Morality by Degrees: Reasons without Demands

ISBN : 9780198844990

Alastair Norcross
176 ページ
135 x 216 mm

In Morality by Degrees, Alastair Norcross articulates and defends a radical new approach to ethical theory. Consequentialist theories of the right connect the rightness and wrongness (and related notions) of actions with the intrinsic goodness and badness of states of affairs consequential on those actions. The most popular such theory is maximization, which is said to demand of agents that they maximize the good, that they do the best they can, at all times. Thus it may seem that consequentialist theories are overly demanding, and, relatedly, that they cannot accommodate the phenomenon of going above and beyond the demands of duty. However, a clear understanding of consequentialism leaves no room for a theory of the right, at least not at the fundamental level of the theory. A consequentialist theory, such as utilitarianism, is a theory of how to rank outcomes, and derivatively actions, which provides reasons for choosing some actions over others. It is thus a purely scalar theory, with no demands that certain actions be performed, and no fundamental classification of actions as right or wrong. However, such notions may have pragmatic benefits at the level of application, since many people find it easier to guide their conduct by simple commands, rather than to think in terms of reasons of varying strength to do one thing rather than another. A contextualist semantics for various terms, such as ", ", ", when combined with the scalar approach to consequentialism, allows for the expression of truth-apt propositions with sentences containing such terms.


1 Introduction

2 The Scalar Approach to Consequentialism

3 Good and Bad Actions

4 Harm

5 Contextualism: Good, Right, and Harm

6 Contextualism: Determinism, Possibility, and the Non-Identity Problem


Alastair Norcross is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado Boulder. He obtained his BA in Classics from the University of Oxford and his PhD in Philosophy from Syracuse University. Subsequently he has worked at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Southern Methodist University, and Rice University. Norcross teaches and writes on ethical theory, in particular utilitarianism, and several areas of applied ethics, including issues relating to animals. He is the co-editor of Killing and Letting Die, Second Edition (Fordham 1994, with Bonnie Steinbock).