Bernard Gert, Common Morality Part II, The Moral Theory

Impartiality (116-121)

¨   a relative concept

ˇ   in a certain respect (e.g. whether a ball is in the strike zone)

ˇ   with regard to a specified group (e.g. the pitchers for the two teams playing the game)

¨   impartiality = being uninfluenced by which members of the group receive harms and benefits in the specified respect

ˇ   not taking a God’s eye view (non-existent)

ˇ   nor treating like cases alike (not required by impartiality)

¨   does not require unanimity (cf. two impartial referees with different policies on calling fouls)

Evaluative question: Is this analysis of impartiality correct? What might be a better analysis of the concept?

Respects in which morality requires impartiality (122-125)

¨  Morality requires impartiality with respect to

ˇ   obedience to the moral rules (which are formulated so that obedience to them is impartial)

ˇ   justified violation of moral rules (where the 2-step procedure rules out favouring some over others)

ú   violation described just by its morally relevant features in terms all can understand (cf. Kant’s maxims)

ú   estimating consequences of publicly (not) allowing a kind of violation (cf. Kant’s universalizability)

¨  It does not require it for following moral ideals.

¨  Relationship of violator of a moral rule to violatee is morally relevant.

Group for which morality requires impartiality (126-131)

¨   at least all moral agents and former moral agents who have not permanently lost consciousness

ˇ  their protection universally desired by impartial rational agents behind the blindfold of justice

¨   for most people: infants and young children

ˇ   rational agents know that if they were parents they would care for them as much as for themselves

¨   unresolvable disagreement on:

ˇ  fetuses

ˇ  non-human animals

ˇ  the environment

Evaluative question: How if at all might we resolve disagreements about the scope of morality?

Why act morally? I (131-132)

¨  Suppose a rational impartial informed person exists.

¨  Behind the blindfold of justice this person would advocate that everybody do what morality requires or encourages.

¨  If it were irrational for somebody for whom this person cares to act as morality requires or encourages, the person would advocate that this person not do what morality requires or encourages.

¨  Hence it is never irrational to act as morality requires or encourages.

NB: It is usually not rationally required to act morally.

Why act morally? II (132-135)

¨  It is sometimes not irrational for someone to act immorally (e.g. a callous person harming someone from an out-group).

ˇ  Common reasons to the contrary don’t always apply:

ú  “you may get caught and punished”

ú  “God will punish you”

¨  Basic reason for acting morally: to avoid causing harm to others.

¨  What about unjustified violations of the second five rules that seem to harm nobody?

ˇ   act-consequentialism --> paradoxical results

ˇ   effect of the example on others: inconclusive reason

ˇ   violator fails to recognize personal fallibility (= arrogance) --> likely to immorally cause harm later

Why be moral? (136)

¨  A different question than: Why act morally?

¨  In a decent society, you will be happier and more successful if you are a moral person than if you are an immoral one.

ˇ   distinguishing feature: concern for others

¨  Parents who love their children may be rationally required to raise them to be moral persons.

¨  Reasons for being a moral person have more justifying force than those for the contrary:

ˇ   far more harm caused by immoral people

Morality: an informal public system (137-139)

¨   informal --> in some situations no definite answer

¨   definite answer needed in such a situation --> appeal to a formal system (e.g. the law)

¨   possible functions of the law:

ˇ   prohibit something not otherwise morally forbidden (e.g. bigamy [Issue: Is bigamy in itself morally wrong?])

ˇ   require something not otherwise morally required (e.g. taxes)

ˇ   settle what is legally allowed where there is unresolvable moral disagreement (e.g. abortion)

Political settling of unresolvable moral disagreements (139-142)

  1. Scope of protection by morality: to what extent fetus protected by law
  2. Ranking of harms and benefits: imposing a speed limit imposes less harm (restriction of freedom) than it prevents (injuries and deaths)
  3. Estimates of harmful and beneficial consequences of publicly (not) allowing a kind of violation: requiring a kind of vaccination
  4. Interpretation of a moral rule: defining deception in advertising

Issue: How if at all should governments settle what is legally allowed when there is unresolvable moral disagreement?

Rights (142-145)

¨  Every person has a moral right not to have any moral rule unjustifiably violated towards them.

¨  Equivalently: Governments can pass laws under which serious unjustified violations of moral rules can be punished.

¨  Derivative rights based on an interpretation of a moral rule (e.g. right to privacy) are partly moral, and partly political.

¨  Positive rights (to health care, education) are purely political: duties of a government to provide something

ˇ   a function of the resources available

ˇ   best determined by what rational impartial people  informed of resources and demands on them would favour as a minimum entitlement

Consequences of morality not always giving a unique correct answer (145-148)

¨   civilized discussion of moral disagreements

ˇ   maybe neither side is mistaken

ˇ   seek basis of disagreement

ú   factual

ú   moral (scope, ranking, estimates, interpretation)

ˇ   work out compromise acceptable to both sides

¨   moral reason for democratic (vs. technocratic) approach to resolving moral disagreements

Evaluative question: Is Gert correct about these consequences? Are there other consequences that he does not mention?

Requirements of a complete moral theory (148-149)

¨  explanation and justification of large areas of moral agreement

¨  explanation and justification of areas of moral disagreement

¨  analysis and linkage of the fundamental concepts of morality, rationality and impartiality

¨  an account of human nature (especially the fallibility, rationality and vulnerability of human beings) that grounds the analysis, linkage, explanations and justifications.

Two things are not required:

¨  a unique correct answer to every moral question

¨  removal of the need for human judgment

Conclusion (149)

¨  There is no need for new moral discoveries.

¨  There is a need to explore how morality applies to new situations.

¨  There is a need to clarify, explain and justify what morality is, so that people have less excuse for pretending that immoral actions are morally allowed.

¨  The present clarification, explanation and justification may contribute to the goal of common morality: the lessening of the amount of harm suffered.


¨  No reflection due!

¨  Evaluation of Ben’s work as a TA (evaluate my teaching online)

¨  Format of final exam

¨  Review of the course

ˇ  please send me your requests by e-mail

ˇ  bring questions of clarification