Bernard Gert, Common Morality Part I, The Moral System (concluded)

Justifying violations

¨  An action violates a moral rule when  it:

1.        is forbidden by the rule as interpreted, and

2.       is directed at someone whom the rule protects.

¨  Approaches to justifying such violations:

Strict deontology (e.g. Kant?): Never break a moral rule.

Act consequentialism (e.g. Mill?): Violate if and only if the overall consequences of a particular violation are better than the overall consequences of following the rule in that particular situation.

Moderate deontology (e.g. common morality): Violation requires a stronger justification than act consequentialism requires.

Rule consequentialism: The moral rules are those that it (always, generally) has better consequences to keep than to break. Violation requires a stronger justification than act consequentialism requires.

Evaluative question: Which of the approaches is better. Why?

The 2-step procedure (57)

  1. Identify the action’s morally relevant features.
  2. Ask whether the consequences of its being publicly known that any action with just those morally relevant features is allowed are better than the consequences of its being publicly known that any such action is not allowed.

a.            Estimate the consequences (harms and benefits) of each alternative (publicly allowing, publicly forbidding).

b.            Judge which set of consequences is better.

NB: It is not always controversial whether a particular violation is justified.

NB: People do not explicitly use this procedure. (76)

Possible outcomes (57)

¨  NB: Whether a particular violation is justified depends on what qualified people would judge.

¨  Qualified person = an impartial* rational* person who knows all the morally relevant features of the situation

(*: ‘impartial’ and ‘rational’ defined in Part II)

¨  Justification status depends on proportion of qualified people who would judge that the consequences of publicly allowing this kind of violation are better than the consequences of publicly not allowing it:

¨   all --> strongly justified

¨   some (but not all) -->  weakly justified

¨   none --> unjustified

Morally relevant features

¨  Some features of a violation are morally irrelevant (58).

¨  NB: A morally relevant feature is one that:

a.        sometimes makes a difference all by itself to whether a qualified person would favour publicly allowing a certain kind of violation (58), and

b.       is expressible in language that every moral agent can understand (73-74).

¨  Generate such features by contrast pairs.

¨  Contrast pair = two similar cases where qualified people would come to opposite conclusions on the basis of a single difference between them.

¨  Evaluative question: Would qualified people in fact judge the two actions in the contrast pair differently?

NB: Gert does not claim completeness for his list. (59, 73)

NB: It must be possible to formulate the feature in a way understandable to all moral agents. (73-74)

Comment: Some features are more important than others.

1: The rule being violated (59-60)

¨  Eliciting question: Which moral rule is being violated?

¨  Contrast pair: harassing vs. deceiving a patient into continuing a treatment that it would be irrational to refuse (rule 2 vs. rule 6)

¨  Reaction to contrast pair: Qualified people would favour publicly allowing the violation of rule 2 but not the violation of rule 6.

2. Evils or harms (a) caused, (b) avoided causing, (c) prevented

¨  Eliciting question: Which evils or harms (including their kind, severity, probability, duration, and distribution) does the violation (a) cause, or (b) avoid causing, or (c) prevent? (60-62)

¨  Contrast pair: deceiving an accident victim about the health status of his dead wife, when he is critically ill and might die if not deceived; vs. deceiving him when he is not critically ill and probably won’t die if not deceived

¨  Reaction to contrast pair:  Qualified people would favour publicly allowing the violation of rule  6 if violation avoids causing death but not it does not avoid causing death.

Further on feature 2

¨  Unlike Bentham’s “felicific calculus” (Chapter 4 of his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation), feature 2:

¨   asks about harms/evils, not about goods

¨   recognizes harms other than pain

¨   is only one of many morally relevant features

¨  Which consequences are relevant?

¨   neither intended nor actual consequences

¨   to moral decision: foreseen consequences

¨   to moral judgment: foreseeable consequences

Issue: Is the difference reasonable? Why, or why not?

3a. Desires of the violatee

¨  Eliciting question: What are the desires of the person toward whom the rule is being violated (the violatee) about whether it should be violated? (62-63)

¨  Contrast pair: giving life-saving treatment to a person who would prefer to be allowed to die when that preference is rational (otherwise she would experience continuing significant pain) vs. giving it when the preference is irrational (attempted suicide after fiancé killed)

¨  Reaction to contrast pair: Qualified people would favour publicly allowing the violation of rule 4 if doing so conflicts with an irrational desire of the violatee but not if it conflicts with a rational desire.

3b. Beliefs of the violatee

¨  Eliciting question: What are the beliefs of the violatee about how she will be affected by the violation? (63-64)

¨  Contrast pair: giving life-saving treatment to a patient without the patient’s consent when the refusal to give consent is based on rational beliefs vs. giving it when the refusal is based on irrational beliefs

¨  Reaction to contrast pair: Qualified people would favour publicly allowing the violation of rule 4 when the beliefs on which the refusal to consent is based are irrational but not when those beliefs are irrational.

4. Duties of the violator

¨  Eliciting question: Does the violator of the moral rule sometimes have a duty to violate rules toward the violatee without their consent? (65-66)

¨  Contrast pair: parent making child do her homework vs. non-parent doing so, judge fining person found guilty vs. private citizen taking the money from him

¨  Reaction to contrast pair: Qualified people would favour publicly allowing the violation of rule 4 if the violator has a duty to do so but not if the violator has no duty to do so.

5. Goods and benefits promoted by the violation

¨  Eliciting question: Which goods and benefits (including their kind, degree, probability, duration and distribution) are being promoted by the violation? (66-67)

¨  Contrast pair: parent making child do homework that is educationally valuable vs. making her do homework that is educationally useless

¨  Reaction to contrast pair: Qualified people would favour publicly allowing the violation of rule 6 if it is educationally beneficial but not otherwise.

Further on feature 5

¨   morally relevant only in two types of cases:

1.       The violator has a duty to violate the rule in relation to the violatee.

2.       The violator has or reasonably expects the consent of the violatee to the violation.

¨  Good consequences are morally relevant to government policies, on which classical utilitarians (Bentham, Mill) focused.

¨  NB: Good consequences are generally not morally relevant to actions of individuals, for which negative utilitarianism fits our intuitive judgments better.

6. Prevention of a not strongly justified violation of a moral rule

¨  Eliciting question: Is the rule being violated to prevent the violatee from an (a) unjustified or (b) weakly justified violation of a moral rule? (67-68)

¨  Contrast pair: deception of gang members by undercover police officer vs. their deception by sociological researcher

¨  Reaction to contrast pair: Qualified people would favour publicly allowing the violation of rule 6 if the aim is to prevent crime but not if the aim is to get information for research purposes.

7. Response to a not strongly justified violation of a moral rule

¨  Eliciting question: Is the rule being violated because the violatee has committed an (a) unjustified or (b) weakly justified violation of a moral rule? (68-69)

¨  Contrast pair: harm inflicted as a justifiable punishment vs. harm inflicted not as a punishment

¨  Reaction to contrast pair: Qualified people would favour publicly allowing the violation of any of rules 1-5 if it is a justifiable response to a violation of a moral rule that is not strongly justified but not if it is a response to a violation that is strongly justified.

Further on feature 7

¨  Feature 7 (response to a violation that is not strongly justified) works with feature 4 (duty to violate a moral rule with respect to the violatee) to justify punishment.

¨  They also justify violent response by a country to an unjustified attack by another country.

¨  Punishment and similar responses (e.g. war in justified self-defence) are justified only to prevent further violations, not as revenge.

8. A morally better alternative

¨  Eliciting question: Are there morally preferable alternative actions or policies? (69-70)

¨  Contrast pair: getting a patient to consent to treatment by paternalistic deception vs. getting consent by taking time to persuade

¨  Reaction to contrast pair: Qualified people would favour achieving the goal without violating a moral rule rather than publicly allowing the violation of rule 6.

9. Merely foreseen violation

¨  Eliciting question: Is the violation being done intentionally or only knowingly? (70-71)

¨  Contrast pair: administering morphine to prevent a patient suffering pain knowing that doing so will hasten death vs. intending to hasten death

¨  Reaction to contrast pair: Qualified people would favour publicly allowing the violation of rule 1 if the patient’s death is a merely foreseen side effect of relieving pain but not if it is intended.

¨  Comment (NB):  rarely morally relevant

10. Emergency situation

¨  Eliciting question: Is the situation an emergency that people are not likely to plan to be in? (72-73)

¨  Contrast pair: in an emergency, abandoning patients with a very small chance of survival in order to care for those with a better chance vs. doing so in ordinary practice

¨  Reaction to contrast pair: Qualified people would favour publicly allowing the violation of rule 1 in an emergency but not normally.

Step 2: estimating consequences

¨  Alternatives: publicly allowing vs. publicly not allowing (NB) the kind of violation (74, contrast rule consequentialism)

¨  Reason for focus on public permission: to make results correspond to our intuitive moral judgments, e.g. re deception and cheating (75)

¨  Which alternative has the best total consequences?

1.        publicly allowing --> violation justified

2.        publicly not allowing --> violation unjustified

¨  2 ways rational, impartial, informed people can disagree:

1.        different estimates of what the consequences would be

2.        different comparative evaluations of the two consequences

¨  Issue: How does this compare to Kant and Mill?

¨  Issue: How feasible is this estimation?

Moral virtues and vices

¨  Virtue (vice) = settled tendency to act in a certain way that deserves praise (blame)

¨  Moral virtue (vice) = virtue (vice) associated with a moral rule or moral ideal

¨  Moral virtues correspond to second five moral rules and moral ideals.

¨  Moral vices correspond to all moral rules and moral ideals.

¨  Personal virtue (vice) = virtue (vice) helpful in (a hindrance to) achieving personal goals

¨  Social virtue (vice) = virtue (vice) helpful in (a hindrance to) achieving social harmony

Test of Gert’s description (p. 79)

¨  Describe a (realistic) decision situation to which a moral rule as you interpret it applies.

¨  To what extent are those who would be affected by the violation protected by morality?

¨  What kind of violation is it, as determined by its morally relevant features?

¨  What are the consequences of everyone knowing that this kind of violation is (a) allowed or (b) not allowed?

¨  Rank the harmful and beneficial consequences of these two estimates.

¨  Do you agree on reflection with the decision reached by this explicit use of the moral system?

Next

Gert, Part II: The Moral Theory (81-116)

¨  Two problems: Why endorse morality? Why act morally?

¨  Rationality and irrationality

¨  Reasons

¨  Argument that it is irrational (under certain conditions) not to endorse morality

¨  Argument that it is never irrational to act morally