judgments. 24. reliabilist intuitionism will do the trick. . However.610 Ethics July 1997 tutes appropriate inference rules. we assume that all justification is inferential. This of course is just handwaving. then the standard account is false. However. and so be more expansive in their ontological commitments. then we have some reason for viewing uniformly relevant properties as Ross did.

I hope that these efforts. my aim has not been to prove or disprove the delimiting thesis. and what roles they might play in ethics. . 25. but instead have tried to show what philosophical work must be done if it is to be vindicated. for instance. and showing (6) false would provide the needed incentive for such an investigation. Likewise. I have offered an account of the nature and sources of moral indeterminacy in "Ethical Disagreement. The earlier arguments themselves are properly seen as prolegomena to a full accounting of the proper roles for ethical rules." Philosophyand PhenomenologicalResearch 54 (1994): 331-45. but to show how hard it is to do either. inconclusive as they may be.Shafer-Landau Moral Rules 611 there is at least one variably determinative property. and in "Vagueness." AmericanPhilosophical Quarterly32 (1995): 83-96. What I have done here is to begin a sketch of some implications that might be developed from the earlier arguments. In fact. Ethical Objectivity and Moral Indeterminacy. I think we do need a much more sophisticated account of the nature and sources of moral indeterminacy than the ordinary one.25 These and other issues in moral epistemology and ontology are naturally linked with conceptions about the proper theoretical role(s) for moral rules. have shown that common talk of moral rules must be replaced by a more nuanced appreciation of what rules are. Borderline Cases and Moral Realism. and so at least one determinate moral verdict that isn't derivable from an absolute rule. I haven't tried to demonstrate the impossibility of absolutism.