Moral Reasoning in a Nutshell
Moral action requires both
Motivation comes from family, education.
Reasoning is highly refined common sense.
Moral reasoning is constrained (like all reasoning) by general principles of good reasoning:
(well-supported empirical claims)
: if cases (or persons) are treated differently, it must be because there is a morally relevant difference between them (a.k.a. "formal justice")
Requires systematic and coherent use of moral principles and values
" : the moral principles and values used to make a bridge between facts and recommendations
Several competing approaches here; each tends to emphasize a different value (such as autonomy, utility, or justice)
Relationship between the right and the good (
Notice: We are more likely to notice the moral bridge between facts and moral judgments when we disagree. But just because we agree, it doesnít follow that our judgments are tenable (slavery!).
This structure helps us find space between
to explore moral issues.
Also helpful: Weston (
A Practical Companion to Ethics
, chap. 1).
The upshot: we can often come up with some answers to moral questions:
Some answers are bad ones.
Sometimes there is a clearly best solution.
Often there is much to be said on at least 2 sides and reasonable people may well disagree.
In private life, we can use such moral exploration for individual action.
Public policy requires an additional step: How do we reconcile competing views in a pluralistic society?
No set answers, but Weston, chaps 3-5 can help us think constructively and move forward in fair and reasonable ways.
morality and the law
Some useful vocabulary
: equal consideration of each individualís interests (also: "fairness")
: not taking a stand; neutrality can nonetheless further a particular outcome so itís not necessarily a way to avoid responsibility!
: taking a position without sufficient justificatory evidence
: precludes wishful thinking and requires
Scrupulous examination of relevant facts
Well argued support
: at least 4 possible (conflicting!) meanings (from Pierce):
That which happens in the absence of human intervention
Everything that humans do
What humans have in common with the rest of the animal world (or some elements of it)
What distinguishes us from the rest of the animal world
: can be used in diverse ways, ranging from self-determination to individual plans for action constrained by prudence and morality
Non-moral use: usefulness
Moral use: acting so as to create the greatest good for the greatest number
: acting so as to promote oneís own interest
: acting so as to take account of the interests of all affected parties
: a partial bridge between prudence and morality
A rough guideline for beginners
Start with a particular issue
What would the consequences of a laissez-faire approach be?
Potential loss of benefit?
Benefits and burdens fairly allocated?
Policy consistent with similar cases?
Overall consequences of treating groups of cases this way?
Is approach alert to possible more fundamental unfairness?
What assumptions underlie the solution? Are they reasonable?
Professor of Philosophy
January 31, 2002