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Responses To The Challenge Of Amoralism

3550 words - 14 pages

Responses to the Challenge of Amoralism

ABSTRACT: To the question "Why should I be moral?" there is a simple answer (SA) that some philosophers find tempting. There is also a response, common enough to be dubbed the standard response (SR), to the simple answer. In what follows, I show that the SA and SR are unsatisfactory; they share a serious defect.

To the question, "Why should I be moral?" there is a simple answer (SA) that some philosophers find tempting. There is also a response, common enough to be dubbed the standard response (SR), to the simple answer. In what follows I show that SA and SR are unsatisfactory; they share a serious defect.

I will interpret "Why should I be moral?" to mean "Why should I habitually perform the outward deeds prescribed by morality? Why, when I’m tempted to cheat or steal, ignore the sufferings of others, or renege on my commitments, should I do what morality calls for, and hence refrain from cheating and stealing, relieve the sufferings of others, and honor my commitments? Why should I go in for such things when so many other lifestyles are possible — for instance, that of a Gauguin or of a master criminal?" Perhaps the question has other meanings, but this is a natural one, and one to which SA and SR are meant to apply.

Interpreting the question this way removes some unclarity from the phrase "be moral." But it removes no ambiguities that might stem from the word "should." SA and SR purport to do this.

SA, briefly put, is this: "Why should I be moral?" is either a request for a moral reason to be moral or a request for another type of reason (or perhaps a motive) to be moral. In the first case it is absurd; in the second it is unreasonable or in some other way illegitimate.

What follows is a representative way of fleshing out SA:

(1) If someone — Alf, say — asks, "Why should I be moral?" his question is (a) a request for a moral reason to be moral, (b) a request for a nonmoral reason to be moral, or (c) a request for just any reason to be moral. Or perhaps it is (d) a request for a motive to be moral.

(2) If Alf’s question is of type (a) or (c), it’s silly. Nothing could be more obvious than that Alf has a moral reason to be moral. It’s a plain fact that being moral is the moral thing to do — it’s the option justified from the moral point of view — and this is clearly a reason for Alf to be moral.

(3) If Alf’s question is of type (b) or (d) it’s unreasonable; hence we need not bother with it. Moral philosophy aims at rational persuasion, not at generating motives to act. Nor does it aim to justify morality in terms of prudence, law, custom, or etiquette. Indeed, such a justification is impossible. But we should not be disturbed about this. The moral life is not called into question by showing that it does not reduce to a concern for custom, prudence, etc., any more than prudence is called into question by showing that it does not reduce to a concern for morality.

(4) Thus,...

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