Universal Prescriptivism FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

Question Categories

Akrasia
Amoralist
Applications
Descriptivism
Epistemology
Fanatic
Golden Rule
Imperatives
Influences
Intuitionism
Judgments
Justice
Levels
Logic
Meaning
Metaphysics
Method
Miscellaneous
Point
Preferences
Prescriptivity
Principles
Rights
Speech Acts
Supervenience
Taxonomy
Universalizability
Utilitarianism

Questions

Akrasia     [Top]

1. What explains the fact that we sometimes say that we ought to do something and yet do not do it?
2. How do the two levels of normative moral thinking help explain weakness of will?
3. What is the connection between moral conflicts and moral holidays?
4. What are some kinds of cases that do not refute prescriptivism?
5. How is weakness of will a kind of conflict between prescriptions?
6. Can a prescriptivist understand moral weakness in terms of a divided personality?
7. What is the difference between physical inabilities and the psychological inabilities involved in weakness of will?
8. What is special pleading?
9. Why does our moral language have accommodation for weakness of will built in to it?
10. What explains why we experience weakness of will?
11. What are two inauthentic ways of making living a moral life easier?
12. What is weakness of will?
13. Do most cases of weakness of will result in harm to others?
14. What is the source of Socrates’ mistake in holding that weakness of will is impossible?
15. What is the solution to the problem of the satanist?
16. Who or what is the backslider?
17. Why is satanism thought to be a problem for prescriptivists?
18. Why does the problem of weakness of will arise?
19. How does the satanist differ from the backslider?

Amoralist     [Top]

20. How does the amoralist differ from the moral nihilist?
21. What forms can the amoralist escape-route take?
22. How does the logical possibility of the universal amoralist show that universal prescriptivism is not a form of descriptivism?
23. Is the amoralist a total moral abstainer?
24. Does the amoralist have to stop using moral language?
25. Who or what is the amoralist?
26. Are the problems of the amoralist and the fanatic unique to universal prescriptivism or utilitarianism?
27. What can be said to the amoralist?
28. What steps can be taken to combat amoralism, satanism, and moral nihilism?
29. What causes amoralism, satanism, and moral nihilism?
30. What mistakes is the moral nihilist making?

Applications     [Top]

31. How is punishment to be justified?
32. Does universal prescriptivism take non-human animals to fall within the scope of morality?
33. Are most moral intuitions used at the intuitive level of moral thinking unreliable?
34. What are some moral intuitions at the intuitive level that are, or have been, questionable?
35. Because my character has been molded by virtue, I typically do not lie; but why should I not lie in this one particular case?
36. Should euthanasia be legal?
37. If an act is outlawed, is it therefore also morally wrong?
38. Can non-identifiable people, either existing already or in future generations, be harmed?
39. Is there a moral duty to obey the law?
40. What general or prima facie principle regarding abortion should we cultivate in society?
41. Why is the principle of double effect suspect?
42. Is abortion morally wrong?
43. What factors are of paramount importance in moral thinking about euthanasia?
44. What is slavery?
45. What principles should regulate social equality?
46. Why is discrimination based only on skin color generally morally wrong?
47. When is rebellion justified?
48. Why should we not steal?
49. What role should philosophers play in the legislative process?
50. Should health care be left solely to market forces and the autonomous decision-making of consumers?
51. What may be done to a person who has been confined?
52. Should there be a ban on embryo experimentation?
53. What is the aim of imposing punishments on criminals?
54. What should legislators be concerned about?
55. Why should punishments be consistently applied?
56. Do merely possible people have interests?
57. What criterion should be used in order to make choices between adopting various laws, administrative procedures, and moral attitudes?
58. Why have welfare state methods not been very successful?
59. Why should a total utilitarian be a demi-vegetarian rather than a full vegetarian?
60. What is a demi-vegetarian?
61. Is democracy the best form of government?
62. Do plants count morally?
63. Why is terrorism morally wrong?
64. What is toleration?
65. What is the difference between education and indoctrination?
66. What is the best way to approach doing applied ethics?
67. Do the same moral principles apply to both public and private morality?
68. Why do applied ethics?
69. Could it be morally right to make threats to do what it would be wrong to do?
70. Should we eliminate our nuclear arsenal?
71. Are the principles found in just war theory prima facie principles?
72. Why does it seem that moral philosophy has no practical relevance?
73. What are some reasons for hospitals to have ethics committees?
74. What kind of patriotism is morally acceptable?
75. What are the two ways in which the unlawfulness of an act can affect the morality of the act?
76. What justification is there for a prima facie right to non-interference with one’s body?
77. How do people become pacifists and patriots?
78. How can moral principles help reduce regulation?
79. What is required for consent?
80. When should a judge resign?
81. How does business depend on ethics?
82. What are some reasons for not using children as experimental subjects?
83. Is discrimination always morally wrong?
84. What ethical problems arise with regard to controlled trials?
85. Can the right to life justify a ban on euthanasia?
86. Why do we use children as experimental subjects?
87. Why do the preferences of possible people carry moral weight?
88. What is the difference between therapeutic and non-therapeutic research?
89. Can paternalism be avoided?
90. How does the extended Golden Rule generate a prima facie duty to procreate?
91. Why should vague legal documents be avoided?
92. What are two ways of separating factual from evaluative questions?
93. Why are contraception and abortion not morally equivalent?
94. Should trade unions have been legalized?
95. Does acceptance of the potentiality principle require acceptance of an extreme conservative position on abortion?
96. Can there be a discriminatory moral principle?
97. Is the potentiality principle correct?
98. Should the requirement of consent for experimentation be absolute?
99. In what sense does ‘person’ do no work?
100. Why is the persons approach to abortion unhelpful?
101. What strategy is implemented in order to show that slavery cannot be used as the basis of a counter-intuitiveness objection to utilitarianism?
102. Why is the rights approach to abortion unhelpful?
103. What is wrong with slavery?
104. What can the moral philosopher contribute to practical questions?
105. Should one ever vote to permit the practice of slavery?
106. Since both the principle of double effect and universal prescriptivism’s Golden Rule moral reasoning give the same answer to the question of euthanasia, what is the difference between them?
107. What is the solution to the paradox that a practice like slavery can be both morally right and yet condemned?
108. What is the measure of the importance of a case?
109. Is the principle of liberty prohibiting slavery an absolute principle?
110. What is torture?
111. What is the moral question about euthanasia?
112. Is torture justified in order to extract information?
113. Why can the euthanasia controversy not be solved by determining whether the patient is still alive?
114. Should the affluent give away most or much of their wealth to those who are living in poverty?
115. Why can the abortion controversy not be solved by determining whether the fetus is a human being?
116. What is morally wrong about breaking promises?
117. Is killing different from failing to keep alive?
118. Should euthanasia be allowed?
119. Should the ban on torture be absolute?
120. Can we know just from the meaning of ‘doctor’ that doctors should not be involved in torture?
121. Can non-existing people, who cannot suffer, be harmed?
122. Should we be trying to create as many people as possible?
123. Can an action done now harm a person who does not now exist?
124. Are ‘illness’, ‘disease’, and ‘health’ purely descriptive terms?
125. What justifies the confinement of certain people in mental institutions?
126. Should we try to convert homosexuals into heterosexuals?
127. What justifies a patient’s right to confidentiality?
128. What should be done with severely deformed offspring?
129. Why is adultery morally wrong?
130. What decides who is the lawful government of a country?
131. Are political decisions and actions outside the scope of morality?
132. Should the interests of minorities ever be overridden in favor of the general good?
133. Why are public discussions of political matters important?
134. What is the most important freedom?
135. How is governing importantly different from engineering?
136. What are the main causes of war?
137. Are there moral experts or moral authorities?
138. Can a soldier be blamed for obeying the orders of a superior officer?
139. Why is it not morally relevant that a person is black but is morally relevant that she is a murderer?
140. Should capital punishment be implemented?
141. What are some limitations of consent?
142. What is a city?
143. Why is obtaining consent to do something to someone important?
144. Can philosophy alone change the way people behave?
145. Why is there a presumption that changing a person’s values is against her interests?
146. What is the truth in architectural functionalism?
147. Why should doctors have, and firmly follow, some few relatively simple and general moral principles?
148. What duties do doctors have as doctors?
149. Does accepting universal prescriptivism also require accepting an intolerant attitude?
150. Does utilitarianism support a transition from capitalism to socialism?
151. Why is skin color not morally relevant?
152. Are control groups used in medical experiments unfair to the participants?
153. Can a person be harmed by being prevented from existing?
154. Should medical experimentation on children be allowed?
155. In what does the wrongness of abortion consist?
156. Who should sit on ethics committees?
157. Does the non-identifiability of potential people impair their moral status?
158. Can hypothetical acts or omissions be condemned?
159. Is there a moral difference between acts and omissions?
160. To what kind of population policy does the method of universal prescriptivism lead?
161. Why does the abortion issue call for critical-level moral thinking?
162. How is putting ourselves in the other’s place with the other’s preferences, as universal prescriptivism’s method of moral reasoning recommends, supposed to work when the other (e.g., a very young fetus or zygote) probably has no preferences?
163. Does the extended Golden Rule still work if I am not glad that I was born?

Descriptivism     [Top]

164. In what way does descriptivism get truth about moral statements wrong?
165. Given that naturalism and intuitionism are both kinds of descriptivist theory, what makes them different?
166. What is descriptivism?
167. In what way have ‘desires’ and ‘needs’ misled descriptivists?
168. What is the mistake that naturalist theories make?
169. What is old-fashioned subjectivism?
170. Why is universal prescriptivism not a kind of descriptivism, naturalism in particular?
171. Why can a description alone not be a commendation?
172. What is the fallacy or mistake that descriptivism makes?
173. Is ‘naturalism’ the name of a common mistake?
174. What is the essence of naturalism?
175. How do descriptivists misuse moral disagreement?
176. What is the most fundamental objection to naturalism?
177. Why is the philosophical problem of ‘ought’ implying ‘can’ presumptive evidence against descriptivism?
178. Why are descriptivist theories of no use in resolving controversial moral issues?
179. Can a naturalist be a particularist?
180. What – in the widest sense – is a naturalistic definition?
181. Can the descriptivist thesis be given different strengths?
182. What is ethical descriptivism?
183. How does descriptivism lead to relativism?
184. Why is it important to note the difference between understanding what someone says and understanding why she says it?
185. Why can descriptivists not establish truth conditions for moral judgments?
186. According to descriptivism, what must moral disagreements be about?
187. If descriptivism were true, could people who initially shared no values communicate?
188. What are the main ways descriptivists have of fixing truth conditions?
189. What is the descriptivist take on ‘good person’?
190. Why is descriptivism absurd?
191. What failure in distinction leads to descriptivism?
192. Under what conditions might descriptivism be an adequate moral theory?
193. In what way do descriptivists have things backwards?
194. What typically motivates someone to become a descriptivist or a realist?
195. Why is it a mistake to fixate on objectivism?
196. What does descriptivism get right and what does it get wrong?
197. Is universal prescriptivism a more complex theory than other meta-ethical theories such as descriptivism?
198. Is universal prescriptivism a totally non-descriptivist theory?
199. What is the crucial difference between a descriptivist and a non-descriptivist?

Epistemology     [Top]

200. Are moral facts needed?
201. Are there any self-evident substantive moral principles?
202. Why is Cartesianism doomed from the start?
203. What is it in moral judgments that can make them true or false?
204. How can it plausibly be claimed that the critical level is epistemologically prior to the intuitive level when it is also claimed that intuitive-level principles are not to be questioned?
205. Does universal prescriptivism, or the utilitarianism associated with it, have a foundationalist principle of utility as in classical utilitarianism?
206. Why must we assent to moral prescriptions before truth conditions for moral statements can be established?
207. What is mistaken about the procedure of reflective equilibrium?
208. Does moral epistemology have a foundationalist or coherentist structure?
209. What is it that gives moral epistemology, in contrast to other kinds of epistemology, a greater chance of early success?
210. What is the ultimate goal of moral epistemology?
211. Why is the cognitivist and non-cognitivist distinction misleading?
212. Can moral judgments or statements or prescriptions be true or false?
213. How can we recognize a good person?
214. Can we ever know what action is the morally right action?

Fanatic     [Top]

215. Who or what is the fanatic?
216. What dilemma does the pure fanatic face?
217. Why do ordinary people not become fanatics?
218. Why will an appeal to overridingness not help the fanatic?
219. Who is the true fanatic?
220. How does the pure fanatic differ from the amoralist?
221. Will the fanatic always be with us?
222. Why must the fanatic always rely on censorship?
223. What weapons can the liberal use against the fanatic?
224. Since aesthetic judgments and moral judgments expressing ideals are both universal and prescriptive, what makes the fanatical Nazi different from the liberal connoisseur?
225. What is it about ideals that makes conflicts which involve them so intractable?
226. Why does the pure fanatic not present a difficulty for universal prescriptivism or utilitarianism?
227. In what ways can argument be used in conflicts involving ideals and interests?
228. Why is the pure fanatic supposed to be a difficulty for universal prescriptivism or utilitarianism?
229. Can we argue rationally about ideals?
230. How are the impure and the pure fanatic similar and dissimilar?
231. What makes the fanatic so dangerous?
232. Since good ordinary people ought in almost all cases to follow their inculcated intuitions, how do such people differ from the impure fanatic, who also sticks to intuitions?
233. What are some characteristics of ideals?
234. Can the fanatic be refuted?
235. Is it the content of moral intuitions that makes someone a fanatic?
236. How can universal prescriptivism overcome the problem of the fanatic?
237. If fanaticism is so rare, then how is it that whole nations have become fanatical?
238. How many kinds of fanatic are there?
239. Why does appeal to external preferences not help the pure fanatic?
240. How does the fanatic differ from the nationalist?

Golden Rule     [Top]

241. Since Golden Rule arguments depend on imagination, are such arguments fallacious if deployed against people who have poor imaginations?
242. Does the Golden Rule have some limitations?
243. Why is the Golden Rule such a good starting point for moral argument?
244. What logical grounds justify the extended Golden Rule?
245. What is the basis of the Golden Rule?
246. Is the Golden Rule sufficient as a basis for a theory of moral reasoning such as that endorsed by universal prescriptivism?
247. Since universal prescriptivism makes use of Golden Rule reasoning, is the argument for it based on biblical authority?
248. What does the Golden Rule reflect and express?
249. What is a Golden Rule type of moral argument?
250. Is the Golden Rule to be taken in a conditional or hypothetical sense or in an indicative sense?
251. Is the Golden Rule an imperative sentence?
252. What does loving one’s neighbor as oneself mean?
253. What mistake is Kant making in his criticism of the Golden Rule in the footnote at Ak:430 (=68)?
254. What is a frequent misinterpretation of the Golden Rule?
255. Should universal prescriptivism’s golden-rule arguments be likened to expressions such as ‘How would you like it if …?’?

Imperatives     [Top]

256. What is the ‘verbal shove’ theory of the meaning of imperatives?
257. As far as ethics is concerned, why is it important to study imperatives?
258. What do all prescriptive speech acts have in common?
259. Do hypothetical imperatives have descriptive force?
260. What are some differences between indicatives and imperatives?
261. Can an imperative conclusion be derived from only indicative premises?
262. Are imperatives more emotive than other kinds of sentence?
263. What is an imperative sentence?
264. Why does there seem to be a gap between ‘Do a’ and ‘Do not do a’?
265. Can a command be fulfilled by fulfilling another command inferable from the first?
266. In what ways are imperative sentences and indicative sentences the same?
267. When are two commands inconsistent?
268. Why is it important to make it clear that imperatives tell someone to do something rather than try to get someone to do something?
269. Why is the imperative element in a hypothetical imperative analytic?
270. What evidence is there that imperatives and moral judgments are similar in some (but not all) ways?
271. Are there indirect commands?
272. What is the difference between an indicative sentence and an imperative sentence?
273. What is the essential difference between imperatives and normative statements?
274. Do imperatives imply ‘can’ like ‘ought’ implies ‘can’?
275. Does universal prescriptivism reduce moral language to imperatives or to orders or commands?
276. Do imperatives have any descriptive element?
277. Why is the imperative mood useful and necessary?
278. Why can imperatives not be put into proper universal form?
279. Does universal prescriptivism require that there be logical inferences to and from imperatives?
280. Is the transformation into the imperative mood a syntactic or semantic transformation?

Influences     [Top]

281. Was Plato an intuitionist?
282. What are the historical sources of the prescriptivity of moral judgments?
283. Did the notion of descriptive meaning originate with universal prescriptivism?
284. Who or what influenced the ‘ordinary-language’ view that problems in ethical theory should be framed conceptually rather than metaphysically?
285. What ethical theories influenced universal prescriptivism?
286. Where did the thought that a rationalist non-descriptivism (such as universal prescriptivism) is possible come from?
287. Is the distinction between levels of moral thinking original?
288. The normative ethical theory that gives results paralleling those delivered by the method of moral reasoning drawn from universal prescriptivism has its roots in Millian utilitarianism and Kantian deontology, but isn’t it the case that these are opposing normative ethical theories?
289. What are the historical sources of the principle of universalizability?
290. Did Kant reduce moral judgments to imperatives?
291. Was Kant an intuitionist?
292. Was Kant a utilitarian?
293. Who were the saviours of morality?

Intuitionism     [Top]

294. To what does ‘moral intuition’ confusedly refer?
295. Why do our moral intuitions support liberty and equality?
296. In what ways may received moral opinion or moral intuitions legitimately be used?
297. Are the majority of moral philosophers intuitionists?
298. For moral philosophy, what’s the most important difference between moral and linguistic intuitions?
299. In what ways do our upbringings cast doubt on our moral intuitions?
300. What is intuitionism?
301. What is the vice of intuitionism?
302. What is the principal defense against intuitionism?
303. Why is it a mistake to give moral intuitions an indisputable epistemological status?
304. Are intuitions real?
305. What is the best that the intuitionists’ ‘method’ can do?
306. How do intuitionists (and other descriptivists) exploit human prejudice?
307. In what way is intuitionism inferior to utilitarianism?
308. What does intuitionism get right and what does it get wrong?
309. Why might critical thinking reject an intuition?
310. What are the sources of moral intuitions?
311. Does widespread agreement in intuitions accord the intuitions any epistemological privilege?
312. What is it to have an intuition?
313. What’s the most basic objection to intuitionism?
314. Who are intuitionists?
315. What is a common form of intuitionist argument?
316. Who or what are the crypto-intuitionists?
317. Why is it dangerous to rely on moral intuitions?

Judgments     [Top]

318. Are judgments that express ideals universalizable and prescriptive?
319. What is the test that a judgment is being used as a value-judgment?
320. How do moral judgments differ from desires?
321. Are all ought-judgments universalizable?
322. What feature do moral judgments and descriptive judgments share?
323. What are the three most important truths about moral judgments?
324. What are moral judgments about?
325. Do all moral judgments involve principles?
326. In what ways or senses can a judgment be subjective?
327. Why are moral judgments universalizable?
328. In what ways or senses can a judgment be objective?
329. In what ways do moral judgments differ from legal judgments?
330. What is the solution to the dispute about whether moral judgments are objective or subjective?
331. What shows that moral judgments are not equivalent to imperatives?
332. What is a descriptive judgment?
333. Do all moral judgments have the logical property of prescriptivity?
334. Are moral judgments the only kind of judgments that have both prescriptivity and universalizability?
335. What makes moral judgments objective?
336. Since both moral judgments and aesthetic judgments have the feature of universalizability, what sets them apart?
337. What is the single most decisive difference between imperatives and moral judgments?
338. Can moral judgments be unfalsifiable?
339. What is a moral judgment?
340. Can there be singular moral judgments?
341. What are the three elements involved in making a moral judgment?
342. Must prescriptivism be a kind of internalism?
343. What is internalism?
344. What allows there to be logical relations between moral judgments?
345. What are the two elements in the meaning of moral statements or judgments?
346. Are all moral appraisals prescriptive?
347. Does an analytic moral judgment have any content?
348. Are all evaluative judgments prescriptive judgments?
349. Are all prescriptive judgments evaluative judgments?
350. Are all evaluative judgments moral judgments?
351. Are all moral judgments evaluative judgments?
352. What is a value judgment?
353. What makes moral judgments momentous?
354. Are moral judgments the same as imperatives?
355. Are moral judgments pure prescriptions?
356. What relations obtain between a value-judgment and the standard which it uses?
357. If a moral judgment does not state facts, can making moral judgments be a rational activity?
358. What are the purposes for making moral judgments?
359. What decision is made in the making of a moral judgment?
360. How do value-judgments differ from singular imperatives?
361. What evidence is there that moral judgments are in some ways like imperatives?
362. Can ought-judgments do the jobs of good-judgments and right-judgments?
363. Why does an imperative not invoke a universal principle as a reason?
364. How are moral judgments different from universal imperatives?
365. Do all ‘ought’-judgments entail imperatives?

Justice     [Top]

366. Is justice an intuitive-level or critical-level concept?
367. Why should the combination of cake theory and egalitarianism be rejected?
368. What moral intuitions about justice should we have?
369. What is meant, at least in part, by saying that the concept of justice belongs to the intuitive level of moral thinking?
370. Why does equality in distribution require restrictions on equality of opportunity?
371. When are laws just?
372. Might there be situations in which there is no right, or unique and correct, answer about a question of justice?
373. What are the cake and equipment theories?
374. Why are justice and utility compatible?
375. When are we being formally unjust?
376. In what sense are prima facie principles of justice just?
377. What are the chief reasons in favor of liberty and equality?
378. Why is formal justice alone not sufficient to generate principles of substantial justice?
379. What is an example of a substantial principle of justice?
380. What are the two stages in which arguments about what is just or fair have to proceed?
381. In what ways is Rawls’s approach similar and dissimilar to that of universal prescriptivism?
382. How does the logical tool of universalizability address the problem of inter-generational justice?
383. How many different senses of ‘just’ or ‘justice’ are there?
384. How do the various senses of justice align with the levels of moral thinking?
385. On what should a general theory of justice be founded?
386. Why would an impartially benevolent critical thinker elect to support prima facie principles that are moderately egalitarian?
387. Can a just moral principle be discriminatory?
388. Is retributive justice a form of distributive justice?
389. What is the basis of social justice?
390. In what does formal justice consist?
391. Why does justice have utility?
392. Is a person who acts for the same reasons as the archangel just?
393. Why should the selected prima facie principles of justice support elitism?
394. What is it to treat persons as equals?
395. What differences are there between formal justice and substantial justice?
396. How can envy be avoided or at least reduced?
397. Is a procedurally just process sufficient to guarantee a just outcome?

Levels     [Top]

398. Does the archangel advise us humans only to do intuitive moral thinking?
399. When should we follow our intuitions?
400. Why does the archangel think like an act-utilitarian but advise humans to be rule-utilitarians?
401. How many sub-levels of prima facie principles are there in the intuitive level of moral thinking?
402. What is meant by saying that intuitive-level principles are prima facie?
403. Why is the intuitive level of moral thinking passive and uncritical?
404. Since even fantastic cases are allowed in critical thinking, will critical thinking select prima facie principles for such cases?
405. What are the chief theoretical uses of the two-level view of moral thinking?
406. Why is the critical level of moral thinking needed?
407. Why are the principles used at the intuitive level called prima facie principles?
408. Why could intuitive-level prima facie principles not be designed as well for bizarre cases?
409. Is the two-level view an account of the way we actually do our moral thinking?
410. Do we know that our current set of prima facie principles is the set of principles most likely to lead to the optimific act?
411. What was the genesis or motivation for the separation of levels?
412. Can humans do critical moral thinking?
413. Is the plain man – the typical person on the street – a prole?
414. How does the distinction between the two levels of moral thinking help to bring Kantians and utilitarians together?
415. Are different forms of utilitarianism operative at the different levels of moral thinking?
416. What is the best set of prima facie principles?
417. What is the difference between a critical moral principle and a level-2 principle?
418. How does an archangel go about deciding what prima facie principles are to be adopted?
419. Are the two levels of moral thinking competitors or at odds with each other?
420. Why should we not try to be archangels all the time?
421. How will we know when it is appropriate to use each level of moral thinking?
422. Is there a difference between the principles that the two levels of moral thinking use?
423. Why is the critical level of moral thinking needed in order to resolve conflicts between intuitions?
424. Is the intuitive level of moral thinking merely a hypothetical construct or is it real?
425. At what level of moral thinking is descriptive meaning fixed?
426. What explains why one level of moral thinking is not sufficient?
427. At what level of moral thinking are most of the serious problems in moral philosophy to be found?
428. What is the solution to the paradox that we can sometimes feel guilty even when we sincerely believe that we have done what we ought to have done?
429. Why should we not think like the prole all the time?
430. What are some typical features of moral thinking done at the critical or higher level?
431. Why is the separation of moral thinking into levels the best way to handle moral conflicts?
432. Why can the metaethical level of moral thinking not distinguish between good and bad motives?
433. Why do we need dispositions?
434. At what level do most of us spend most of our time?
435. In what does the intuitive level consist?
436. Why is the intuitive level of moral thinking needed?
437. How do we know that following the prima facie principles chosen by critical thinking is most likely to lead to the optimific act?
438. Is the thinking at the intuitive level utilitarian?
439. Does the separation into two levels require us to compartmentalize our moral thinking?
440. In what ways can conflicts between prima facie principles used at the intuitive level be resolved?
441. How can the number of conflicts between prima facie principles at the intuitive level be reduced?
442. Should the prima facie principles used at the intuitive level be taken lightly?
443. Do intuitive-level conflicts between prima facie principles always have to be adjudicated by moving up to the critical level of moral thinking?
444. What is the function of intuitive thinking?
445. Will archangels, after completing their critical thinking, always agree?
446. What does an archangel decide?
447. Are there genuine moral conflicts or conflicts of duties?
448. What is the relation between the intuitive and critical levels, between the archangel and the prole?
449. What are some dangers of becoming too enamored of the intuitive level of moral thinking?
450. Are there differences between moral intuitions, ingrained moral character, virtues, moral motivations, moral dispositions, rules, and prima facie moral principles?
451. Who is to be an archangel, to make the decisions that archangels make?
452. What are the characteristics of the archangel?
453. What are the characteristics of the prole?
454. Who or what is the prole?
455. How do moral conflicts arise?
456. Who or what is the archangel?
457. Why are the principles used at the critical level of moral thinking called ‘critical’?
458. How many levels of moral thinking are there?
459. Are intuitions or dispositions at the intuitive level rules of thumb?

Logic     [Top]

460. Are illocutionary acts subject to logical rules?
461. What are some examples of the formal canons of reasoning that govern moral argument?
462. Is the logic of the moral words neutral?
463. Does particular descriptive meaning determine the logic of moral arguments?
464. Why, in making a moral judgment, is the requirement to ascertain the facts a logical requirement?
465. What are logical requirements?
466. Do slippery-slope arguments have any force?
467. What is the contradictory of ‘Smith ought to do a’?
468. What is it that allows moral argument to get a grip?
469. Is acceptance of a conclusion a necessary or sufficient condition for acceptance of the premise?
470. What is moral argument?
471. What is validity?
472. What is the difference between affirmation and assent?
473. What qualifications are needed to make Hume’s Law acceptable?
474. Must there be some logical device to indicate subscription or non-subscription to a sentence?
475. Should logic be confined to indicatives?
476. How are conditionals to be understood?
477. What kinds of inference are there?
478. What would show that a statement is not analytic or is synthetic?
479. What kind of logical relations does universal prescriptivism require between prescriptions?
480. What is logic?
481. Why is it important for universal prescriptivism that there be logical relations between imperatives as argued for in The Language of Morals?
482. What is a practical syllogism?
483. Can linguistic intuitions come into conflict?
484. What is the basis of logic?
485. How do normative statements acquire truth conditions?
486. How similar are the logics of imperatives and indicatives?
487. Is there a common moral grammar?
488. How do we know when someone is misusing a word?
489. What is a logical connection?
490. How do we know when someone is contradicting herself?
491. Can logic determine what things we desire?
492. How do we go about finding the logical properties of the moral words or even of any word?
493. What are some features of linguistic or logical intuitions?
494. In what sense are all moral arguments ad hominem?
495. What is the basis of all moral reasoning?
496. Why does moral language have the logic that it has?
497. What is it to have a reason for saying something?
498. Does the non-derivability of prescriptions from ‘is’-statements render them non-rational?
499. What is the nature of definition?
500. What is the nature of deduction?
501. What is the logician’s job?
502. What is the dictive indifference of logic?
503. What is the criterion of logicality?
504. Why do disjunctive imperative inferences appear paradoxical?
505. Is the logic of imperatives also the logic of normative judgments?
506. Do facts and logic have a bearing on the rationality of choices and prescriptions?
507. Should logicians doing work on imperatives be looking for a truth-substitute?
508. Is usage an infallible guide to logical properties?
509. What is the logic of imperatives about?
510. What does ‘entail’ mean?
511. To what conjunction is ‘It is indifferent whether Smith does a’ equivalent?
512. Can theses that are analytic nevertheless be of great practical importance and thus not trivial?
513. Does the law of excluded middle apply to moral judgments?
514. How far can logic alone take us toward a theory of moral thinking that can succeed in answering our moral questions?
515. In what sense does a prescriptive statement entail an imperative?
516. On what do the ordinary procedures of philosophical logic depend?
517. Universal prescriptivism is built on the logic of the moral words. But is there any requirement that we use the moral words?
518. How are word usage and entailment related?
519. Does universal prescriptivism presuppose the analytic-synthetic distinction?
520. Why think that there are entailment relations between imperatives?
521. Does universal prescriptivism violate Hume’s Law?
522. Why think that imperatives are governed by logical rules?
523. What is the function of value-words?

Meaning     [Top]

524. What is a prerequisite for genuine moral disagreement?
525. What allows us to speak of knowing that an act is morally wrong or right?
526. When is a word vacuous or trivial?
527. Why are there primarily evaluative words?
528. Why does the perlocutionary depend on the illocutionary?
529. Why can talk of ‘pragmatics’ be misleading?
530. What is it about the moral words that allows standards to change?
531. Are ‘ought’ and ‘wrong’ interdefinable?
532. What is the point at issue in the debate over deriving an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’?
533. How are ‘right’ and ‘true’ similar?
534. To what does one logically commit oneself when one attributes a descriptive predicate term to a subject?
535. Why prefer ‘descriptive’ to ‘factual’?
536. What determines the kind of meaning a word has?
537. What is a rule?
538. What kinds of meaning are there?
539. How are evaluative meaning, descriptive meaning, and standards of evaluation tied together?
540. Does the actual current usage of words have any philosophical import?
541. What two questions can always be asked in order better to understand a judgment containing ‘good’?
542. What does ‘good’ mean?
543. What is it that gives descriptive meaning to the moral words used in judgments?
544. Are truth conditions basic to all kinds of meaning?
545. Do moral words with descriptive meaning behave like descriptive words?
546. To what do truth values attach or apply?
547. How do descriptive force or meaning and evaluative force vary with respect to each other?
548. What are ordinary people intending, as far as meaning goes, when they use the moral words?
549. Is universal prescriptivism an error theory?
550. Why is usage generally a reliable guide to discovering the logical properties of words?
551. Does meaning belong chiefly to subject and predicate terms?
552. Are the descriptive and evaluative force or meaning of a word learned together?
553. What determines the way in which ordinary people use the moral words?
554. Can statements change from synthetic to analytic?
555. Are definitions analytic or synthetic?
556. When said of moral judgments, are ‘true’, ‘false’, ‘right’, and ‘wrong’ used in the same way?
557. Is use the same as meaning?
558. Are the peculiarities of the value-words such as ‘ought’ dependent on their moral uses?
559. What are the different senses of ‘ought’ at play in the two levels of normative moral thinking?
560. What elements of meaning are shared and not shared by descriptive and evaluative statements?
561. Are ‘ought’, ‘right’, and ‘good’ the only value-words?
562. How is describing different from evaluating?
563. What is the primary function of ‘good’?
564. When moral standards change, are we appealing to different reasons?
565. Are there non-commendatory uses of ‘good’?
566. Are truth conditions morally neutral?
567. Does ‘good’ have only either descriptive or evaluative meaning?
568. What is sentence meaning?
569. In what ways is ‘good’ a loose word?
570. How can we tell when a standard has become conventional?
571. What are truth conditions?
572. Is ordinary language too subtle, flexible, and complicated to attribute a logical feature such as prescriptivity to a whole subset of the language?
573. What is the relation between evaluative force and descriptive force?
574. Can we do without ‘right’?
575. Does ‘good’, when used evaluatively, lose its descriptive meaning?
576. What characteristics do ‘good’, ‘ought’, and ‘right’ share?
577. How do words get into inverted-commas?
578. Is it correct to say that when we call someone a good person we are attributing certain descriptive characteristics to her?
579. Why think that ‘good’ in moral contexts functions as it does in non-moral contexts?
580. What is word meaning?
581. What typically makes primary value-words more useful than secondary value-words?
582. What determines descriptive meaning?
583. Can descriptive and evaluative meaning be distinguished?
584. How can descriptive meaning change without a change in evaluative meaning?
585. Is there a difference in strength between semantic meaning-rules and moral meaning-rules?
586. What is it to know a moral meaning-rule that is used in making a moral statement?
587. Does a conditional or hypothetical sentence have an assertion sign?
588. What determines what we are stating when we make a statement?
589. What is meant by saying that ‘good’ is a word used for commending?
590. Can a descriptive word nevertheless be unclear?
591. How are ‘inverted commas’ moral judgments possible?
592. How does writing one’s moral convictions into the meanings of the moral words make communication impossible?
593. What is necessary in order to explain fully the meaning of a verb used in a sentence?
594. Is ‘ought’ ever used non-prescriptively or non-universalizably?
595. Is universal prescriptivism claiming that as a matter of linguistic fact the moral words are prescriptive and universalizable?
596. How do we discover meanings?
597. What are functional words?
598. What are inverted commas?
599. What is a ‘So what?’ moralist?
600. In a moral judgment, what specifies a moral principle?
601. What is the difference between learning how to use a word and learning the meaning of the word?
602. If there is a dispute about whether an action is, say, dishonest, how can we sort out whether the dispute is about the descriptive meaning of ‘dishonest’ or its prescriptive meaning, or both?
603. How are the moral words such as ‘ought’ different from and similar to other words such as quantifiers like ‘all’ and color words like ‘blue’ or ‘red’?
604. What are the logical properties of words?
605. Why does universal prescriptivism draw so heavily on the meanings of the moral words?
606. Where do the moral words get their meaning?
607. What exactly does it mean to say that an element of a word’s meaning is primary or secondary?
608. What is ‘nodding’ a sentence?
609. In value-words, is descriptive meaning always secondary to evaluative meaning?
610. How do value-expressions acquire descriptive force or meaning?
611. Why is the descriptive meaning of ‘good’ secondary to the evaluative or commendatory meaning?
612. How do we know that naturalist definitions of value-words such as ‘good’ cannot be used to commend?
613. What is descriptive meaning?
614. What are the two ways in which we know what it means to call something a good member of its class?
615. On what do all questions of meaning depend?
616. How does evaluative meaning differ from criteria?
617. Why is ‘good’ not the name of something as ‘red’ is the name of something?
618. If an expression has no possible use, is it therefore meaningless?
619. How does a right act differ from a good act?

Metaphysics     [Top]

620. What is a law of nature?
621. Is the principle of the identity of discernables compatible with universal prescriptivism?
622. How many levels of inquiry are there?
623. Is any metaphysical mumbo-jumbo going on in the role-reversal procedure?
624. Do humans have a specific good that can be identified directly by reference to human capacities?
625. What is the basic mistake that moral realists make?
626. Does property identity require synonymy?
627. If we can predict a person’s actions, is it unjust to blame her?
628. What is needed for moral appraisal to be possible?
629. What is the condition that reconciles prediction and moral appraisal?
630. Is there a difference between asking what goodness is and what ‘good’ means?
631. Does potentiality lie in the soul?
632. Is there any point in trying to determine what the natural law really is?
633. Can any distinction be made between an action and its consequences?
634. Will causal explanations of human behavior render moral language pointless?
635. What is the difference between moral properties and ordinary properties?
636. What is the difference between logic and metaphysics?
637. Why is the debate between realists who say moral qualities are like Lockean secondary qualities and anti-realists who deny this similarity confused?
638. Why is it a conceptual error, not a factual error, to think that objective prescriptive properties exist?
639. What are actions and consequences?
640. Why is the debate about whether moral facts exist really a conceptual, not metaphysical, debate?
641. What might intending be?
642. Are there moral facts?
643. Why is the metaphysical debate between the ethical realist and anti-realist unhelpful at best?
644. What distinction does the question ‘What is the good?’ suppress?

Method     [Top]

645. What is obscured by arguments inspired by the expression ‘What if everyone did that?’?
646. How is the golden-rule method of moral reasoning related to the expression ‘What if everyone did that?’?
647. What exactly is the inconsistency or contradiction on which golden-rule type arguments turn?
648. What can the universal prescriptivist say to someone who uses moral language differently?
649. In what ways might someone try to escape from golden-rule moral arguments?
650. What are the prerequisites of moral argument?
651. Since the method of moral reasoning is purely formal, how can it be morally relevant?
652. Does moral thinking call for empathy or for sympathy?
653. How does the method of universal prescriptivism differ from the method of naturalism?
654. What mistakes are being made in the claim that there could be someone who, because she knows she will never actually be in the victim’s place, says that she wants to be treated as she plans to treat the victim who very much does not want to be so treated?
655. Why is the equal weight given to equal interests or preferences a positive weight?
656. What is being asked in asking what we are prepared to prescribe in all logically possible situations?
657. What is involved in judging rationally?
658. What determines our final moral judgment about a case?
659. What is involved in identifying with another person?
660. What is the end-product of moral reasoning that is genuinely evaluative?
661. What is the ground rule for the negotiations that take place in critical moral thinking?
662. Why is the method of moral reasoning imposed on us by universal prescriptivism superior to other methods?
663. Is there any room in critical moral thinking for discussion and negotiation?
664. In what sense do the facts and logic constrain what prescriptions we can accept?
665. In the role-reversal part of the method of moral reasoning, do preferences go with roles or with the individuals occupying those roles?
666. How does the method of moral reasoning imposed on us by the logic of the moral words ensure unanimity on issues concerning interests?
667. Why is critical moral thinking so difficult for humans to do?
668. In role-reversal situations, why is it important that the reversal take place now?
669. What requires us to have equal regard for the preference-satisfaction of others?
670. Why, when answering moral questions, is it necessary to ascertain what the facts of the case are?
671. What kind of argument is used in order to establish the method of moral reasoning that is based on the logic of the moral concepts?
672. Does the method of moral reasoning lead to unique and determinate answers to substantive moral questions?
673. What is the weakness of the method of moral reasoning that emerges from universal prescriptivism?
674. Since the method of moral reasoning identified by universal prescriptivism gives results identical to those arrived at by utilitarians, what’s the advantage of universal prescriptivism?
675. How are we to decide which received moral opinions we should continue to cultivate?
676. Does the reliance on the moral words chain us to our current conceptual and moral outlook?
677. Are there any formal constraints on what can be morally relevant in a situation?
678. So is the method of moral reasoning basically a matter of counting the votes of all the affected parties?
679. Why should we not rely on our conscience?
680. Why is it a mistake to try to identify the morally relevant features of a situation prior to deciding on moral principles?
681. Are imaginary cases useful?
682. Why should we define disputed terms only after the pertinent moral principles have been selected?
683. What are some explanations of why golden-rule moral reasoning is sometimes ineffective?
684. Should we devote time to answer verbal questions about the definition of acts?
685. What is mistaken about a method that starts by making a list of morally relevant features?
686. What is the foundation of moral thinking?
687. What is the logical consequence of combining universalizability and prescriptivity?
688. What roles do utilitarian and Kantian approaches play in universal prescriptivism?
689. What prevents our accepting a proposed moral judgment?
690. Is the method of moral reasoning identified by universal prescriptivism a holistic method?
691. What theoretical methods are at the disposal of the moral philosopher?
692. Is the method of moral reasoning identified by universal prescriptivism analogous to the scientific method?
693. What is the nature of the substantial premises used in the method of moral reasoning identified by universal prescriptivism?
694. What is included in another’s situation or position?
695. What is the essential part of moral thinking?
696. Do we actually use moral principles in our thinking?
697. Can we know everything about another’s situation?
698. What is it to give an account of moral reasoning?
699. Since the method of critical moral thinking must take empirical facts about societies into consideration and these facts may differ from society to society, isn’t the method relativistic?
700. What allows us to distinguish moral thinking from prudential thinking?
701. Might our moral convictions be inculcated so strongly in us that we cannot suspend belief in them and so will not be able to do critical thinking?
702. How does critical moral thinking avoid special pleading by the thinkers?
703. On what is the method used in critical moral thinking built?
704. What prevents someone from morally prescribing only for those possible situations in which she does not occupy the role of her victims?
705. In the role-reversal procedure, after all roles have been successively reversed, what happens to all the preferences that one has acquired?
706. Why is universal prescriptivism’s method of critical moral thinking superior to Rawls’s device of the veil of ignorance?
707. In putting oneself into the other’s shoes (i.e., in the role-reversal procedure), is one becoming the other person?
708. How does the method of moral reasoning lead to utilitarianism?
709. Is the role-reversal procedure to take place in any particular order?
710. Although universalization itself does not have stages, does the method of moral reasoning used in critical thinking have stages?
711. Can purely formal moves lead to conclusions of moral substance?
712. Does the method of moral reasoning, in the role-reversal procedure, require that we perform calculations of utility that involve interpersonal comparisons of utilities or preferences?
713. Why can the golden-rule method of moral reasoning not be extended to cover reasoning about aesthetic issues or about moral issues not involving others’ interests?
714. Does the method of moral reasoning, in the role-reversal procedure, require that we conceive of ourselves as acquiring incompatible sets of properties?
715. Why does the argument for the method of moral reasoning only depend on the properties of prescriptivity and universalizability and not also on overridingness?
716. What kind of comparison between preferences does the method of moral reasoning require?
717. Why must a universal prescriber have knowledge of consequences and of the other facts?
718. What can philosophy contribute to practical questions?
719. Why does a method of moral thinking that is constrained by the logic of the moral words provide a rigorous and secure procedure?
720. At what point does subjectivism become problematic or a theoretical liability?
721. Are substantial conclusions being drawn only from premises about the use of words?
722. The deontic ‘must’ most transparently and regularly exhibits the logical properties of prescriptivity and universalizability; so why does universal prescriptivism focus so much on ‘ought’ rather than ‘must’?
723. Why do linguistic intuitions have probative value or force while moral intuitions do not?
724. Since what moral words we use is a contingent matter, doesn’t basing the method of moral reasoning on the moral words open up the possibility of relativism: that other societies that use different words will end up with a different method and then different moral conclusions?
725. What are some legitimate uses of linguistic intuitions?
726. What is the logic that allows us to arrive at singular prescriptions for action from moral principles and some factual information?
727. For the archangel, is there a universal prescription that is acceptable to her in any role she plays in a given situation?
728. Does the style of argument in support of universal prescriptivism make use of moral intuitions?

Miscellaneous     [Top]

729. What is rational?
730. Is universal prescriptivism an empirical theory?
731. What is a necessary condition for being a moral agent?
732. What is a moral rule?
733. How do we learn ought-rules or ought-principles?
734. How do moral conventions differ from linguistic conventions?
735. What is the meaning of ‘moral’?
736. What objections to universal prescriptivism have most widely missed their target?
737. Is universal prescriptivism a subjectivist or objectivist theory?
738. What are some passages that have caused much confusion?
739. Why is imperativism an absurd theory?
740. Is universal prescriptivism, with its reliance on decisions of principle, a kind of irrationalism or subjectivism?
741. Why is universal prescriptivism sometimes (mistakenly) criticized as a form of subjectivism?
742. What have been the most telling objections to universal prescriptivism?
743. Under what conditions can a society possess a stable and objective morality?
744. Could a morality die out?
745. Why do cultures vary so little in their moralities?
746. What are some of the common features shared by moral and non-moral uses of the moral words?
747. What is the best way to characterize the controversy between universal prescriptivism and intuitionism?
748. What are some similarities between universal prescriptivism and Kant’s moral philosophy?
749. What is correct about situational ethics and some extreme forms of existentialism?
750. What is it to teach a standard?
751. What is mistaken about situational ethics and some extreme forms of existentialism?
752. In the case of functional words, what distinguishes classes of comparison?
753. Why do we have standards?
754. Why do we commend?
755. How can a change in language trigger a change in standard?
756. How does universal prescriptivism account for the authoritativeness of morality?
757. Is ‘man’ in ‘good man’ a functional word?
758. When we say that an action is good, what is being commended?
759. Is Kohlberg’s highest level of moral development the same as universal prescriptivism’s critical level of moral thinking?
760. What is the mark of a good philosopher?
761. What is philosophy?
762. What are mores?
763. In what ways can an ethical theory go wrong?
764. Besides universal prescriptivism, are there other rationalist non-descriptivist ethical theories?
765. How does universal prescriptivism, unlike descriptivism, avoid relativism?
766. Are there things that are evil in themselves?
767. Why is moral particularism mistaken?
768. Is existence itself a benefit?
769. Why is the reality of moral disagreement so important theoretically?
770. How does politics masquerade as philosophy?
771. What is the difference between incorrect use and application of a word?
772. Why should definitions lack content?
773. How is morality passed down from one generation to another?
774. Is morality innate?
775. Are there any ends in themselves?
776. Does anything in morals turn on the actual use of words?
777. Can needs be the basis for an ethical theory?
778. Are there spheres of morality?
779. Why do ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ not mark out a real distinction between values?
780. On what grounds can actions be morally assessed?
781. Can values be totally annihilated?
782. Are there moral questions not involving interests?
783. Has there been any moral progress?
784. What, in outline, is the solution to the problem of what moral principles we should accept?
785. Why is a rational non-descriptivism such as universal prescriptivism hard for many people to accept?
786. Are prudential judgments universalizable?
787. Who is the good person?
788. How has universal prescriptivism evolved since its beginnings in the 1950s?
789. How are the form and content of morality related?
790. Why might someone of good character do an act that is not morally right?
791. Why is the deontology and teleology distinction a false distinction?
792. Why is having parents who love each other the most important element in moral education?
793. Should an agent be blamed for doing a morally rational action that turns out to be morally wrong?
794. Why does universal prescriptivism not use the concept of happiness very much?
795. What is it to be morally educated?
796. What are the relations between morally good, morally right, and morally rational actions?
797. Can moral education be done in a morally neutral manner?
798. What is the real veil of ignorance?
799. What is morality?
800. When should philosophers become professionally interested in a discussion?
801. What are some necessary conditions for virtue?
802. Why is moral philosophy so difficult but also fascinating?
803. Is an ethics of caring incompatible with universal prescriptivism?
804. How does ethical theory benefit from being applied in moral discussion about real-life practical issues?
805. What is a crucial question with regard to moral education?
806. Is virtue ethics incompatible with an ethics of duties or of principles such as universal prescriptivism?
807. What does an ethical theory tell us?
808. What are some characteristics of a wise person?
809. Do all languages have equivalent primary value-words?
810. What are some necessary conditions for adhering to a rule or for governing one’s conduct in accordance with a rule?
811. What are some weaknesses of the missionary-converting-cannibals example in The Language of Morals?
812. What is the general philosophical approach of universal prescriptivism?
813. Is there anything unique about universal prescriptivism?
814. What is the significance of ‘shall’ in ‘What shall I do?’?
815. Why is the is/ought debate not trivial?
816. Can we know how to use a term without also being able to say how to use the term?
817. What is the most important part of moral education?
818. Are all distinctions empirical distinctions?
819. Can a Machiavellian prince who does not subscribe to promise-keeping still use ‘promise’ in order to make promises?
820. Is morality invented or discovered?
821. What would happen if everyone rejected the moral principle that one ought to keep one’s promises?
822. What does universal prescriptivism teach us?
823. Why is much of The Language of Morals devoted to elucidation of the non-moral uses of the moral words?
824. To what are ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ properly applied?
825. What does it mean to be impartial?
826. Are the levels in two-level utilitarianism related to the levels in the two levels of moral thinking?
827. What is mistaken about absolutism?
828. How do we learn in morality?
829. Is universal prescriptivism practically equivalent to any other ethical theories?
830. Does universal prescriptivism assume that all action is founded on a maxim, rule, or principle?
831. What is mistaken or ill-conceived about Rawls’ moral methodology?
832. What is mistaken or ill-conceived about Rawls’ philosophical methodology?
833. What causes the most confusion in theoretical and applied ethics?
834. What is the ‘thin end of the wedge’ argument?
835. What are the aims of moral education?
836. Is it logically impossible to punish the innocent?
837. What are the differences between remorse, regret, and compunction?
838. What goes wrong with Searle’s notorious attempt to derive ‘ought’ from ‘is’?
839. What are the elements of a complete moral system?
840. What is the main goal of Moral Thinking?
841. What’s the job or business of the moral philosopher?
842. What is the purpose of moral philosophy?
843. Is universal prescriptivism a variety of non-cognitivism?
844. What is a test of the sincerity or honesty of an imperative sentence?
845. What is ethics?
846. Why study ethics?
847. To what uses is moral language put?
848. What are the connections between having an interest, valuing, and desiring?
849. What is a philosopher?
850. How can we get from harm to wrongness?
851. Which things can be harmed?
852. What is it to harm?
853. Why do we have the pro-attitudes that we do in fact have?
854. What is autonomy?
855. What are the sources of values?
856. When is it appropriate to blame someone in the sense of finding fault with her?
857. What is it for something to matter?
858. If we can predict that someone will reject our moral advice, why give it?
859. Why is philosophy so unpopular?
860. What is character?
861. What determines the morality of an action?
862. How are we to decide moral questions rationally?
863. What is the fundamental mistake in moral philosophy over the last several decades?
864. Why is the psychological way of characterizing the debate between realist and anti-realist ethical theories superficial?
865. Can you give some examples of bilateral, trilateral, and multilateral cases?
866. Why are facts relevant to moral arguments?
867. Is there an easy way to cash out ‘a person’s interests’?
868. What is the essence of morality?
869. What can affect a person’s interests?
870. Why is literary fiction not a particularly good source for examples?
871. What are some important parts of a person’s personality?
872. Should metaphors be eschewed in philosophy?
873. Why do we not need to look too hard for exceptions to our moral principles?
874. What is being asked when it is asked ‘What ought I to do in this case?’?
875. Does universal prescriptivism put any restrictions on what can count as a moral principle?
876. What are the possible sources of moral disagreement?
877. Why is moral language indispensable?
878. What constitutes a substantial moral disagreement?
879. Does Williams use ‘integrity’ in its usual sense?
880. Since universal prescriptivism takes morals to be a rational activity, what is its discipline?
881. What are the logical relationships between prescriptivity, universalizability, and descriptivism?
882. Why is the combination of universalizability and prescriptivity difficult to attack?
883. What does ‘universal prescriptivism’ signify?
884. What two features does every serious moral problem have?
885. What is relativism?
886. What does an ethical view’s agreement with widespread opinion prove?
887. How does ethical practice or applied ethics benefit from ethical theory?

Point     [Top]

888. When do moral appraisals have a point?
889. What is the point of prescriptivism?
890. What is the whole point of a decision?
891. What is the main point of moral judgments?
892. What is the whole point of having a moral language?
893. What is the whole point of asking ‘Ought I?’?
894. What is rationality?
895. When do the demands of prudence typically coincide with those of morality?
896. What accounts for the convergence of the moral and the prudential?
897. Given that the morally right act is not in every instance in the agent’s interest, why should the agent always do what is morally right?
898. Why be moral?
899. What is the point of having moral rules?
900. What is the point of all moral action?
901. What is the point of universalizability?
902. Why do moral issues get us stirred up?
903. What is the point of having an ethical theory?

Preferences     [Top]

904. What is the connection between prescribing and wanting?
905. Since prescriptions are linguistic expressions of preferences, how do prescriptions represent the intensity of preferences?
906. What controls how much weight to give to preferences in our moral thinking?
907. What are we to do when two preferences conflict?
908. Why is it difficult to know what others’ sufferings are like?
909. What are the reasons for the conceptual truth that one suffers if and only if one knows one is suffering?
910. Can some preferences be more rational than others?
911. How are our preferences for our own future related to our interests?
912. In what sense are we free to prefer what we prefer?
913. Is, besides facts and outcomes, interest a further factor in rational choice?
914. Must singular as well as universal prescriptions be responsive to the facts?
915. What would make a choice irrational?
916. What are some pitfalls of ‘wanting’?
917. What makes a choice a rational choice?
918. How can one’s preferences be compared to another’s when conflicts arise between the preferences?
919. Why should one’s preferences be subordinated to another’s when conflicts arise between the preferences?
920. How can the intensities of others’ preferences be compared?
921. Whose preferences count in moral thinking?
922. What are prescriptions?
923. What kinds of temporal preference are there?
924. Since moral thinking does not include all kinds of preferences, how sure can we be of the reliability of the results of that thinking?
925. What are external preferences?
926. How are we to know what preferences others would have if they were prudent?
927. Do all preferences count in moral thinking?
928. What is it to prefer one thing over another?
929. How are conflicts between now-for-then and then-for-then preferences to be resolved?
930. Do anyone’s preferences count more than anyone else’s: does anyone have a veto?
931. What is the Conditional Reflection Principle?
932. Are the hypothetical preferences generated by role-reversal imaginings to be treated as if they were actual preferences?
933. Are things valuable because they are desired or desired because they are valuable?
934. How do we acquire preferences?
935. Is the relation between choice and reasons for choice a logical relation?
936. What is the connection between choosing and thinking something good?
937. If we think something to be good, must we also think that it is desirable in some way?
938. How are we to decide what is in a person’s interests?
939. Are one’s interests harmed if one does not know that one’s desires or preferences are not satisfied?
940. What are desires?
941. Why give equal weight to both good and evil preferences or desires?
942. Are preferences alterable?
943. In what way can a preference prevail against another preference?
944. What do preferences, interests, desires, and motivational states have to do with morality?
945. In putting oneself into the other’s shoes (i.e., in the role-reversal procedure), in what sense does one have the other’s preferences and motivational states?
946. What is necessary for a preference or prescription to become a moral judgment?
947. How are repugnant or gross preferences to be handled?
948. Do imprudent preferences count in moral thinking?
949. How are immoral preferences, such as those of sadists, to be handled?
950. Who is the autofanatic?
951. How are irrational preferences to be handled?
952. What is the requirement of prudence?
953. What can we use to help us represent to ourselves the situation of others?
954. What is the rational action for someone to do?
955. Is it rational to give less weight to future preferences simply because they are future?
956. Does universal prescriptivism claim that we can fully know the experiences of others?
957. What is it to know what it is like for another to suffer?
958. What kinds of mental/psychological states are relevant to preference-satisfaction?
959. What knowledge of the preferences of others does rationality demand of us in making moral judgments?
960. What would be an example of a non-universalizable prescription?

Prescriptivity     [Top]

961. What is the substantive part of the prescriptive thesis?
962. Can ‘ought’ ever be purely descriptive?
963. What is prescriptivism?
964. What rules out asking whether one ought to do something?
965. What does it mean to say that a question does or does not arise?
966. Why does the prescriptive question not arise without the practical question having arisen?
967. What is the difference between a practical question and a prescriptive question?
968. Why does ‘ought’ imply ‘can’?
969. What reasons are there for restricting the scope of the dictum that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’?
970. Why do we have ought-rules or ought-principles or prescriptive language in general?
971. Can ‘ought’ be universalizable and yet not express a universal prescription?
972. In what ways may the question ‘What shall I do?’, taken as a question about what action(s) to do, be answered?
973. Why do the moral words have the property summarized by saying that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’?
974. Is the principle that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ the distinguishing mark of moral judgments?
975. What kind of ‘can’ does ‘ought’ imply?
976. What is prescribed?
977. What is it that makes some moral judgments prescriptive?
978. What is it to accept a moral judgment?
979. How is prescriptivity related to choice?
980. Is a statement’s being a reason for action that which makes the statement prescriptive?
981. What is the connection between prescriptivity and insincerity?
982. Is prescribing or not prescribing ever necessary?
983. Can purely descriptive words commend?
984. Are there past-tense ‘ought’-statements that are prescriptive now?
985. Why must morality be freely accepted?
986. Why do moral judgments have the grammatical form of indicatives if they are really prescriptions?
987. In what sense can ordinary statements of fact, too, guide actions?
988. Is prescriptivity presupposed by moral argument?
989. What would it take to show that prescriptivism is incorrect?
990. What problems would not arise if the moral words were not typically prescriptive?
991. Why is prescriptivity an essential component in the golden-rule method of moral reasoning promulgated by universal prescriptivism?
992. How does the prescriptivity of moral judgments help to show that they cannot be derived from ‘is’-statements alone?
993. What gives evaluative meaning to value words?
994. What happens when prescriptive meaning is added to a word which hitherto has had only descriptive meaning?
995. Why can there be no gap between a prescriptive moral judgment and a disposition to act on the judgment?
996. Can prescriptive conclusions be drawn from institutional facts?
997. Is it correct to say that to desire something and to think it good are the same?
998. Does the thesis of prescriptivity claim that moral words are always used prescriptively?
999. Is prescriptivity a matter of grammatical form?
1000. Is prescriptivity to be understood to include permissions?
1001. What is the prescriptivity of ‘I’?
1002. Does overridingness preclude prescriptivity?
1003. Is the notion of an objective prescription incoherent?
1004. What is prescriptivity?
1005. In what sense can prescriptions be objective?
1006. Is being a value word a sufficient condition for being prescriptive?
1007. What evidence is there that moral principles are action-guiding or prescriptive?
1008. What is the simplest form of prescriptive language?
1009. What is conclusive evidence that someone does not assent to a moral judgment in an evaluative sense?
1010. When is someone using the judgment ‘I ought to do X’ as a value-judgment?

Principles     [Top]

1011. How do our principles change over time as we grow more morally mature?
1012. What makes a substantial moral principle a synthetic judgment?
1013. Why do we adopt moral principles?
1014. Is the question of which principles we ought to inculcate an empirical question?
1015. Of what general form are the descriptions of cases that critical thinking considers in formulating moral principles?
1016. Why must moral principles prescribe for more than just all situations that will be actual?
1017. Why must our acceptance of a critical moral principle commit us to prescribing for all logically possible situations?
1018. Must principles be formulable in words?
1019. Are there any material or content restrictions on what can be morally relevant?
1020. To be useful, how general do moral principles have to be?
1021. What are some examples of morally irrelevant features of actions, situations, or people?
1022. Why must useful moral principles be to some extent general (i.e., unspecific)?
1023. What does ‘prima facie’ mean?
1024. How do we acquire moral principles?
1025. What exactly is meant by saying that a principle is specific?
1026. Given that principles can be more or less general, what would the most general principle be?
1027. Are definite descriptions, rigged (i.e., those that purport uniquely to identify an individual) or otherwise, allowed in universal principles?
1028. What kinds of moral principles are there?
1029. What makes one principle more general than another?
1030. Can any moral principle be overridden?
1031. What is a principle?
1032. What is it for a principle to admit of an exception?
1033. What are some ways in which universal principles differ from general principles?
1034. What is it to treat a principle as a moral principle?
1035. What is it to treat a principle as overriding?
1036. Can the decisions, upon which decisions of principle rest, be taught?
1037. When a prima facie principle is overridden is it thereby altered?
1038. Do moral principles have a publicity requirement?
1039. What is a decision of principle?
1040. In what ways can principles conflict with each other?
1041. When are exceptions to our principles appropriate?
1042. Given that unusual cases can nevertheless sometimes be actual or real, why should our moral principles not be formulated with such cases in mind?
1043. Can a moral principle be too simple?
1044. What is the connection between individual moral judgments and moral principles?
1045. Are any moral principles literally unconditional?
1046. Why ought we to follow our prima facie, intuitive-level moral principles?
1047. Is there more than one sense of ‘general’?
1048. When are principles dead things?
1049. What are the two chief ways to achieve generality in principles?
1050. Are we ever justified in making a principle into a matter of principle?
1051. Are prima facie moral principles relative?
1052. Do universal moral principles hold necessarily?
1053. Might intuitive-level prima facie principles be partial or show unequal concern?
1054. What is it to adopt or accept a principle?
1055. Must intuitive-level prima facie principles be selected by critical thinking for their acceptance-utility?
1056. Do the prima facie principles to be used at the intuitive level of moral thinking undergo any testing?
1057. What is involved in the acceptance of a prima facie principle for use at the intuitive level?
1058. Why is it important to recognize the distinction between ‘universal’ and ‘general’?
1059. Is it never correct to act in violation of the general prima facie principles adopted for use at the intuitive level of moral thinking?
1060. How detailed do principles need to be?
1061. Why is someone who often questions prima facie principles at the intuitive level not likely to do what is optimific?
1062. Are decisions of principle arbitrary?
1063. Is questioning prima facie principles always a reliable indication that the questioner has a corrupt mind?
1064. In what sense are moral principles rational?
1065. What is the most ancient and most recalcitrant vice of moralists?
1066. How are we to go about determining which features of a situation are morally relevant?
1067. What is the function of a moral principle?
1068. Are universal principles nomological or material conditionals?
1069. What is it to have a moral principle?
1070. What are the features of prima facie principles?
1071. Since individual constants are formally barred from moral principles by universalizability, are bound individual variables similarly barred?
1072. Why must prima facie principles be overridable or not overriding?
1073. Why are principles that which determine which features of a situation are morally relevant?
1074. In what senses are prima facie principles general?
1075. How are right and rationality related?
1076. What is the difference between universality and generality, that is, between ‘universal’ and ‘general’?
1077. What are the purposes of moral principles?
1078. How simple should moral principles be?
1079. What are moral principles?
1080. How are decisions of principle related to the making of value judgments and moral principles?

Rights     [Top]

1081. How are rights and obligations related?
1082. What moral intuitions about rights should we have?
1083. Why is it an act-utilitarian’s best bet to follow her intuition to respect a given legal right?
1084. Is it possible in the same argument to appeal to both rights and utility?
1085. How can utilitarianism justify the enforcement of a legal right that, if respected, would decrease marginal utility?
1086. Why are appeals to justice and rights so often rhetorically effective?
1087. What kind of moral principles have to be used in order to determine what moral rights we have?
1088. Are there points of analogy between moral rights and legal rights?
1089. Are rights trumps?
1090. Do any rights belong to the critical level of moral thinking?
1091. Is the crucial question what rights there are, or what intuitions we have, or what acts are just?
1092. What is the key to solving issues involving rights and justice?
1093. Why are obligations and rights governed by prima facie principles?
1094. How might issues over moral rights be solved?
1095. Are moral rights universalizable?
1096. Why are issues over moral rights so problematic?
1097. Can rights-based theories provide an adequate basis for morality?
1098. In what ways is having ‘a right’ ambiguous?
1099. Is talk of rights misguided?

Speech Acts     [Top]

1100. Is moral language distinguished by its capacity to be used as propaganda or to be used as persuasion?
1101. What are the two ways in which nearly all speech acts can be negated?
1102. What is it to understand the meaning of the mood-sign (tropic) of the imperative?
1103. Is it the distinctive function of moral language to cause a change in behavior?
1104. What are some examples of typical signs or indicators that a speech act is being performed?
1105. Are there different kinds and strengths of neustic?
1106. What is the distinctive function of words such as ‘good’, ‘ought’, and ‘right’?
1107. Is a specification of speech act necessary in order to explain the meaning of the mood of a sentence?
1108. Do subordinate clauses have tropics?
1109. What is the solution to the objection that, when ‘good’ is used in, for instance, in questions, it is not being used to commend?
1110. What is the phrastic?
1111. How many kinds of sub-atomic particles of logic are there?
1112. How many kinds of clistic are there?
1113. How many kinds of linguistic rules are there?
1114. What are some examples of speech acts which are assertions?
1115. How many kinds of non-subscription are there?
1116. What are some common confusions about speech acts?
1117. How are meaning and illocutionary force related?
1118. How do we know when someone has subscribed to some utterance?
1119. What are some common and misleading assumptions that have been made about speech acts?
1120. What does ‘good’ contribute to the sentence ‘That is a good movie’?
1121. What is it to make an assertion?
1122. What is it to claim that an utterance has a certain illocutionary force?
1123. Does a complete logical notation require some means of indicating the mood of a sentence?
1124. Why is ‘performative’, as in ‘performative utterance’, unfortunate terminology?
1125. How are meaning and speech acts related?
1126. What is the objection to the view that ‘That is a good movie’ means ‘I commend that as a movie’?
1127. Is there a difference between illocutionary and locutionary acts?
1128. When has advice been given?
1129. What is the tropic?
1130. Why is the perlocutionary not a part of meaning?

Supervenience     [Top]

1131. If an object has a set of good-making features and another object has the same set of good-making features, is it safe to say that if the first object is good then so is the second?
1132. What is it for a property to supervene non-trivially on another (a subvenient) property?
1133. Why is it always appropriate to ask for the reason for calling something good?
1134. What kinds of necessity are involved in supervenience?
1135. What is the connection between descriptive remarks and evaluative remarks?
1136. What is the connection between supervenience and universalizability in moral philosophy?
1137. For what data must an explanation of supervenience provide an account?
1138. What is supervenience?
1139. What is the reason for the supervenient character of moral words such as ‘good’, ‘ought’, and ‘right’?
1140. In what way is supervenience still a logical relation even though not a logical entailment?
1141. What kind of link exists between moral and non-moral properties?
1142. What follows from the supervenience of ‘ought’-statements?
1143. What distinguishes supervenience from logical entailment or implication?
1144. What is it for a statement to supervene on another statement?
1145. Does the natural kind property of being water supervene on the property of being H2O?
1146. What is the relationship between good-making characteristics and ‘good’?
1147. Does supervenience itself require that the universal premise in the inference-schema contain no individual references?
1148. Why must ‘good’, if applied to one situation, be applied to any situation exactly similar in all other respects?
1149. Can descriptive properties be supervenient?

Taxonomy     [Top]

1150. What things can have value?
1151. What kinds of equality are there?
1152. Is political obligation a kind of moral obligation?
1153. What kinds of emotivism are there?
1154. What kinds of ethical intuitionism are there?
1155. What kinds of ethical statements are there?
1156. How many senses are there to ‘ethics’?
1157. What’s the difference between legal and moral rights?
1158. What kinds of intuitionists are there?
1159. What kinds of rule-utilitarianism are there?
1160. What kinds of people or sentient beings are there?
1161. What kind of theory is imperativism?
1162. What is the difference between relativism and subjectivism?
1163. Why is universal prescriptivism not a kind of ethical subjectivism?
1164. What is the difference between subjectivist and objectivist theories?
1165. Is the distinction between subjectivist and objectivist the same as the distinction between non-descriptivist and descriptivist?
1166. Is subjectivism a kind of non-descriptivist theory?
1167. What are ethical cognitivism and ethical non-cognitivism?
1168. What is the logical property that distinguishes moral judgments from other kinds of evaluative judgments?
1169. What are the two main genera or kinds of ethical theory?
1170. What kinds of duty are there?
1171. What kinds of moral judgment are there?
1172. What is the difference between methodological values and substantial values?
1173. What senses of ‘command’ are there?
1174. Which are the moral words?
1175. Is intuitionism a kind of subjectivism?
1176. What kinds of naturalism are there?
1177. What kinds of ethical descriptivism are there?
1178. How does moral theory differ from ethical theory?
1179. What is the difference between a moral view and an ethical view?
1180. What kinds of relativism are there?
1181. What kinds of intuitions are there?
1182. What kinds of utilitarianism are there?
1183. What kinds of expressions are there?
1184. What kinds of non-naturalist are there?
1185. What kinds of evaluative words are there?
1186. What can be subject to moral appraisal?
1187. What kinds of meaning-rules are there?
1188. What kinds of prescriptive language are there?
1189. What kinds of questions are there?
1190. What kinds of substantial justice are there?

Universalizability     [Top]

1191. What is the confusion that leads some to think that universalizability cannot handle cases of loyalty?
1192. What is a corollary of the universalizability thesis?
1193. How can moral differences between cases arise?
1194. Is there a difference between a universalizable judgment and universal judgment?
1195. Is it ‘moral’ that confers universalizability on ‘ought’?
1196. Is there always a significant difference between first-order and second-order statements or judgments?
1197. What does universalizability forbid us to do?
1198. What is the source of universalizability?
1199. Why does no substantial moral judgment follow from the universalizability thesis taken by itself?
1200. What is an alternative way of stating the universalizability requirement on moral language?
1201. To what moral principles is the universalizability thesis not equivalent?
1202. Why is it the descriptive element that ultimately accounts for universalizability?
1203. Does ‘ought’ give reasons?
1204. Does universalizability forbid one to change one’s mind?
1205. Must personal characteristics be left out of moral judgments?
1206. Must moral judgments be independent of the way a person happens to be?
1207. Might it be morally permissible for us to act in a way that treats identical cases differently?
1208. Is universalizability to be defined or understood in terms of exact qualitative similarity or relevant similarity?
1209. Does universalizability require that we make different moral judgments about different cases?
1210. What shows that moral judgments are universalizable?
1211. Why are individual references disallowed in moral principles used to justify moral judgments?
1212. What kind of view, normative or meta-ethical, is the view that moral judgments are universalizable?
1213. What are the main elements of the doctrine of the universalizability of moral judgments?
1214. Why must a universal prescriber be an impartially benevolent prescriber?
1215. How does universal prescriptivism secure impartiality or fairness?
1216. Does the argument for universal prescriptivism require that ‘ought’ is always used prescriptively and universalizably?
1217. Why is universalizability a logical (rather than some other kind of) thesis?
1218. What role specifically does universalizability play in moral thinking?
1219. What is universalizability?
1220. Are there prescriptions, besides moral prescriptions, that are universalizable?
1221. Does universalizability imply that everyone has a reason to act?
1222. What is a universal quantifier?
1223. What is in the rule according to which normative statements have to be made and which applies in all identically similar cases?
1224. Has universalizability always been a logical feature of moral discourse?
1225. What do all universal sentences, when used in choosing contexts, have in common?
1226. Is there more than one sense of ‘universal’?
1227. Is there more than one type of universalizability?
1228. Why can ‘good’, if not applied to one situation, also not be applied to another situation exactly similar in all other respects?
1229. What are the only ways to universalize volitions?
1230. Why are aesthetic judgments, too, universalizable?
1231. Can universalizability alone generate golden-rule moral arguments?
1232. Is universalizability sufficient for acceptability?
1233. Is holding a non-universalized proposition sufficient to constitute a breach of the universalizability thesis?
1234. For what truth are contractualist moral theories groping?
1235. Why is to universalize also to give the reason?
1236. Is universalizability a trivial thesis?
1237. Are moral judgments universalizable in the same sense in which descriptive judgments are universalizable?
1238. What exactly is meant by a ‘precisely similar’ or ‘exactly similar’ situation?
1239. In making a statement about a thing, why must I pay attention to the universal properties of the thing?
1240. Does reason reduce our freedom?
1241. Are all descriptive statements and all factual statements universalizable?
1242. Does universalizability place a requirement on our choice of moral principle?
1243. Must universal principles apply to hypothetical situations?
1244. Can there be a valid inference from a fact to a prescription?
1245. What is an effect of fully representing the other’s situation to oneself?
1246. What effects the transition from prudence to morality?
1247. What follows from universalizability?
1248. Does universalization have stages?
1249. What does it mean to say that a moral judgment is universalized?
1250. How much alike must two situations be in order for it to be appropriate to apply the same moral judgment to them?
1251. Is universalizability a logical property of moral judgments?
1252. What kinds of judgments are universalizable?
1253. Is universalizability limited to actual or real situations?
1254. What must universalized sentences not contain?
1255. Since no two situations are ever exactly alike, what’s the use of universalizability?
1256. How can we tell whether ordinary people use ‘ought’ in a universalizable or prescriptive way?
1257. What is meant by saying that universalizability is a logical thesis?
1258. Is universalizability a logical property of some words?
1259. What are the universal properties of something – of, say, a person?
1260. What kind of ‘must’ is a play when it is said that we must make the same moral judgment about all cases that are identical insofar as all the cases have the same universal properties or features?
1261. Moral judgments have to be universalized. But what about exceptions to moral judgments – do the exceptions, too, have to be universalized?
1262. What is the connection between the universalizability of moral judgments and moral principles?
1263. Are there limits to what we can imagine happening to us?

Utilitarianism     [Top]

1264. Can utilitarianism encompass the whole of morality?
1265. What is the solution to the paradox that utilitarianism can require that we be bad in order to do what is morally right?
1266. How are the stock objections (e.g., deathbed promises) to utilitarianism to be handled?
1267. When does total or classical utilitarianism diverge from average utilitarianism?
1268. Why couch utilitarianism in terms of preferences or desires rather than interests or satisfaction or happiness?
1269. On what is morality founded?
1270. Do negative vicarious affects pose a problem for the rational act-utilitarian?
1271. What is a utilitarian answer?
1272. What kinds of connections are there between holding a rule and acting on a rule?
1273. What steps in the argument to utilitarianism can be done without, or prior to, invoking universalizability?
1274. Why are games-theory matrices poor devices for testing utilitarianism?
1275. Is moral thinking something that is to be done in isolation?
1276. Do positive vicarious affects pose a problem for the rational act-utilitarian?
1277. What makes universal prescriptivism lead to a utilitarianism?
1278. Are there situations in which we ought to do what is right and damn the consequences?
1279. What is morality about?
1280. Are all versions of utilitarianism equally satisfactory?
1281. Why are specific rule-utilitarianism and act-utilitarianism practically equivalent?
1282. How can utilitarianism make room for supererogatory acts?
1283. Does the role-reversal procedure – putting oneself into the place of all the others affected by an action – deny the difference between persons by bundling all preferences into just one person?
1284. Why is utilitarianism’s dependence on empirical facts to determine what one ought to do not a defect of the theory?
1285. Does utilitarianism take seriously the distinction between persons?
1286. What is acceptance-utility?
1287. Is aggregationism – one of the components of utilitarianism – compatible with equal respect of interests (i.e., impartiality)?
1288. What is welfare?
1289. Does utilitarianism judge the moral quality of actions by their conformity to rules or by their promotion of valued consequences?
1290. What are the main constituents of any utilitarianism?
1291. For a utilitarian, what consequences are morally relevant?
1292. How does the distinction between two levels of moral thinking diffuse the objection to utilitarianism that it is counter-intuitive?
1293. Does consequentialism claim that all consequences are morally relevant?
1294. How exactly do the utilitarians and Kant get synthesized?
1295. How can the utilitarian give an account of cheating?
1296. What is the relation between universal prescriptivism and utilitarian theory?
1297. Is utilitarianism compatible with multiple meta-ethical views?
1298. What are some reasons for adopting a two-level utilitarianism?
1299. How does the separation of levels help the utilitarian with the problem of special duties?
1300. What is the essence of utilitarianism?
1301. What is mistaken about the criticism that a consequentialism allows wrongs to be committed in order to bring about good results?
1302. What are some problems that utilitarianism must solve?
1303. Can rule-utilitarianism be reduced to act-utilitarianism?
1304. When will there be a divergence between utilitarian moral thinking and ordinary intuitive thinking?
1305. Why is utilitarianism likely occasionally to give us bizarre results?
1306. Is the formal component of utilitarianism analytically true?
1307. What are vicarious affects?
1308. Can utilitarianism accommodate intuitions?
1309. What are some of the ways in which utilitarianism and deontology are often thought to be at odds?
1310. What strategy should a utilitarian use in order to defeat the counter-intuitiveness objection and show it to be valueless as an argument?
1311. Is the method of utilitarianism the same as doing a cost-benefit analysis?
1312. According to utilitarianism, what is to be maximized?
1313. What is a very succinct answer to the counter-intuitiveness objection to utilitarianism?
1314. What is utility?
1315. What is the best that we can do?
1316. Is always following the prima facie principles of the intuitive level justified, even if not right, according to the act-utilitarian standard?
1317. Are specific and general rule-utilitarianism compatible with each other?
1318. What kind of utilitarianism – happiness or preference – is argued for in Moral Thinking?
1319. What is the difference between happiness and preference versions of utilitarianism?
1320. What is the precise form of utilitarianism the conclusions of which are identical to those of the method of moral thinking imposed on us by universal prescriptivism?
1321. Why should bizarre cases in which utilitarianism gives counter-intuitive results not trouble the utilitarian?
1322. What are the elements of utilitarianism?
1323. Is the method of moral reasoning that is used at the critical level of moral thinking utilitarian?
1324. Does utilitarianism need a principle of utility as in classical utilitarianism?

Answers

Akrasia

1. What explains the fact that we sometimes say that we ought to do something and yet do not do it?     [Top]
There are several ways it can happen that we say that we ought to do something and yet do not do what we said we ought to do:

  • weakness of will
  • satanism
  • amoralism

Opponents of prescriptivism try to exploit these ways, but they can be explained by identifying different, non-prescriptive or impurely prescriptive (i.e., wanting others but not oneself to comply with a prescription), senses in which we say that we ought to do something {‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 23]; ‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 105-6]; Sorting Out Ethics: 139-40; ‘Imperatives, Prescriptions, and their Logic’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 50]; ‘Weakness of the Will’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 112-3]}.

2. How do the two levels of normative moral thinking help explain weakness of will?     [Top]
At the intuitive level of moral thinking, the prima facie principles or intuitions have been inculcated in us to such an extent that their descriptive meaning can gain the upper hand. Then, because of this firmness of standard, the principles or intuitions seem to us to be very much like statements of fact, so much so that we take them to be obviously true. The overall effect is that the prescriptivity of the principles or intuitions weakens sufficiently to allow some of us, especially when tempted by special pleading, to ignore the prescriptivity. And so some of us, caving in, go on and do what we think we ought not to do {Sorting Out Ethics: 139-40; ‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 105]; ‘Weakness of the Will’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 113-4]; ‘Moral Terms’: [Encyclopedia of Ethics: 870]}.

3. What is the connection between moral conflicts and moral holidays?     [Top]
The connecting thread between the phenomena of moral conflicts and moral holidays – weakness of will – is overridability. Moral conflicts arise because of conflicts between prima facie principles in particular cases; critical moral thinking then steps in and shows that one of the prima facie principles is to be overridden by the other in the case. So the susceptibility of prima facie principles to be overridden is part of the solution to the phenomenon of moral conflicts. Moral holidays arise when prima facie moral principles conflict with non-moral prescriptions, and the non-moral prescriptions win because the prima facie moral principles can be overridden not only by other prima facie moral principles but also by non-moral prescriptions {‘Moral Conflicts’: 191}.

4. What are some kinds of cases that do not refute prescriptivism?     [Top]
The following are kinds of cases in which disobedience does not refute prescriptivism:

  • cases in which people cannot (because of psychological inability) do what they think they ought to do;
  • cases of hypocrisy or purposive backsliding in which the person can do what she says she ought to do but does not do it because of either insincerity or self-deception;
  • cases in which there is a time lag between the occurrence of the thought that one ought to do something and the moment of action;
  • cases in which the person does not yet realize that her situation is governed by what she thinks someone ought to do in such a situation;
  • cases in which the person is not yet sure that she ought to do something;
  • cases in which ‘ought’ is not being used prescriptively or is prescriptively weak.

So a genuine counterexample to prescriptivism cannot fall under any of the above kinds of cases {‘Philippa Foot on Subjectivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 93-5]; Sorting Out Ethics: 140; ‘Weakness of the Will’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 111-3]; Freedom and Reason: 82-84; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 52]}.

5. How is weakness of will a kind of conflict between prescriptions?     [Top]
Weakness of will can be seen as a kind of conflict between a moral prescription and a non-moral prescription in which the non-moral prescription wins. When we fail to act on the moral prescription that we know we ought to act upon, the explanation may be that we decided to act instead on a non-moral prescription to satisfy some bodily appetite {Moral Thinking: 52-3, 60; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 190}.

6. Can a prescriptivist understand moral weakness in terms of a divided personality?     [Top]
Yes. There are at least two interpretations of divided personality that are compatible with prescriptivism’s take on moral weakness.

  • The akratic person as a whole commands herself to do something but cannot carry it out because the baser part of her personality refuses to comply.
  • One part of the person issues prescriptions which the whole person in sum cannot carry out because some other part refuses to comply.

These two interpretations are compatible with prescriptivism because prescriptions are made in both, though made either by the whole person and rejected by a part or made by a part and rejected by another part, so that in neither case can the whole person act on the prescription. Plato’s solution to the problem of weakness of will seems to have been of this sort {‘Weakness of the Will’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 113]; Freedom and Reason: 81-2}.

7. What is the difference between physical inabilities and the psychological inabilities involved in weakness of will?     [Top]
In cases of physical inability and similar cases such as those involving lack of knowledge or skill, the prescription or imperative is withdrawn and the ‘What shall I do?’ question does not arise because the prescribed or commanded action is physically impossible to do. In cases of psychological inability, such as those implicated in weakness of will, the moral prescription is only weakened or down-graded, not withdrawn, and the ‘What shall I do?’ question still arises. There can also be borderline cases, such as compulsive neuroses, that lie somewhere between physical and psychological inability. But in all kinds of cases, remorse and disapproval may still be appropriate because they still might contribute to future resistance to temptation {Freedom and Reason: 80, 82}.

8. What is special pleading?     [Top]
Special pleading is probably the most common form of backsliding. In this form, we begin with a moral judgment having full universal prescriptive force. But then, when we realize that our own interests will be negatively impacted if we act on the judgment, we begin to weaken and so does the language we have invented and use. The moral judgment shifts, as its built-in logic gives it the potential to do, from a full and robust universal prescriptive sense to an attenuated sense in which the judgment is still descriptively universal but not prescriptively universal. The result is that, although feeling some slight pangs of a guilty conscience, we think ourselves – in our individual case – liberated from the prescriptive commitment the moral judgment carries for those who accept it with its full universal prescriptive force. In short, in special pleading, one makes an exception for oneself by weakening the moral judgment, though at the cost of acquiring a guilty conscience {Sorting Out Ethics: 140; ‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 105-6]; Freedom and Reason: 53, 76-7}.

9. Why does our moral language have accommodation for weakness of will built in to it?     [Top]
We, being mere humans, are morally weak and find it difficult to live up to our moral principles. As a result, moral language, which is a human invention, reflects its inventors’ defects. Our moral language accordingly has a logical behavior more complex than would otherwise be necessary (if we were not morally weak) and allows for expressions that make concessions to moral weakness {Sorting Out Ethics: 122; ‘Language and Moral Education’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 156-7]; Freedom and Reason: 73-5}.

10. What explains why we experience weakness of will?     [Top]
It is the tension between the universalizability and prescriptivity of moral language, which we have invented and which thus reflects our strengths and weaknesses, that accounts for our weakness of will on certain occasions. If one of these logical features of moral language were not present, if, for example, descriptivism were correct rather than prescriptivism, then there would be no problem of weakness of will {Sorting Out Ethics: 18-9, 122; ‘Weakness of the Will’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 109]; Freedom and Reason: 73}.

11. What are two inauthentic ways of making living a moral life easier?     [Top]
There are at least two inauthentic ways of making it easier to live a moral life.

  • By rejecting the universalizability of moral judgments, one can assimilate moral judgments to singular prescriptions or imperatives. By thus minimalizing moral judgments to mere wantings or desirings, the moral life becomes easier because it simply becomes a matter of deciding what one wants to do and then doing it, and it is usually quite easy at least to try to do what one wants to do.
  • By rejecting the prescriptivity of moral judgments, it becomes easy to make any moral judgments one cares to because in making them one does not commit oneself to doing anything.

Both of these are inauthentic ways of making the moral life easier because they in effect deny the existence of the very real problem of weakness of will, which is the central stumbling block to overcome in order to live a moral life {Freedom and Reason: 72-3}.

12. What is weakness of will?     [Top]
Weakness of will, also called moral weakness and akrasia, is a tendency humans have either not to do what we generally commend or to do what we generally condemn, because of some kind of psychological inability; in short, cases of weakness of will are cases of ‘ought but can’t’. This tendency is the chief stumbling block to living a moral life {‘Weakness of the Will’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 109]; Freedom and Reason: 72, 77, 80; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 52]}.

13. Do most cases of weakness of will result in harm to others?     [Top]
No. The typical case of weakness of will involves not living up to our moral ideals, which might have little or nothing to do with the interests of others, because of some kind of inability {Freedom and Reason: 72, 77, 80, 104-5}.

14. What is the source of Socrates’ mistake in holding that weakness of will is impossible?     [Top]
Socrates’ mistake in holding that weakness of will is impossible originates in his failure to recognize that moral judgments are universalizable. Socrates thought of moral judgments as more like singular prescriptions or singular imperatives, like wantings or desirings {‘Weakness of the Will’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 109]; Freedom and Reason: 71-3; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 52]}.

15. What is the solution to the problem of the satanist?     [Top]
Because the satanist is not weak-willed, one of the solutions to the similar problem of the backslider is not available. It cannot, that is, be claimed in the case of the satanist that the person is unable to do what she knows and accepts to be what she ought to do. But another solution to the backslider problem is effective in dealing with the case of the satanist: impurely prescriptive prescriptions. It only looks like the satanist accepts a prescription not to do an evil act and a prescription to do it. What is really going on is that the prescription not to do the evil act is not fully prescriptive. The satanist is reacting – rebeling – against a morality that for her exists only at the intuitive level of moral thinking. Not being able to do critical-level thinking, the satanist has lost contact with the reasons for the morality’s principles and sees the morality as something dead and external, imposed from without and not connecting with her motivations. So the satanist uses the morality’s principles in descriptive, not prescriptive, ways. The solution, then, is that the satanist has not in fact accepted two contradictory prescriptions; rather, she has only accepted the one prescription which suits her rebellious attitude toward the prevailing, but over-rigid, morality {‘Satanism and Nihilism’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 100-2]}.

16. Who or what is the backslider?     [Top]
The backslider, also known as the weak-willed person or the acratic person, is someone who thinks she ought to do something but does not do it; in other words, the backslider sincerely accepts a moral judgment as a guide to conduct but acts contrary to the judgment and is not guided by it. Examples of the backslider include the alcoholic and the irresponsible driver. This kind of person is an apparent counterexample to prescriptivism because prescriptivism claims that if someone sincerely assents to a moral judgment that she ought to do something, then she will do it, if she can {Sorting Out Ethics: 139; ‘Weakness of the Will’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 109]; ‘Satanism and Nihilism’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 111]; ‘Platonism in Moral Education: Two Varieties’: 575; Freedom and Reason: 67, 70}.

17. Why is satanism thought to be a problem for prescriptivists?     [Top]
Satanism, in which evil is done for its own sake, is thought to be a problem for prescriptivists because it gives the appearance of a person who accepts at the same time contradictory prescriptions: a prescription not to do (i.e., a prohibition on doing) act E and a prescription to do act E, where in both cases act E is an evil act. The content of both prescriptions is the same, namely, act E, but the prescriptions are contradictory in that one says to do act E while the other says not to do it. Satanism is also a problem for prescriptivists because, like the akratic person, the satanist, too, winds up doing what she knowingly accepts she ought not to do {‘Satanism and Nihilism’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 100]}.

18. Why does the problem of weakness of will arise?     [Top]
The problem of akrasia or weakness of will arises because there are conflicts of prescriptions. These conflicts arise because at the intuitive level of moral thinking prima facie principles are firmly held (as they must be held so that they can perform their proper function) and thus can come into conflict because of their generality (which potentially allows multiple prima facie principles to cover a given specific situation). The prima facie principles involved in these conflicts are so deeply held that their descriptive meaning can submerge their prescriptive meaning so that it is natural for us to think of them as givens and as obviously true, and this internal struggle between these givens is what we find so agonizing in cases of weakness of will. In the end, the leverage that the descriptive force of one of the prima facie principles has over its prescriptive force weakens enough, relative to the descriptive/prescriptive dynamics in the competing prima facie principles or prescriptions, to allow us to choose to act on just one of the prescriptions {‘Weakness of the Will’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 113-4]; Moral Thinking: 53}.

19. How does the satanist differ from the backslider?     [Top]
The satanist differs from the backslider or weak-willed person in at least two ways.

  • While the backslider is weak, the satanist is not weak.
  • While the backslider does what is evil because she wants something else which she can only get by doing the evil deed, the satanist does evil precisely because it is evil.

So, of the two, the satanist, with a strong and deliberate will, does evil for its own sake {‘Satanism and Nihilism’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 99-100]}.

Amoralist

20. How does the amoralist differ from the moral nihilist?     [Top]
The amoralist and the moral nihilist are similar in that they both reject morality. But they reject it from different motives. The amoralist is an self-interested egoist, and she rejects morality because moral demands hinder her pursuit of self-interested gratification. The moral nihilist, on the other hand, who need not think that only her own desires are what matter, rejects morality because morality is just not needed in order to bring about a satisfactory coordination of people’s pursuit of desire fulfillment; she believes that a non-moral arrangement of pursuits can be worked out among people {‘Satanism and Nihilism’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 108]}

21. What forms can the amoralist escape-route take?     [Top]
There are three distinct forms which the amoralist escape-route can take.

  • The amoralist can agree that the argumentative moves from the logic of the moral words to the method of moral reasoning and then to utilitarianism are logically faultless; but she refuses to use the moral words in the requisite senses and so is not bound by any moral conclusions reached at the end of the argumentative moves.
  • As before, the amoralist can agree that all the logical moves are perfectly in order, but now also even use the moral words so long as she consistently makes only moral judgments of indifference.
  • The amoralist squeezes into the gap between the factual and the moral.

From the point of view of logic alone, nothing can be done to block the third escape-route; all that can be done is to give non-moral reasons against it and to make it clear that the method of moral reasoning makes the gap very narrow {Moral Thinking: 188-90}.

22. How does the logical possibility of the universal amoralist show that universal prescriptivism is not a form of descriptivism?     [Top]
The amoralist does critical thinking perfectly, accepting all the facts and making all the correct logical inferences, and yet refuses the moral conclusion insofar as she refuses to make any moral judgments whatsoever. So the existence of the amoralist as, at any rate, a logical possibility shows that in universal prescriptivism there is no derivation of conclusions of moral substance from merely facts and logic, a derivation which descriptivism alleges can be made {Moral Thinking: 184, 186-7}.

23. Is the amoralist a total moral abstainer?     [Top]
Probably. Because there are no logical blocks in the way of the amoralist, she will probably be an amoralist universally {Moral Thinking: 185-6}.

24. Does the amoralist have to stop using moral language?     [Top]
No. The amoralist refuses to make moral judgments in the sense of universal prescriptions. The amoralist can still use moral words in the way that someone who does not believe in witches can still use ‘witch’; she can, for instance, make moral judgments that are always prefaced by a denial. Or she can make only moral judgments of indifference {Hare and Critics: 253; Moral Thinking: 184}.

25. Who or what is the amoralist?     [Top]
The amoralist is someone who refuses to think morally, either as a general practice or on isolated or sporadic occasions; an example, very rare in the real world, would be the pure egoist who has the strength to demand that she be given the whole bar of chocolate. The amoralist has abandoned moral language, whether that language is natural or artificial, and the rules that govern that language. In other words, whereas we – most of us, anyway – seek answers to moral questions that we frequently pose to ourselves, the amoralist does not even entertain the questions; they are not even on her radar {‘Preferences of Possible People’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 130]; ‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 104]; ‘Why Moral Language?’: 86; ‘Rights, Utility, and Universalization Reply to J. L. Mackie’: 114-5; Moral Thinking: 112, 169; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 109]; Freedom and Reason: 101, 119}.

26. Are the problems of the amoralist and the fanatic unique to universal prescriptivism or utilitarianism?     [Top]
No. The problems of the amoralist and the fanatic also plague other ethical theories. The amoralist is someone who refuses to use moral language and so such an individual will obviously be a problem for any moral theory. The fanatic will be a problem for any moral theory that takes interests seriously; for the fanatic is someone whose allegiance to an ideal is so strong that she is willing to sacrifice her own interests, and those of anyone else who might get in the way, in the attempt to realize that ideal {‘Rules of War and Moral Reasoning’: 172-3}.

27. What can be said to the amoralist?     [Top]
The amoralist has to make a decision of principle. We can present our reasons, and the amoralist can either accept them or not. If the amoralist does not accept our way of life, then “let him accept some other, and try to live by it. The sting is in the last clause.” In other words, the amoralist cannot be defeated on purely logical grounds. The amoralist also cannot be defeated on moral grounds, for she has withdrawn from and refuses to re-enter the moral arena. To defeat the amoralist, it is necessary to appeal to considerations of prudence or self-interest which the amoralist will have put at risk by giving up the protections of morality {‘Preferences of Possible People’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 130]; ‘A Kantian Approach to Abortion’: [Essays on Bioethics: 176]; ‘Why Moral Language?’: 86-7; ‘Do Agents Have to be Moralists?’: 57-8; Moral Thinking: 190; Freedom and Reason: 101-2; The Language of Morals: 69}.

28. What steps can be taken to combat amoralism, satanism, and moral nihilism?     [Top]
Moral education is the key to combating amoralism, satanism, and moral nihilism. By the time children are teenagers, they should already be doing critical-level moral thinking in which they have to do their own moral thinking rather than just following moral rules others have laid down for them. By doing such critical thinking, they can be brought to see the reasons for the moral rules, see how the moral rules connect up with their desires and motivations, and see that morality is an indispensible way – other ways being impossibly complicated – of harmonizing these desires among all who have them. If they are educated in this way, they are more likely to buy in to morality, to see its point, and then to make it an integral part of their lives {‘Satanism and Nihilism’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 110-2]}.

29. What causes amoralism, satanism, and moral nihilism?     [Top]
The fundamental cause of amoralism, satanism, and moral nihilism is descriptivism and, in particular, intuitionism. This is because descriptivism (and intuitionism in particular), by denying the prescriptive element in morality, makes morality matter less to people. It does this in a couple of ways. First, an intuitionist morality involves or engages people less in morality. Though they still have intuitive-level moral rules to follow, people no longer see themselves as integral as to why the rules are as they are; they no longer see the reasons, motivation, and purposes for the rules. Second, descriptivism and intuitionism have a tendency to impose the moral rules on children as objective moral facts, as if they were the same as statements of non-moral facts. But children grow up and soon discover that there is much more disagreement about the alleged objective moral facts than about the non-moral facts, and they come to despair of finding a way to identify which are the real objective moral facts. They eventually give up the search and reject morality; for, as they were brought up on descriptivism and intuitionism to conceive of morality, it requires objective moral facts, but their search has turned up no such facts. And so, for many people, for these two reasons, morality withers away and dies, becomes something they feel they can very well live without {‘Satanism and Nihilism’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 110-1]; ‘Language and Moral Education’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 160]}.

30. What mistakes is the moral nihilist making?     [Top]
The moral nihilist is making at least four mistakes.

  • The moral nihilist is confusing universality and generality; though moral principles have to be universalizable, they do not have to be general.
  • The moral nihilist does not recognize the two levels of normative moral thinking; and so, in rejecting (intuitive-level) morality, she fails to notice the critical level.
  • Since the moral nihilist never ascends to the critical level, she ends up thinking of morality as something external to herself, as something imposed upon her by outside forces, as indeed it does appear to be if one never acknowledges the existence of the critical level or moral thinking.
  • Cut off from the critical level of moral thinking and thus from the reasons and motivation for the moral rules of the intuitive level, the moral nihilist fails to appreciate the prescriptivity of moral principles.

As a result of these mistakes, morality is a dead and useless thing to the moral nihilist {‘Satanism and Nihilism’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 109]}.

Applications

31. How is punishment to be justified?     [Top]
The justification of punishment must be responsive to the different levels of moral thinking. At the intuitive level, the justification is retributive. At the critical level of moral thinking, the justification is utilitarian {Moral Thinking: 163; ‘Justice and Equality’: 120}.

32. Does universal prescriptivism take non-human animals to fall within the scope of morality?     [Top]
Yes and no. All sentient beings, all those beings with (or that will have) preferences regarding experiences, have moral standing or are morally relevant. So only those animals that are sentient or will be sentient fall within the scope of morality. It should also be noted that, though all sentient beings count in moral thinking, this does not imply that they ought all to be treated in the same ways; that is, equal consideration of their equally strong preferences might permit differences in how we are to treat animals and even various kinds of people. For example, one of the reasons why we do not allow animals and young children to vote is that they have either no or minimal preferences regarding political liberty; it is also probably not wrong to hurl verbal insults at animals or human babies since they, lacking language, cannot suffer by hearing such insults {‘Why Racism is an Evil’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 182]; ‘A Utilitarian Approach to Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 156]; ‘Preferences of Possible People’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 128]; ‘Universalizability’: [Encyclopedia of Ethics: 1260]; ‘Moral Reasoning about the Environment’: [Essays on Political Morality: 242-4]; Moral Thinking: 90-1; Freedom and Reason: 222-3}.

33. Are most moral intuitions used at the intuitive level of moral thinking unreliable?     [Top]
No. Although many of the prima facie moral principles we tend to use at the intuitive level of moral thinking may not appear utilitarian, they are by and large sound from a utilitarian perspective. But we should be cautious about uncritically putting too much store in them, for our moral convictions are unreliable if they are conflicting. If they are clear and have been vetted by critical moral thinking, then they are safer and generally reliable {‘A New Kind of Ethical Naturalism?’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 81]; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 190]; ‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 5; ‘Utility and Rights: Comment on David Lyons’s Essay’: 151, 156; Moral Thinking: 162; ‘What Is Wrong with Slavery?’: 117; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 128-9}.

34. What are some moral intuitions at the intuitive level that are, or have been, questionable?     [Top]
There are and have been many questionable intuitions:

  • intuitions supporting racial discrimination
  • intuitions supporting certain kinds of property rights (e.g., a right to own people)
  • intuitions supporting religious persecution (e.g., burning heretics)
  • intuitions supporting cruelty to animals (e.g., bear-baiting, bull-fighting)
  • intuitions supporting restrictive social roles

It is in part because of pernicious moral intuitions such as these, and no doubt others still lurking insidiously, that universal prescriptivism does not rely on moral intuitions {Sorting Out Ethics: 140; ‘Slavery’: [Encyclopedia of Ethics: 1160]; ‘Utility and Rights: Comment on David Lyons’s Essay’: 151; Moral Thinking: 7}.

35. Because my character has been molded by virtue, I typically do not lie; but why should I not lie in this one particular case?     [Top]
What makes lying morally wrong is that typically it brings about the intended consequence that someone is deceived. Even though such deception might not always occur, there are several reasons why we should stick to our ingrained morally good habit of not lying in any given case.

  • We may be under stress and so not be thinking clearly or well when the rogue thought comes to us that it might be better to act in violation of the habit.
  • We may not have the time to think things through well and completely.
  • We may, through the insidious machinations of temptation, be deceiving ourselves into thinking that we are acting for the general good when in fact we are acting just to benefit ourselves.
  • Our action against the habit sets a precedent, making it more likely that we (and others who become aware of our action) will be led astray in the future

It is for reasons such as these that the moral virtues are inculcated in us and why we should almost always follow them even when it seems to us, in a particular case, that more good would come of not following them {Sorting Out Ethics: 164; Moral Thinking: 139; ‘Utility and Rights: Comment on David Lyons’s Essay’: 150-1; ‘The Simple Believer’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 22]}.

36. Should euthanasia be legal?     [Top]
Though Christ’s Golden Rule moral reasoning shows that euthanasia is not absolutely, or always, immoral, it should probably not – because of practical problems and worries – be made legal {‘Euthanasia: A Christian View’: 51}.

37. If an act is outlawed, is it therefore also morally wrong?     [Top]
No. There is a general duty to obey the law, but this at most creates the presumption that an illegal act is also immoral, just as the legal permissibility of an act only creates a presumption, not a guarantee, that it is morally permissible. So even if euthanasia were made legal, doctors would still have to do some Golden Rule moral thinking in order to handle hard cases and in order to adopt simple rules for the intuitive level {‘Euthanasia: A Christian View’: 51}.

38. Can non-identifiable people, either existing already or in future generations, be harmed?     [Top]
Yes. Such non-identifiable people might not yet exist and belong to future generations, and people in future generations can be harmed by our current overuse or misuse of natural resources; or such non-identifiable people might already exist, and they can be harmed, for instance, by my being a litterbug {‘Abortion: Reply to Brandt’: 30; ‘Moral Reasoning about the Environment’: [Essays on Political Morality: 238-9]; ‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 220}.

39. Is there a moral duty to obey the law?     [Top]
Yes. There is a general moral duty to obey the law, but as a general or intuitive-level duty there can be exceptions to it in certain cases. Given that there are legal institutions and laws already in place, there are at least four moral reasons for the general moral obligation to obey the law.

  • The interests of the victims of the lawbreaking will be harmed.
  • Resources, which could have been used in more productive ways, will have to be diverted to efforts to catch and punish the lawbreakers.
  • Lawbreaking encourages more lawbreaking, causing more harms and wasted resources.
  • Lawbreaking takes advantage of those who are law-abiding.

It should be noted that fewer than all four of these moral reasons may apply to some cases {‘Loyalty and Obedience’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 172]; ‘One Philosopher’s Approach to Business and Professional Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 199]; ‘Political Obligation’: [Essays on Political Morality: 14-5, 18]; ‘Utility and Rights: Comment on David Lyons’s Essay’: 154-5; ‘Euthanasia: A Christian View’: 51}.

40. What general or prima facie principle regarding abortion should we cultivate in society?     [Top]
The general or prima facie principle that we should adopt for the intuitive level of moral thinking is that abortions ought not to be performed. Being general or prima facie, this principle is defeasible and can allow exceptions in particular cases; it is thus a moderately liberal principle {‘Preferences of Possible People’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 129]; ‘Abortion: Reply to Brandt’: 29, 31; ‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 206-7, 221}.

41. Why is the principle of double effect suspect?     [Top]
Although the principle or law of double effect gives the correct answer in cases of euthanasia, it does so for mistaken reasons; and it informs current medical practice, not for good reasons, but only because of the lack of a feasible alternative. In particular, the principle of double effect requires a very narrow construal (making fewer actions intended by recognizing fewer kinds of intention) of intention so that one can be blameless for doing an act (e.g., injecting a drug) when one knows that one of its effects (e.g., killing the patient) is morally impermissible, provided that one did not also want that effect; in short, intending requires both knowing and wanting the effect. But on a wider construal (making more actions intended by recognizing more kinds of intention) of intention – for example, Bentham’s oblique intention, which makes knowing the effect sufficient for intention and thus for blameworthiness – doing the same act (e.g., injecting a drug) makes the agent blameworthy. The wider construal is more in line with common moral opinion regarding intention; and, although common moral opinion is not a sure guide, disagreement with it is enough to raise the suspicion that a mistake has been made {‘A Utilitarian Approach to Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 154]; ‘Is medical ethics lost? Response from Professor Hare’: 238; ‘Is medical ethics lost?’: 69-70; ‘Embryo Experimentation: Public Policy in a Pluralist Society’: [Essays on Bioethics: 121-2]; ‘Euthanasia: A Christian View’: 50}.

42. Is abortion morally wrong?     [Top]
In general, abortion is morally wrong. That is, considering all cases of abortion, the abortion is morally wrong in most of the cases {‘Abortion: Reply to Brandt’: 28-9; ‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 206-7, 221}.

43. What factors are of paramount importance in moral thinking about euthanasia?     [Top]
There are two factors that are essential to determining whether it may be morally acceptable to kill a person in order to relieve the person’s suffering. First, it must be determined if killing the person is in the person’s interests. Second, it must be determined if the person, by consenting, thinks it serves her interests to be so killed {‘Euthanasia: A Christian View’: 47}.

44. What is slavery?     [Top]
The concept of slavery is too complex to pin down precisely, but two elements seem necessary for something to be slavery: the slave, being denied certain legally-recognized rights, has a lower social status than others; the slave is someone’s slave, is slave to a master to whom the slave belongs. Slavery, however, should be distinguished from similar social entities such as serfdom, caste, indenture, military service, and penal servitude or imprisonment {‘Slavery’: [Encyclopedia of Ethics: 1159]; ‘What Is Wrong with Slavery?’: 105-8}.

45. What principles should regulate social equality?     [Top]
There are two principles that we should adopt in order to handle social equality. First, we should accept social differences in acknowleging that there are different ways of living well. The reasons for accepting diversity and rejecting imposed uniformity are several: variety is less boring; we can sometimes learn better ways of doing things; disrupting others’ established ways of life will probably reduce their preference-satisfactions. Second, we should guard against letting diversity devolve into a caste system which permits morally indefensible discrimination and segregation which, by increasing social tensions and decreasing social cohesion, also tend to reduce preference-satisfactions {‘Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity in South Africa?’: [Essays on Political Morality: 174-5]}.

46. Why is discrimination based only on skin color generally morally wrong?     [Top]
Discrimination based only on skin color (e.g., giving people of one skin color different rights than those of another skin color just because of the skin color) is generally morally wrong because moral thinking requires both universalizing and prescribing one’s prescriptions. A prescription to discriminate thus has to be universalized. This requires that in her moral thinking the discriminator must put herself in the position of her victim, with the victim’s skin color and preferences. Besides being universalized in this way, the prescription to discriminate also has to be prescribed by the discriminator while thus in the shoes of the victim, and this requires her to accept the consequences to herself while in those shoes. She will not be prepared to accept those consequences as prescriptivity requires, and so the discriminatory prescription has to be rejected as morally wrong {‘Why Racism is an Evil’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 181]; ‘Arguing about Rights’: [Essays on Political Morality: 111]; ‘Relevance’: 76, 88-9; Freedom and Reason: 219, 222}.

47. When is rebellion justified?     [Top]
Rebellion, understood as politically motivated law-breaking aimed at changing specific laws or administrative procedures by destabilizing the goverment but not wholesale government overthrow, is justified when all the following conditions – which are very difficult to meet – are met.

  • The law-breaking is a last resort: no legal means of achieving the same ends is available.
  • The oppression to be overcome is extremely bad.
  • It will be possible to replace the old laws and procedures with something better.

The second and third conditions can be summed up by saying that the evils the rebellion removes are greater than the evils it introduces. The first condition, too, has a utilitarian justification in the benefits that accrue to members of societies that have at least some good laws rather than total anarchy {‘Rebellion’: [Essays on Political Morality: 23-7, 32]; ‘Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity in South Africa?’: [Essays on Political Morality: 177]; ‘Language and Moral Education’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 162]}.

48. Why should we not steal?     [Top]
Stealing is morally wrong because it harms the interests of the individual whose property has been taken. Additional utilitarian reasons include the by-products of stealing: the direct costs involved in having to secure one’s property against theft; the fear and anxiety caused by knowing that one’s property might be stolen; the unpleasantness of feeling that one cannot trust other people. These by-products exist even when the thief would benefit more from the stolen item than its owner would have benefitted from continuing to possess it; so even in such cases, utilitarians can cite the cumulative negative side-effects of stealing in order to justify its moral wrongness {‘Political Obligation’: [Essays on Political Morality: 16]}.

49. What role should philosophers play in the legislative process?     [Top]
There are several different kinds of philosopher and also different kinds of role; so what role the philosopher should play in the legislative process will depend on both the kind of philosopher and the kind of role. The kinds of philosopher include:

  • romantic philosophers (e.g., Hegel) who value excitement over clarity of expression and argumentative rigor,
  • analytical philosophers who let their emotions and political persuasion dictate the content of their philosophy,
  • serious philosophers who have no ethical theory,
  • serious philosophers who have a poor ethical theory such as intuitionism,
  • serious philosophers who have a strong ethical theory such as universal prescriptivism.

The kinds of role a philosopher might play include:

  • educator of those who will later hold positions in government,
  • legislator voting on the enactment of laws,
  • civil servant working in the governmental bureaucracy,
  • committee member investigating a public policy issue,
  • expert witness testifying before congress or parliament,
  • media-type (e.g., talk-show moderator) bringing the issues to a wider audience,
  • philosophical writer.

All of the kinds of philosopher should be allowed to be educators; for it is good training for students to learn to weed out the good arguments from the bad on their own without the supposed help of the thought police or of political correctness. But society should be more discriminating with regard to the other roles and should discourage the placement of the romantic and emotional analytic philosophers in any of the other roles, and this especially so with regard to the expert witness role. As for the role of philosophical writer, it is to be hoped that the contributions of the romantic and emotional analytic philosophers will be recognized as generally having little value or merit, likely doing more harm than good if allowed to influence the legislative process {‘Philosophy and Conflict’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 59-60]; ‘The Role of Philosophers in the Legislative Process’: [Essays on Political Morality: 1-7]; Hare and Critics: 204-5, 207; ‘Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity in South Africa?’: [Essays on Political Morality: 170]; Plato: 25}.

50. Should health care be left solely to market forces and the autonomous decision-making of consumers?     [Top]
No. The maximization of preference satisfaction argues for a public health care system that provides for everyone care and treatment well above a minimum standard but that also allows individuals the flexibility to choose additional coverage for special circumstances if they want it. There are several more specific reasons why the argument turns out to favor such a mixed system. First, market forces and autonomy alone will leave some people, who are too poor or are imprudent decision-makers, with no health care at all, thus increasing human suffering. Besides the suffering itself, which is bad enough for the sufferers, the observation or awareness, by other members of society, of the suffering decreases the general happiness. There is also a danger to general happiness in that less health coverage tends to result in less economic productivity due to illness and absenteeism. But, second, a minimalist health care system that only provides very basic coverage for everyone while allowing the more affluent to buy additional coverage will engender envy among those who are not affluent. So, third, some kind of mixed system which provides coverage well above a basic level should be implemented, thus reducing envy while taking advantage of the diminishing marginal utility of the wealth of the affluent; and, at the same time, such a mixed system would, by still allowing the affluent to purchase additional coverage, provide the flexibility that generates the society-wide economic benefits which accrue to more efficient processes {‘Health Care Policy: Some Options’: [Essays on Bioethics: 212-8]}.

51. What may be done to a person who has been confined?     [Top]
It depends on whether the person has been confined as a legitimately convicted and sentenced prisoner or as merely a mental patient who has broken no laws. If a prisoner, then the person should be punished as her sentence prescribes, which should be in accordance with the objectives of punishment generally. If merely a mental patient, then punishment is inappropriate while treatment for the mental condition is appropriate. If the person is both a prisoner and mental patient, then both punishment and treatment are appropriate. These differing approaches are justified, as always, by considering in our moral thinking what policies and actions will serve best the interests of confined individuals and the many others whose interests are also impacted by what we do. But the courts or legislatures should not dictate the precise treatment to be implemented; for they do not examine and regularly interact with the confined person, lack the expertise to make specific treatment decisions, are as bureaucracies slow and inflexible and so unable to respond quickly to perhaps sudden changes in a confined person’s condition, and have been set up for the public good to administer justice in a publicly consistent manner. So methods of treatment should be left to doctors overseen by administrative boards themselves operating within the strictures of the laws. Doctors, therefore, should have some leeway in their choice of treatments. As always, however, these choices must be made in the interests of the confined person, with that person’s consent if the person is competent to give it. Doctors may, for instance, use the possibility (if allowed by the sentence in the case of prisoners) of early release as an incentive to consent to a particular course of treatment. Although there is some compulsion in this, any consent given by the confined person is not thereby invalidated, because the doctor is not making a threat backed by sanctions imposed by society but rather is offering her patient a choice between alternatives having variable benefits. What the doctor may not do, however, is to try to obtain consent by implying that non-consent will result in penalties in addition to those imposed by the sentence of the court {‘Moral Problems about the Control of Behaviour’: [Essays on Bioethics: 54, 60-6]}.

52. Should there be a ban on embryo experimentation?     [Top]
No. There is a defeasible presumption in favor of creating as many people as possible. Though the presumption is rather easily defeated by practical considerations such as biology, and the time and resources that couples have, the prima facie duty to procreate stands and embryo experimentation supports it in several ways.

  • Embryo experimentation is needed in order to perfect artificial insemination techniques which can be used to create some people who would otherwise not be created.
  • Embryo experimentation is needed in order to learn how to correct severe abnormalities that would otherwise result in the death of the fetus and thus eventual non-creation of a person.
  • Embryo experimentation on so-called spare embryos would not reduce the number of people created because those spare embryos would not be used to create people anyway.

So there should not be a ban on embryo experimentation, though there should be laws and guidelines that regulate what experiments may be done {‘When does Potentiality Count?’: [Essays on Bioethics: 89-90, 94-6]; ‘Embryo Experimentation: Public Policy in a Pluralist Society’: [Essays on Bioethics: 126-7]}.

53. What is the aim of imposing punishments on criminals?     [Top]
The aim of punishment is to secure the public interest by maintaining the rule of law. Though the justification for punishment is retributive at the intuitive level of moral thinking, at the more fundamental level of critical moral thinking, it is utilitarian of a complex sort that appeals to reasons in addition to deterrence {‘Moral Problems about the Control of Behaviour’: [Essays on Bioethics: 60]; Moral Thinking: 163}.

54. What should legislators be concerned about?     [Top]
Legislators – as well as philosophers involved in the legislative process – should be concerned about what the consequences on the equal interests of all those affected will be if they pass a given piece of legislation. For example, legislators considering laws on embryo experimentation should be considering how such laws will affect how many people will or will not be created, and what their conditions of existence will be, if such laws go into effect. In other words, in deciding what laws ought to be passed, legislators should be considering what changes will be brought about in the world by their being passed or not {‘When does Potentiality Count?’: [Essays on Bioethics: 94, 96-7]; ‘Embryo Experimentation: Public Policy in a Pluralist Society’: [Essays on Bioethics: 120-4]; ‘The Role of Philosophers in the Legislative Process’: [Essays on Political Morality: 4]}.

55. Why should punishments be consistently applied?     [Top]
Apart from formal reasons regarding impartiality or fairness that stem from the logical requirement of universalizability, punishments should be meted out consistently rather than haphazardly in order to minimize the fear and anxiety that might otherwise occur among the masses. If law-abiding citizens could, at random or unpredictably, be picked up off the street by the police and imprisoned, the possibility of this happening to us would cause us great distress and decrease overall satisfaction of preferences in society {‘Moral Problems about the Control of Behaviour’: [Essays on Bioethics: 60-1]; Moral Thinking: 211}.

56. Do merely possible people have interests?     [Top]
Yes. Merely possible people have interests because they have the potentiality to become individuals who will be able to enjoy the benefits that typically accompany human existence such as rationality, companionship, and achievement {‘When does Potentiality Count?’: [Essays on Bioethics: 85, 87, 90-1, 96]}.

57. What criterion should be used in order to make choices between adopting various laws, administrative procedures, and moral attitudes?     [Top]
The criterion to use in deciding which laws to pass, which administrative procedures to implement, and which moral attitudes to inculcate is this: decide which would most advance the interests of all affected parties if they were treated impartially {‘Moral Problems about the Control of Behaviour’: [Essays on Bioethics: 53]}.

58. Why have welfare state methods not been very successful?     [Top]
Welfare state methods (e.g., progressive taxation, welfare subsidies) have not been very successful because they aim to reduce poverty. But poverty or the lack of material goods is not the main causal factor in the production of misery and unhappiness {‘Possible People’: [Essays on Bioethics: 75, 81-2]}.

59. Why should a total utilitarian be a demi-vegetarian rather than a full vegetarian?     [Top]
The total utilitarian’s case for demi-vegetarianism has a number of components.

  • Dietetic or nutritional considerations regarding health favor eating small amounts of meat or fish {222-3}.
  • Economic considerations favor limited animal husbandry; for, although the use of land for growing crops for feeding humans directly rather than for feeding non-human animals (which humans will later eat) is a far more efficient use of the land, switching from animal husbandry to surplus crop production would, by lowering vegetable prices, destroy the agricultural markets in some countries and make some land, suitable only as pasture because of its mountainous terrain, under-utilized {223-4}.
  • If the animals are going to be happy, then it is better if more of them exist, even if they have relatively short lives before being slaughtered {226-9}.
  • By continuing to eat some meat selectively, one can exert some influence on the meat market and on how the animals are treated. For example, since there will be less demand, fewer animals will be needed; this will help to eliminate mass factory farming practices which tend to be particularly cruel. Also, selective purchasing, if coupled with adequate information about the sources of the food, can be used to support only those farms that treat their animals well {229-31}.

All of these reasons support the total or classical utilitarian’s selective consumption of meat in very limited amounts {‘Why I am only a Demi-Vegetarian’: [Essays on Bioethics: 222-31]}.

60. What is a demi-vegetarian?     [Top]
A demi-vegetarian is a person who is less than a full vegetarian and so who allows herself to eat, very selectively, a little meat {‘Why I am only a Demi-Vegetarian’: [Essays on Bioethics: 224-5]}.

61. Is democracy the best form of government?     [Top]
Given the way the world is now, representative democracy is probably the best form of government for those societies that can implement it. It is the best because it has a better chance of

  • producing good rulers who will govern well by having the interests of the people as a primary concern and by being in general more responsive to the satisfaction of those interests,
  • gaining the support and confidence of the people governed,
  • setting up laws that are applied impartially across all members of society,
  • minimizing class warfare by removing arbitrary restraints on liberty.

But given other times and other circumstances, democracy may not always be the best form of government for a society; for example, if the society has deep communal divisions, democracy may not be appropriate {‘Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity in South Africa?’: [Essays on Political Morality: 173, 176, 178]; ‘Liberty and Equality’: [Essays on Political Morality: 124-5]; ‘Contrasting Methods of Environmental Planning’: [Essays on Political Morality: 230]}.

62. Do plants count morally?     [Top]
Although we can, as universal prescriptivism’s method of moral reasoning requires us to do at least with regard to sentient beings, put ourselves in the position of plants, the biological facts tell against plants counting morally; for plants have no nervous system and so do not feel pain. So although we can use our imaginations to envision what it would be like to be a plant and even for a plant to suffer, they do not in fact suffer and thus have no interests in avoiding the sufferings proscribed by moral injunctions. In general, things that are not sentient and will not become sentient, such as plants and ecosystems, do not count as having morally relevant interests; for when we put ourselves in their places as Golden Rule moral reasoning requires we find no interests and so do not, indeed cannot, care what happens to us in their place {Hare and Critics: 283; ‘Moral Reasoning about the Environment’: [Essays on Political Morality: 242-4]; Freedom and Reason: 183}.

63. Why is terrorism morally wrong?     [Top]
Although there can be rare cases in which terrorist acts are morally justified (e.g., some terrorist acts committed by the Resistance against the Nazis in World War Two), terrorist acts are almost always morally wrong; for they very rarely bring about better outcomes in the real world than other means can bring about without the killing, bereavement, and other costs that make terrorism wrong. Universal prescriptivism’s method of role-reversal moral thinking shows that the terrorist who puts herself in the place of her victims, fully considering the intensity and likelihood of the effects of her acts on the satisfaction of preferences of those people who will be affected by the terrorist acts, will very rarely have preferences so strong that they outweigh those of all the victims {‘On Terrorism’: [Essays on Political Morality: 38-44]}.

64. What is toleration?     [Top]
Toleration is a liberal ideal according to which others’ ideals are respected as one’s own. That is to say, although the tolerant liberal may disagree with others’ ideals, she nevertheless gives the others’ ideals no less weight than she gives her own and does not frustrate the others’ pursuit of their ideals unless that pursuit interferes with yet others’ legitimate pursuits; at the same time, she is as free to promote her own ideals {Freedom and Reason: 177-80}.

65. What is the difference between education and indoctrination?     [Top]
The difference between education and indoctrination lies in the aim of the teaching and only derivatively in the methods used and the content presented. If the aim of the teaching or instruction is to foster an open mind that will be able to think on its own instead of simply blindly following the party line, then the teaching is education and not indoctrination. If the aim is an open mind rather than a closed mind, then the aim will use methods of teaching that welcome a diversity of ideas. Then, in turn, these methods will allow the content of the teaching to go wherever logic and the evidence lead {‘Adolescents into Adults’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 50-8, 65-6]}.

66. What is the best way to approach doing applied ethics?     [Top]
The best approach to doing applied ethics is a dialectical approach between philosopher and practitioner. In particular, the approach has three basic steps.

  • From the practitioners, find out what the relevant facts are.
  • Also from the practitioners, find out what their moral beliefs are and why they hold them.
  • Apply the sound ethical (or metaethical) theory about the logic of the moral words to the practitioners’ beliefs and see if the beliefs tally with the results of applying the theory’s method of moral reasoning.

If the beliefs do not tally with the results of the method, then some revisions need to be made somewhere. First look to the beliefs and how they were arrived at; check in particular the practitioners’ preferences, their factual beliefs (to include their beliefs about others’ preferences), correctness of their reasoning based on their logic of the moral words, their clarity of thought, lack of prejudice, and lack of ignorance. If all of the practitioners’ beliefs pass these checks, then the fault lies with the theory, and it will need to be tweaked {‘Why Do Applied Ethics?’: 230-1, 235}.

67. Do the same moral principles apply to both public and private morality?     [Top]
Probably not in most cases. Although the actions of both public officials (e.g., politicians) and ordinary private citizens fall within the scope of morality, the circumstances under which the actions are decided upon are often different. In particular, political actions often have the potential to affect the lives of many more people than do the actions of private citizens. So the circumstances the politician faces when making decisions about what to do are often much more complex than those faced by private citizens. Because of this greater situational complexity, the moral principles of the politician will typically be more complex than those that serve the private citizen well {‘Principles’: 11-2; ‘What is Life?’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 68]; ‘Reasons of State’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 13, 16]}.

68. Why do applied ethics?     [Top]
There are several reasons to do applied ethics in the sense of applying ethical theory to practical moral problems such as those faced by doctors.

  • By doing applied ethics, ethical theory can be improved. This improvement comes in at least two forms: the expulsion of intuitionism and its unhelpful appeals to differing substantial moral convictions from ethical theory, and the anthropological testing of ethical theory which can reveal where the theory needs improvement.
  • By doing applied ethics, philosophers can become popular by showing the practical relevance of what they are doing.
  • By doing applied ethics, one can help – by, for example, clarifying the concepts involved – to solve moral problems that people face in their lives.

So doing applied ethics benefits both ethical theory and applied ethics or practice {‘Why Do Applied Ethics?’: 225, 227, 234-6; ‘The Argument from Received Opinion’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 125-7]}.

69. Could it be morally right to make threats to do what it would be wrong to do?     [Top]
Yes. There can be situations in which utility would be maximized if threats were made which, if actually carried out, would not maximize utility {‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 14}.

70. Should we eliminate our nuclear arsenal?     [Top]
Probably not. There are at least three considerations that lean towards keeping our nuclear arsenal and not unilaterally disarming.

  • Pacifism in general, in the world as it is now with rogue elephant nations that are belligerent, is incorrect because capitulation, instead of a robust armed self-defense, in the face of aggression would lead to even more aggression.
  • The possession of nuclear weapons, and at least the appearance of a willingness to use them in retaliation, might make nuclear war less likely.
  • Our moral intuitions about the matter are very unreliable; for the nuclear scenario is a quite recent phenomenon and also extraordinary, and our intuitions were not designed for dealing with such scenarios.

The case for retaining nuclear weapons capability, however, seems less compelling than that for retaining conventional weapons for self-defense {‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 13-5}.

71. Are the principles found in just war theory prima facie principles?     [Top]
Yes. The principles used by just war theory are prima facie principles supported by critical moral thinking, which is utilitarian. Since these intuitive-level principles are prima facie, they can be overridden; and so there might be situations in which they would not be morally applicable {‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 11}.

72. Why does it seem that moral philosophy has no practical relevance?     [Top]
The practical irrelevance of moral philosophy originates from a fallacious inference from the following three true premises.

  • Philosophy is chiefly concerned with the elucidation of concepts (i.e., elucidation of the meanings of words).
  • Elucidation of concepts cannot by itself yield synthetic conclusions of moral substance.
  • Moral conclusions cannot be logically deduced from premises all of which are empirical or factual (i.e., naturalism is false; no ‘ought’ from ‘is’).

Putting these together, we seem forced to accept that moral philosophy (i.e., the elucidation of moral concepts in particular) cannot by itself or with the help of facts get us to moral conclusions of substance; but we need such conclusions in order to answer our practical questions; so, not being able to deliver those conclusions of substance, moral philosophy has no practical relevance. The fallacy or mistake in the inference is in thinking that moral reasoning is primarily a matter of linear deduction. It is not. Instances of moral reasoning, instead, are universalizing operations performed on our prescriptions and are not reasonings from those prescriptions or from the fact that we have them. Once this is understood, the practical relevance of moral philosophy is clear; for moral philosophy, in elucidating the moral concepts, reveals the workings of this universalizing operation on prescriptions {‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 103-7]}.

73. What are some reasons for hospitals to have ethics committees?     [Top]
Hospitals and research institutions should have ethics committees for a couple of reasons. First, such committees can serve as disinterested judges of proposed experiments and procedures in specific cases, weighing the expected goods and harms of the consequences. Second, such committees can use their experience to formulate general guidelines for assessing the merits of future experiments and procedures {‘When does Potentiality Count?’: [Essays on Bioethics: 96]; ‘Embryo Experimentation: Public Policy in a Pluralist Society’: [Essays on Bioethics: 126]; ‘Little Human Guinea-Pigs?’: 88-9}.

74. What kind of patriotism is morally acceptable?     [Top]
Critical moral thinking supports a non-aggressive patriotism open to all and which allows forceful means to be used for self-defense. The justification that critical moral thinking will offer is that the general adoption of principles in favor of such patriotism will be best able to secure world peace and prevent anarchic calamity {‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 11-2}.

75. What are the two ways in which the unlawfulness of an act can affect the morality of the act?     [Top]
The two ways in which the unlawfulness of an act can affect the morality of the act are:

  • the unlawfulness has consequences that are harmful,
  • the intuitive-level prima facie duty to obey the law is broken.

Only critical-level moral thinking will be able to confirm that the second way is actually wrong in a particular case {‘One Philosopher’s Approach to Business and Professional Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 198-200]}.

76. What justification is there for a prima facie right to non-interference with one’s body?     [Top]
The justification for a prima facie right to non-interference with one’s body invokes the utilitarian consideration that people themselves – especially normal adults – generally know best what is in their own interests {‘Little Human Guinea-Pigs?’: 86-7; ‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 26]}.

77. How do people become pacifists and patriots?     [Top]
The two levels, intuitive and critical, of normative moral thinking explain how many people become pacifists. Critical thinking determines that overall utility will be maximized if intuitive-level principles are inculcated which denounce violence. So people are brought up to have moral convictions and intuitions which condemn violence and aggression. But critical thinking also determines that it would be best, too, if there were intuitive-level principles that promote the existence of special duties of loyalty to family members and one’s own community and that promote measures to protect the weakest members of society. As with the principles denouncing violence, these intuitive principles commending loyalty mix with feelings; the result is that by psychological processes the principles become extended into general positions of pacifism and patriotism. In extreme cases, one intuitive principle – perhaps one commending pacifism – may be made supreme over all the other principles {‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 6-7, 13}.

78. How can moral principles help reduce regulation?     [Top]
If the members of the business sector have adopted or inculcated sound moral principles, then it is less likely to need robust self-regulation (e.g., from professional associations) and statutory regulation by legislatures {‘One Philosopher’s Approach to Business and Professional Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 198]}.

79. What is required for consent?     [Top]
There are at least two requirements for consent.

  • Full information must at least be available so that those who are consenting understand to what they are consenting.
  • Freedom to refuse to consent must be an option; this includes freedom from physical restraint and from duress (i.e., freedom from being threatened).

Of these three (ignorance, physical restraint, duress), duress is the most problematic {‘Little Human Guinea-Pigs?’: 85; ‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 27]}.

80. When should a judge resign?     [Top]
A judge should resign when there is a mixture of good and bad laws and the political realities are such that reform of the bad laws is impossible; under such conditions a judge should resign so as not to help prop up the existing political authorities {Freedom and Reason: 125}.

81. How does business depend on ethics?     [Top]
Business or the market depends on ethics in the sense that economic transactions would not occur, or would not occur as efficiently, if there were no standards of conduct such as those moral standards involved in honest dealing and mutual trust {‘One Philosopher’s Approach to Business and Professional Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 193-4]}.

82. What are some reasons for not using children as experimental subjects?     [Top]
There are some reasons for not experimenting on children.

  • There is a risk, however small, that the children might be harmed by the experiments.
  • If a child is in a control group to which a placebo is given, the child may be denied a benefit.
  • Unfairness may be incurred in selecting the children who are to receive a possibly beneficial treatment.
  • Children especially (because they may not understand) may be frightened by the procedures necessary to conduct the experiment.
  • Children may not be able to give their consent because they do not have the requisite knowledge or freedom.

{‘Little Human Guinea-Pigs?’: 83-5}.

83. Is discrimination always morally wrong?     [Top]
No. There are cases in which discrimination is morally permissible. These are cases in which, for instance, skin color, sex, wealth, or age, are themselves morally relevant or are closely associated with features that are morally relevant. Examples of each include discriminating between

  • blacks and whites regarding camera exposure times in order to represent skin colors accurately
  • males and females regarding opera roles in order to cast people who can perform the vocal requirements of the roles
  • rich and poor regarding how much to tax them
  • young and old regarding their eligibility to vote

So some kinds of discrimination are morally acceptable. We need to look at the reasons for the discrimination in order to decide which are and which are not {‘Why Racism is an Evil’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 179-81]}.

84. What ethical problems arise with regard to controlled trials?     [Top]
There are a number of moral problems associated with the use of controlled trials.

  • Using a placebo can deny a benefit to those patients who receive the placebo instead of the real treatment.
  • In controlled trials used to determine if a treatment is harmful, those who receive the treatment may be harmed.
  • Questions of fairness may arise, for different people have to be selected for the control and non-control groups.

The above point out disadvantages of controlled trials, but there are of course also advantages {‘Little Human Guinea-Pigs?’: 80-1}.

85. Can the right to life justify a ban on euthanasia?     [Top]
No. The person who wants to be euthanized can voluntarily waive the right to life {‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 147]}.

86. Why do we use children as experimental subjects?     [Top]
There are at several reasons for experimenting on children.

  • Some maladies affect only children and so effective treatments need to be developed for them specifically.
  • Even for those ailments that afflict both adults and children, treatments that are safe for adults to undergo may not be safe for children.
  • Sometimes non-therapeutic experiments need to be done in order to determine what the norm is in children so that we will know what is not normal.
  • A child may benefit from being a research subject who takes an experimental drug.
  • A child might want to be a subject in an experiment because she will be given a reward – money or a badge of honor – if she participates.
  • Even children may have a moral duty to help humankind.
  • Researchers and their institutions can benefit (e.g., financing, reputation) from conducting experiments on children.

At least some of these reasons would probably need strict monitoring if implemented {‘Little Human Guinea-Pigs?’: 80-3}.

87. Why do the preferences of possible people carry moral weight?     [Top]
The preferences of possible people count in moral thinking. An argument in support of this claim goes basically like this: happy existing people, because they are happy, prefer that they were brought into existence; so such happy existing people accept that their parents did what they ought to have done; by universalizability, such happy existing people must also accept that the parents of happy future people do what they ought if they beget the children who will become the happy future people; these happy future people, like happy existing people, are happy because their experiences by and large satisfy their preferences; so the preferences of possible (e.g., future) people count morally, too {‘Preferences of Possible People’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 128-9, 131]}.

88. What is the difference between therapeutic and non-therapeutic research?     [Top]
The difference between therapeutic and non-therapeutic research lies in their aims. Non-therapeutic research only has a research aim – that of acquiring knowledge. Non-therapeutic research aims at both research and therapy, the latter concerned with securing a cure for patients and not for any particular patient {‘Little Human Guinea-Pigs?’: 79}.

89. Can paternalism be avoided?     [Top]
Not entirely. Some minimal level of paternalism is inevitable because there will always be some people who are ill-informed or who do not participate. In those cases, a prediction must be made as to how those people would choose if they were fully informed of the options available to them {‘Contrasting Methods of Environmental Planning’: [Essays on Political Morality: 231-2]}.

90. How does the extended Golden Rule generate a prima facie duty to procreate?     [Top]
The extended Golden Rule is that we ought to do to others as we are glad they did do to us. Since we are glad (or can wish for those who would be glad) that they did not abort us, we thus must also be glad that we were conceived rather than not conceived because of the effects of contraception. Hence there is a prima facie duty to procreate and to make it so that there is a posterity {‘Moral Reasoning about the Environment’: [Essays on Political Morality: 238-9]; ‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 212}.

91. Why should vague legal documents be avoided?     [Top]
When legal documents are written using vague language, it becomes easy for courts to legislate from the bench – thus illegitimately wresting the power to enact law from its proper province in the legislature – by interpreting the vague language to suit the judges’ own moral opinions and prejudices {‘A Kantian Utilitarian Approach’: 186; ‘The Rights of Employees’: [Essays on Political Morality: 141, 144]}.

92. What are two ways of separating factual from evaluative questions?     [Top]
There are two methods or models that provide us with different ways of separating factual from evaluative questions.

  • The means-end model starts with many very specific goals, which embody values; and then, with the aid of the facts, it produces designs that in various ways meet those specific goals. The basic idea is to be able to prove at the end of the process that a particular design is the best one.
  • The trial-design model starts with a few very general goals; then, by drawing on the facts, it produces several designs which are eventually submitted for evaluation. The basic idea is to give people the final say by letting them choose, with their values and the information presented in the designs, which design is the best one.

In actual practice, the two models probably typically use some elements from the other, but they are nevertheless distinguishable and in different ways separate out the facts from the values. The crucial difference between the models is that the means-end model, by putting many very specific goals first, builds values into the design process from the beginning so that quantitative measures can be used later to establish the best design; in contrast, the trial-design model, by proceeding only from a few very general goals, can for the most part leave values out of the designs, which are therefore more straightforwardly informative, so that people can later use their own values to judge the designs. So the models, especially the trial-design model because it can more easily incorporate non-quantifiable features (e.g., beauty), are very useful and important; for, also in actual practice, questions always present themselves to us in a bewildering mixture of fact and value, and to get clear on the answers we must first get clear on what is what within the mixture {‘What Are Cities For? The Ethics of Urban Planning’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 206-7]; ‘Moral Reasoning about the Environment’: [Essays on Political Morality: 246-7]; ‘Contrasting Methods of Environmental Planning’: [Essays on Political Morality: 217-26, 234]}.

93. Why are contraception and abortion not morally equivalent?     [Top]
Although contraception and abortion or infanticide are all morally wrong, they are only prima facie wrong. The prohibitions against them are defeasible, can be overridden, for various reasons; and these reasons are what make the breaches of the prohibitions more or less wrong. There are morally relevant differences between contraception and abortion or infanticide.

  • The probability that a typical adult will result from a fetus is much higher than the corresponding probability for a coitus because the fetus is already some way towards the fully developed adult state.
  • Having an abortion increases the time during which a duty to procreate is not fulfilled, for having an abortion essentially wastes (for procreative purposes) the time interval between conception and death of the fetus – time during which another child could have been conceived.
  • There are possible harms (e.g., emotional harm to parents who have become attached to the fetus; the harm to the fetus itself) associated with abortion which do not come into play with contraception.
  • Even infants have some desires and can experience pleasure so that killing them would involve denying these satisfactions.

These differences establish a moral gap between contraception and abortion or infanticide {‘When does Potentiality Count?’: [Essays on Bioethics: 89-91]; ‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 214}.

94. Should trade unions have been legalized?     [Top]
Yes. Trade unions should have been, as they in fact were, legalized because such legalization brought with it an increase in utility. In particular, the recognition of the legal right to form trade unions helped to create better working conditions for laborers and also helped to create greater equality in terms of wealth, power, and social status {‘A Kantian Utilitarian Approach’: 184; ‘The Rights of Employees’: [Essays on Political Morality: 142]; ‘Liberty and Equality’: [Essays on Political Morality: 132]}.

95. Does acceptance of the potentiality principle require acceptance of an extreme conservative position on abortion?     [Top]
No. Because there are other factors to consider, acceptance of the potentiality principle does not require acceptance of an extreme conservative position on abortion (e.g., not permitting an abortion even in order to save the mother’s life). The other factors include the quality of life of the offspring and mother, the probabilities associated with the various options, and the possibility that having this child may prevent having one or more other children. Acceptance of the potentiality principle does, however, require that one accept an anti-abortion position as one’s default position to which one must argue for exceptions {‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 211-4}.

96. Can there be a discriminatory moral principle?     [Top]
Yes. It is possible for a racist to propose a discriminatory moral principle which universally prescribes that whites, just because of the difference in skin color, ought to treat blacks in a harmful way but that blacks ought not to do the same to whites. This is universal because it applies to all whites and blacks, and it is prescriptive because it uses ‘ought’ to tell people to act in a certain way. But the big question is whether such a principle can not only be proposed but also accepted; in other words, can the racist who proposes this principle also embrace, or be prepared to adopt, or rationally will, the principle as a universal prescription? According to universal prescriptivism, the racist who does critical moral thinking correctly cannot embrace the principle because its prescriptivity and universality, combined with the racist’s full exposure to the facts as required by universalizability, would require that the racist prescribe what she (as a black) would not desire, which would be inconsistent since prescriptions are linguistic expressions of desires {Sorting Out Ethics: 130-1, 133, 135; ‘Foundationalism and Coherentism in Ethics’: 195; ‘Universalizability’: [Encyclopedia of Ethics: 1260-1]; Moral Thinking: 107, 185; ‘Relevance’: 88-9; ‘Justice and Equality’: 117; Freedom and Reason: 219}.

97. Is the potentiality principle correct?     [Top]
Very likely, though it is better to speak of possibility than potentiality. The potentiality principle claims that if it is morally wrong to kill a typical adult human being because she possesses a given property then it is morally wrong to kill a creature which will, if it is not killed, later have that property. This principle is very likely correct because it can be grounded upon the Golden Rule which itself has a firm grounding in the logical feature of universalizability {‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 68]; ‘When does Potentiality Count?’: [Essays on Bioethics: 85]; ‘Embryo Experimentation: Public Policy in a Pluralist Society’: [Essays on Bioethics: 128-9]; ‘In Vitro Fertilization and the Warnock Report’: [Essays on Bioethics: 116]; ‘Opportunity for What?’: 209; ‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 208-9, 211}.

98. Should the requirement of consent for experimentation be absolute?     [Top]
For adults, the requirement of consent for experimentation should be absolute. For children, there should be carefully regulated proxy consent by parents or guardians. In either case, the justification is the risk of harm if the requirement were relaxed {‘The Ethics of Clinical Experimentation on Human Children’: 687; ‘Little Human Guinea-Pigs?’ 90}.

99. In what sense does ‘person’ do no work?     [Top]
Using ‘person’ to argue about the abortion issue unnecessarily complicates the issue; for any moral principles that use ‘person’, or appeal to personhood, will have to be supported by moral reasons for why a certain kind of creature is or is not a person, and those moral reasons will be the same as those used to support moral principles which do not contain ‘person’ or do not appeal to personhood. In short, it is the moral reasons that are really doing the argumentative work, not ‘person’ {‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 206}.

100. Why is the persons approach to abortion unhelpful?     [Top]
The fundamental problem with the persons approach to abortion is that ‘person’ is a word that is vague in certain contexts, namely in borderline contexts such as those raised in the abortion controversy. So moral principles containing ‘person’ (e.g., ‘One ought never to kill an innocent person’) will by themselves be unhelpful when invoked in order to resolve borderline disputes such as those found in the abortion issue. A more helpful approach is to move beyond these unhelpful (i.e., unhelpful in these kinds of borderline cases) intuitive-level prima facie principles by doing some critical moral thinking in which it is asked how, taking into account all that we already know about fetuses, creatures such as fetuses ought to be treated {‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 204-6}.

101. What strategy is implemented in order to show that slavery cannot be used as the basis of a counter-intuitiveness objection to utilitarianism?     [Top]
Although there is no explicit appeal to the distinction between levels of moral thinking in ‘What Is Wrong with Slavery?’, the strategy it implements in order to show that slavery cannot be used as the basis of a counter-intuitiveness objection to utilitarianism is basically the same strategy that is outlined later in Moral Thinking (which does explicitly make the distinction between levels). The horns of the dilemma used in the defense of utilitarianism in the former article match up with the two steps outlined in the latter book. Thus, the first horn of the dilemma, in which the fantastic case of Juba compared with Camaica is unusually well described, is used to show that although the critical-thinking utilitarian will accept the counter-intuitive result that slavery is for the best in that case, the situation described will not occur in the real world and so does not matter practically for the selection of moral principles by which we are to conduct ourselves in the real world. And the second horn, in which the utilitarian is allowed to challenge the imagined facts of the Juba-Camaica comparison, is used to point out that the described situation is not true to life and so is not a situation appropriate for the assessment of moral principles designed for true-to-life use {‘Slavery’: [Encyclopedia of Ethics: 1159-60]; Moral Thinking: 131-5; ‘What Is Wrong with Slavery?’: 114, 118}.

102. Why is the rights approach to abortion unhelpful?     [Top]
There are a number of problems with appealing to rights in order to resolve the abortion controversy:

  • rights are claimed without any support;
  • rights are often in conflict;
  • there is no decision procedure for determining what moral rights there may be;
  • what ‘right’ means is often unclear.

What all these problems add up to is a severe deficiency in argumentative method where rights are concerned, and so a more helpful approach would be to argue more directly in terms of what ought or ought not to be done {Moral Thinking: 149-50; ‘What Is Wrong with Slavery?’: 103-4; ‘Opportunity for What?’: 207-8’; Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 202-4}.

103. What is wrong with slavery?     [Top]
In the real world, because of the way human nature actually operates, slavery causes a great deal of misery; for human nature is such that even when people, who may be basically good and have good intentions at the start, are given absolute power over others, the others wind up suffering enormously through physical brutality and through threats of temporally distant physical brutality which exploit the unique vulnerability of the human psyche’s ability to anticipate distant future experiences {‘Slavery’: [Encyclopedia of Ethics: 1159]; ‘What Is Wrong with Slavery?’: 118-9, 121}.

104. What can the moral philosopher contribute to practical questions?     [Top]
The philosopher studies arguments and can help us better understand them and show us which arguments are good and which are bad, which of them, that is, succeed in cogently or soundly establishing their conclusions and which do not. It is no different for the moral philosopher; for moral arguments, too, can be either good or bad in the same ways as non-moral arguments: premises might be false rather than true, and inferences might be invalid rather than valid or weak rather than strong. To make this contribution, the moral philosopher needs to base her philosophizing in logic. Universal prescriptivism does this by basing its method of moral reasoning on the logic of the moral words, especially the primary value-words. If this method is correct and brings additional clarity and understanding to the issues that the moral philosopher has pried apart, then we can hope that the trajectory of the discussion from questions to answers will be rational, sound or cogent, because based on the logic of the moral concepts {Sorting Out Ethics: 39-40; ‘Philosophy and Conflict’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 56-7]; ‘In Vitro Fertilization and the Warnock Report’: [Essays on Bioethics: 98]; ‘Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity in South Africa?’: [Essays on Political Morality: 170]; ‘A Reductio Ad Absurdum of Descriptivism’: 125-6; Plato: 66; ‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 201; ‘Rawls’ Theory of Justice–II’: 241; ‘Rules of War and Moral Reasoning’: 166; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 116]; ‘Peace’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 71-2]; Freedom and Reason: 172; ‘Broad’s Approach to Moral Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 15]}.

105. Should one ever vote to permit the practice of slavery?     [Top]
No. One should always vote in the real world for the (perhaps gradual) abolition of slavery even though there are purely imaginable circumstances in which slavery would be for the best; this is because in the real world slavery does more harm than good {‘Why Racism is an Evil’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 183-4]; ‘What Is Wrong with Slavery?’: 117, 121}.

106. Since both the principle of double effect and universal prescriptivism’s Golden Rule moral reasoning give the same answer to the question of euthanasia, what is the difference between them?     [Top]
Both the principle of double effect and universal prescriptivism’s Golden Rule moral reasoning permit actions that result in the death of a patient in order to relieve the patient’s suffering. So they give the same answer to the euthanasia question. The difference between them is that they get to the answer in different ways. The principle of double effect gets to the answer by casuistical reasoning based on a flawed understanding of intention. In contrast, universal prescriptivism’s Golden Rule moral reasoning justifies its answer by using a sound methodology that sees the preferences and interests of those involved as of paramount importance {‘Is medical ethics lost?’: 70; ‘Euthanasia: A Christian View’: 50}.

107. What is the solution to the paradox that a practice like slavery can be both morally right and yet condemned?     [Top]
The paradox is only apparent. A full understanding of how the levels of moral thinking take account of human limitations shows that a practice can be both morally right and also condemned. Moral thinking at the critical level might show that a practice, such as slavery, is morally right (because utility-maximizing) in a given unusual social setting, and yet might select principles for the intuitive level which condemn the practice because in all usual social settings the practice is not utility-maximizing {‘What Is Wrong with Slavery?’: 115}.

108. What is the measure of the importance of a case?     [Top]
The measure of the importance of a case, and thus an indication of how much weight to give to the case in our moral thinking, is the difference the various decisions to the case makes to the expected amounts of benefits and harms resulting from actions based on those decisions {‘What Is Wrong with Slavery?’: 115}.

109. Is the principle of liberty prohibiting slavery an absolute principle?     [Top]
No. The principle of liberty which prohibits slavery is a prima facie principle and so can be overridden; there can therefore be exceptions to the principle should there ever be situations in which overall utility in a society is higher with than without slavery {‘What Is Wrong with Slavery?’: 114}.

110. What is torture?     [Top]
The definition of ‘torture’ is at present not a settled matter; it remains a disputed term. The way to resolve the dispute is to do some critical moral thinking in which various well-described but unnamed acts are considered and evaluated for their moral permissibility. When this has been done and it has been decided which unlabelled acts to condemn, we can then go about labelling the acts as this or that. After this critical thinking, we will probably have a categorization similar to that now in place with regard to homicide, in which distinctions are made between (and within) culpable (e.g., murder) and non-culpable homicide (e.g., self-defense) {‘The ethics of medical involvement in torture: commentary’: 138}.

111. What is the moral question about euthanasia?     [Top]
The central moral issue about euthanasia is the determination of the conditions under which it may be morally acceptable to kill a person in order to relieve the person’s suffering {‘Euthanasia: A Christian View’: 45}.

112. Is torture justified in order to extract information?     [Top]
Yes and no. It is possible to dream up scenarios in which it would be justifiable to torture someone in order to get extremely valuable information; critical moral thinking done perfectly would for such scenarios make exceptions to intuitive-level principles that ban such torture. But these scenarios are not real-world scenarios, and the in-scenario critical thinking that would be required of the agents in the scenario would be beyond the reach of humans to perform well. So in practice in the actual world, there should be an absolute ban on torture, both because the required in-scenario critical thinking could not be done and because torture has overall negative effects on the preference satisfaction of members of societies in which such torture is practiced. In short, torture is justifiable in theory but not in practice {‘The ethics of medical involvement in torture: commentary’: 140; Freedom and Reason: 43-4}.

113. Why can the euthanasia controversy not be solved by determining whether the patient is still alive?     [Top]
There are multiple, equally practical or workable, ways of defining what it is to be alive. But some of the definitions lead to one answer to the euthanasia controversy while others lead to another, opposing answer. And so, since the definitions are equally reasonable, there is no plausible rational and morally neutral way to select one definition instead of another {‘Euthanasia: A Christian View’: 46}.

114. Should the affluent give away most or much of their wealth to those who are living in poverty?     [Top]
No. As a group, the affluent should not transfer most or much of their wealth to those living in poverty, but those extraordinary individuals who are capable of it perhaps should. The issues involved in combating global poverty are complicated: they involve understanding what economic, political, and social structures will help most in the long run; they involve knowing in which cases massive aid is necessary and in which not; and they involve how best to deploy our differing levels of knowledge about the good of ourselves and others both near and far. So the issues call for critical moral thinking. The intuitive level is not sufficient to decide the issues; for our intuitions on these matters cannot be trusted because they were designed for times past when helping people in far-away lands was not possible. Each individual doing critical thinking will have to decide for herself, based on her capacities and situation, what principles to adopt regarding her level of contribution to fighting global poverty {Moral Thinking: 199-202}.

115. Why can the abortion controversy not be solved by determining whether the fetus is a human being?     [Top]
There are multiple, equally practical or workable, ways of defining what a human being is. But some of the definitions lead to one answer to the abortion controversy while others lead to another, opposing answer. And so, since the definitions are equally reasonable, there is no plausible rational and morally neutral way to select one definition instead of another {‘Euthanasia: A Christian View’: 46}.

116. What is morally wrong about breaking promises?     [Top]
Breaking promises is morally wrong because breaking promises is a kind of deception, and deception is morally wrong because we cannot accept that we ourselves should be deceived if the roles were reversed {Sorting Out Ethics: 154; ‘The Promising Game’: 411-2}.

117. Is killing different from failing to keep alive?     [Top]
Yes, but the difference has limited moral importance {‘Euthanasia: A Christian View’: 45}.

118. Should euthanasia be allowed?     [Top]
Yes. If we consistently apply Christ’s Golden Rule, there should be no absolute prohibition on euthanasia {‘Euthanasia: A Christian View’: 45}.

119. Should the ban on torture be absolute?     [Top]
Yes. The ban on torture should be absolute at the intuitive level of moral thinking because, if it were anything less than absolute, the thought of employing torture would creep into the minds of those in a position to practice it, and that thought would eventually be acted upon, and then spread. The result would be a worse state of affairs than that state of affairs which torture was to prevent {‘The ethics of medical involvement in torture: commentary’: 140; Freedom and Reason: 43-4}.

120. Can we know just from the meaning of ‘doctor’ that doctors should not be involved in torture?     [Top]
No. It is conceivable that someone in the role of a doctor might decide in a particular case that the moral duty not to torture, deriving from the doctor role, ought to be temporarily overridden by a more stringent duty of the moment {‘The ethics of medical involvement in torture: commentary’: 139}.

121. Can non-existing people, who cannot suffer, be harmed?     [Top]
Yes, if withholding a benefit is a harm – such as, in most cases, the benefit of being born – then aborted people are harmed. The key to understanding this is universalizability, which holds even in hypothetical cases: if an actual person would have been harmed by an (hypothetical) abortion (which was not in fact successfully performed since the person is actual), then in any case just like this in its universal features (such as one in which the abortion is not hypothetical) the abortion is harmful and thus prima facie morally wrong {‘Abortion: Reply to Brandt’: 31}.

122. Should we be trying to create as many people as possible?     [Top]
Not necessarily. We should adopt the population policies that will maximize total (not average) utility, whatever those policies turn out to be and while keeping in mind that all procreation is choice in that the making of one child by a couple precludes the making of another at the same time by that couple {‘Preferences of Possible People’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 129]; ‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 68-9]; ‘Abortion: Reply to Brandt’: 30; ‘Possible People’: [Essays on Bioethics: 70]; ‘When does Potentiality Count?’: [Essays on Bioethics: 89]; ‘Moral Reasoning about the Environment’: [Essays on Political Morality: 238-9]; ‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 218}.

123. Can an action done now harm a person who does not now exist?     [Top]
Yes, for a woman can take medication that will cause any future child of hers to be deformed. What is impossible is for an action done now to cause harm now to a person who does not now exist {‘Abortion: Reply to Brandt’: 30}.

124. Are ‘illness’, ‘disease’, and ‘health’ purely descriptive terms?     [Top]
No. Terms such as ‘illness’, ‘disease’, and ‘health’ are evaluative terms; they have both descriptive and prescriptive meaning. Their prescriptive meaning comes from their typical essential reference to the concepts of good and bad {‘Health’: [Essays on Bioethics: 41-3]; Freedom and Reason: 26}.

125. What justifies the confinement of certain people in mental institutions?     [Top]
Critical moral thinking will justifiably select for the intuitive level an individual’s right to liberty. But this right to liberty can be overridden when certain conditions obtain. For example, if this right to liberty comes into conflict with rights not to be harmed, then it might be appropriate to override the right to liberty and institutionalize the individual who poses the threat of harm to herself or others, provided that the overriding is done in a consistent way that does not cause fear and anxiety in the population. Whether it will be appropriate will depend on the severity of the possible harm; if it is clear that the harm is likely to be severe, then confinement will be appropriate. If, on the other hand, it is not so clear which right should prevail, we will have to leave the intuitive level and ascend to the critical level and do some critical moral thinking with the details of the particular case {‘Moral Problems about the Control of Behaviour’: [Essays on Bioethics: 60-1]; ‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 24-6]}.

126. Should we try to convert homosexuals into heterosexuals?     [Top]
Probably not. If the question concerns forcing homosexuals into treatment aimed at converting them, then this should not be done because it offends against individual liberty and because society would be better off if people were taught not to stigmatize or otherwise persecute homosexuals. If the question concerns voluntary treatment, then the answer will depend on the reasons why the person wants to be converted. If she wants to be converted because she wants to enjoy intimate relations with the opposite sex, then the attempt at conversion is justified in order to satisfy most fully the interests of affected parties. If, however, she wants to be converted only because she wants to avoid social stigmas and legal penalties that attach to being homosexual, then it is not she but rather society that should be converted so as to enable more of its member’s interests to be satisfied {‘Moral Problems about the Control of Behaviour’: [Essays on Bioethics: 59-60]; ‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 28-9]; ‘Health’: [Essays on Bioethics: 46-7]}.

127. What justifies a patient’s right to confidentiality?     [Top]
The relationship between a doctor and her patient is largely founded on trust, and this relationship has great utility in promoting good health, so much so that any practices which tend to undermine this relationship will probably in general do more harm than good. So critical moral thinking will select prima facie intuitive-level moral principles that protect this relationship by according it the status of a right {‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 22-4]}.

128. What should be done with severely deformed offspring?     [Top]
It should be noted first that cases in which we know that a fetus is severely deformed and will, if not operated on, become a severely deformed child, and perhaps adult, are very rare, not ordinary, cases and so call for critical-level moral thinking. Such cases, then, do nothing to upend the prima facie principles to be used at the intuitive level of moral thinking; and, by the same token, prima facie principles cannot be relied on to provide correct guidance in such cases. At the critical level, much will depend on the details (e.g., the exact nature and severity of the deformity) and on the probabilities as far as we can know them. Keeping that in mind, as critical-level thinkers, then, we should probably operate on the fetus or neonate if that gives it the best chance at a normal human existence. If operating is not an option or the operation is not successful, then, if the mother and other family members can bear it, the pregnancy should be terminated or the neonate killed so that a new fetus, which will very likely not be deformed, can be conceived and later occupy the place that the previous offspring would have occupied. This approach maximizes preference-satisfaction chiefly because the operated-on offspring will likely have a happy life, the not-operated-on or failed-operation offspring would probably not have a happy life, and the replacement-child offspring probably would have a happy life {‘When does Potentiality Count?’: [Essays on Bioethics: 92]; ‘The Abnormal Child: Moral Dilemmas of Doctors and Parents’: [Essays on Bioethics: 188-90]}.

129. Why is adultery morally wrong?     [Top]
Adultery is morally wrong because, given the way the world is and humans are, traditional marriage is the best means for partners to share their love for each other and raise good and happy children. Insofar as adultery puts these benefits of marriage in jeopardy by arousing feelings of jealousy, suspicions of deception, and accusations of betrayal, and thus undermining the marriage bond, adultery is wrong {‘In Vitro Fertilization and the Warnock Report’: [Essays on Bioethics: 100]}.

130. What decides who is the lawful government of a country?     [Top]
The sum of individuals in a country decides, by their individual acts of allegiance (i.e., commitment to, submission to, the rules of a government), who the lawful government in the country is. This is an ascriptivist, and not descriptivist, account of lawful government; that is, in saying that a government is the lawful government, one ascribes (for non-legal reasons) to the government the right to be called the lawful government, and this is not the same as stating that someone has given allegiance {‘The Lawful Government’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 102]}.

131. Are political decisions and actions outside the scope of morality?     [Top]
No. Moral principles also apply to politicians; for their decisions and actions typically affect the lives of many people and a large part of morality is concerned with how actions affect other people {‘Principles’: 11-2; ‘Reasons of State’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 12-3, 22]}.

132. Should the interests of minorities ever be overridden in favor of the general good?     [Top]
Yes. There are situations in which the general good should prevail over the interests of a minority. For example, the interests of the few super-rich in holding on to their wealth should be overridden by implementing policies of progressive taxation that benefit society generally. But at the same time it is important that minorities’ interests be overridden in just ways, for if the overriding is not just then people generally will not feel secure that their interests will be given due weight in policy deliberations {‘Peace’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 87]}.

133. Why are public discussions of political matters important?     [Top]
It is important that there be opportunities for well-informed public debate on issues of public policy because such discussions can help to make sure that politicians do not become too corrupt and can help the politicians do some reflective moral thinking by providing them with ideas and perspectives which they had hitherto not considered {‘Reasons of State’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 11, 20]}.

134. What is the most important freedom?     [Top]
The freedom of thought is the most important freedom. It is most important because it allows intellectual disciplines such as philosophy to flourish and so to make possible the cultivation of habits of clear thinking in people; and such habits are one of the essential components in maintaining peace among nations {‘Peace’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 85]}.

135. How is governing importantly different from engineering?     [Top]
As far as ethics is concerned, governing differs importantly from engineering in that governing involves both the choice of means and ends while engineering only involves the choice of means. Rulers, or the voters in a democracy, must decide what policies to pursue and also must choose the best means to implement those policies. Engineers, on the other hand, do not decide what to build, but only the best means to erect whatever it is they are tasked with building {‘Can I Be Blamed for Obeying Orders?’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 6]}.

136. What are the main causes of war?     [Top]
The main causes of war are two ideas: nationalism and fanaticism. Though mere ideas or concepts, stubborn adherence to these ideas is the chief obstacle to maintaining the peace {‘Peace’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 71-2]}.

137. Are there moral experts or moral authorities?     [Top]
Yes and no. There are indeed people – some moral philosophers – who are more knowledgeable about ethics (especially about the logic of the moral concepts) than others and who can typically do moral thinking better than others if supplied with the facts about which, however, specialists probably know more than the philosophers. But it would be a mistake to conclude from this that it is ever appropriate to abdicate to others one’s responsibility to make moral decisions for oneself, for it is ultimately our decision as to whom or what we are to take as moral experts or authorities. So there are no moral authorities in the sense of people or things being fountains of indubitable moral knowledge; there are only moral authorities in the weaker sense of morally wise, but fallible, advisors {‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 58, 63-4, 70-1]; ‘Value Education in a Pluralist Society: A Philosophical Glance at the Humanities Curriculum Project’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 143]; ‘Can I Be Blamed for Obeying Orders?’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 4, 7]}.

138. Can a soldier be blamed for obeying the orders of a superior officer?     [Top]
Yes. Though a soldier might feel pressured by her superiors and might acknowledge that she does not have all the information about the circumstances that they have, she still has to make a moral decision – and so one that can be morally assessed – about whether to obey the orders. The philosophical basis for this answer to the question relies on the logical features of language; these features do not allow moral judgments to be derived from factual statements alone. Thus from ‘X orders me to do Y’ alone one cannot derive ‘I ought to do Y’. The logical features of language allow one to get to that conclusion about what one ought to do only if another premise is added in; this additional premise – a moral premise – would be something like ‘Everything X orders ought to be done’. Accepting this added moral premise involves making a moral decision about whether X, who might be divine or a mere human superior officer, is good and so is someone whose orders ought to be carried out. This moral decision will typically require doing some critical moral thinking when circumstances allow it, and it will be necessary as part of this thinking to figure out as far as possible what the consequences of obeying or not obeying will probably be for everyone who will be affected. When circumstances do not allow such thinking to take place, one should stay within intuitive-level moral thinking and stick with one’s prima facie principles, one of which will probably be to obey the commands of one’s superior officers {‘Loyalty and Obedience’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 175-6]; ‘Can I Be Blamed for Obeying Orders?’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 2-4, 7-8]}.

139. Why is it not morally relevant that a person is black but is morally relevant that she is a murderer?     [Top]
The difference in the moral relevance of being black and being a murderer is attributable to the presence or absence of utilitarian reasons. In particular, there are no utilitarian reasons that the racist can appeal to which support treating blacks less well than whites, but there are utilitarian reasons that can be appealed to which support treating murderers less well (e.g., by being imprisoned) than non-murderers. So it is (utilitarian) moral principles, which we arrive at through golden-rule moral reasoning, that determine what is morally relevant {Moral Thinking: 63, 89-90; ‘Relevance’: 75; Freedom and Reason: 107, 222}.

140. Should capital punishment be implemented?     [Top]
No {‘Moral Problems about the Control of Behaviour’: [Essays on Bioethics: 61]; Freedom and Reason: 222}.

141. What are some limitations of consent?     [Top]
Limitations to consent (e.g., the consent of a patient to allow a surgical procedure to be performed on her) include:

  • The person may not know or appreciate the consequences for her, and so additional steps may need to be taken to enlighten her so that she may make a fully informed decision.
  • The person, though able to respond to the request for consent, may be psychologically disturbed or otherwise partially incapacitated; so those seeking to obtain consent may need to take additional steps to determine what the person would prefer if she were not partially incapacitated.
  • The person may be totally incapacitated (e.g., unconscious).

{‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 25]; ‘Health’: [Essays on Bioethics: 48-9]; ‘Drugs and the Role of the Doctor’: 100}.

142. What is a city?     [Top]
A city is an organism for communication. It is an organism because cities are typically not designed, but rather grow; and even city planners do not have full control over what happens to a city and so are more like gardeners tending the plant organisms growing in the garden. It is for communication because cities provide a place for people to come together and interact in various ways for various purposes: commerce, art, government, education, and so on {‘What Are Cities For? The Ethics of Urban Planning’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 201-3]; ‘Community and Communication’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 29-30]}.

143. Why is obtaining consent to do something to someone important?     [Top]
Obtaining consent before, say, giving someone a medical treatment of some kind, is important for several reasons.

  • Obtaining consent helps us in deciding what is in the person’s interests; this is especially the case if we are finding it difficult to imagine ourselves in the person’s position.
  • Obtaining consent with the aim of discovering what is in the person’s interests is a large part of what it is to respect the person’s personality.
  • Obtaining consent, if followed as a firm requirement when circumstances permit (e.g., the person is conscious and competent), is a barrier against abuse and its associated harms.

In general, obtaining consent is important because patients have a right to consent, a right held because the patient is usually the best judge of her own interests when she has been fully informed of treatment options and the qualifications of her doctors {‘Moral Problems about the Control of Behaviour’: [Essays on Bioethics: 56]; ‘The Ethics of Clinical Experimentation on Human Children’: 687; ‘Little Human Guinea-Pigs?’ 90; Plato: 64, 67; ‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 26]; ‘Drugs and the Role of the Doctor’: 99-100}.

144. Can philosophy alone change the way people behave?     [Top]
For people who, because of their individual psychological make-up (e.g., racial prejudice), cannot or will not their closed minds be swayed by reason, philosophy alone cannot change their behavior; such people are beyond the reach of rational argument, and other methods (e.g., psychological re-conditioning therapy, religious exhortation, political instrumentalities such as taxation, publicity campaigns, artistic works that arouse sentiments in people, and so on) will have to be used to induce a change in their behavior. The moral philosopher can contribute to these methods by clarifying the moral issues, enabling us to see more clearly and with more understanding, and so help us make up our minds about precisely what behavior we should try to induce by these various therapeutic methods {‘Philosophy and Conflict’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 56-7]; ‘On Terrorism’: [Essays on Political Morality: 35-6, 43-4]; Freedom and Reason: 203, 224; ‘Reasons of State’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 23]; ‘Peace’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 77]}.

145. Why is there a presumption that changing a person’s values is against her interests?     [Top]
There is a presumption that changing a person’s values (e.g., through brainwashing) is against her interests because values are a kind of interest in which a person is typically heavily invested. This presumption, however, does not go so far as to make any change to a person’s values automatically contrary to her interests and hence by default objectionable {‘Drugs and the Role of the Doctor’: 98}.

146. What is the truth in architectural functionalism?     [Top]
The truth in architectural functionalism is that the practical functionality of a building and its aesthetic appearance can agreeably coexist; in particular, designing buildings for their usefulness does not have to diminish their aesthetic attractiveness {‘Function and Tradition in Architecture’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 30]}.

147. Why should doctors have, and firmly follow, some few relatively simple and general moral principles?     [Top]
The most general reason why doctors should have and firmly follow some few relatively simple and non-specific moral principles which they have reflectively decided upon is that by doing so they are most likely in almost all cases to make the morally right decisions. This general reason is backed up by considerations such as the avoidance of special pleading, the benefits of simplicity over complexity in routine tasks, the lack of time to think things through in emergency situations, the inability to think sufficiently clearly in stressful situations, and so on {‘Moral Problems about the Control of Behaviour’: [Essays on Bioethics: 54]; ‘The ethics of medical involvement in torture: commentary’: 140; ‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 22]; ‘Medical Ethics: Can the Moral Philosopher Help?’: [Essays on Bioethics: 13]; ‘Drugs and the Role of the Doctor’: 92}.

148. What duties do doctors have as doctors?     [Top]
Doctors should balance and further their own patients’ interests in survival and in freedom from pain and disability. Two points should be noted: this universal prescription for doctors is probably too simple and in need of amendment (e.g., allowing for it to be overridden in some cases); it only concerns doctors as doctors rather than, say, doctors as citizens {‘Drugs and the Role of the Doctor’: 91-2}.

149. Does accepting universal prescriptivism also require accepting an intolerant attitude?     [Top]
No. One can be a universal prescriptivist and still be a person who is tolerant of others’ views that differ from one’s own. Although universal prescriptivism is not a relativist doctrine, it makes room for tolerance by inviting those who disagree among themselves to use the method of moral reasoning that universal prescriptivism advocates. This method invites discussion rather than suppression by asking people to be cognizant of the facts – including facts about the preferences of other people – and to make use of such facts when putting oneself into the position of the other {Freedom and Reason: 49-50, 177-85}.

150. Does utilitarianism support a transition from capitalism to socialism?     [Top]
Probably not. There are many empirical factors to consider when deciding whether a transition from one kind of society to another would be for the best. One must consider, for example, whether the transition is to be revolutionary or evolutionary, peaceful or violent, gradual or abrupt, disruptive or merely unsettling, and so on. And one must consider not only the short-term effects of the events occurring during transition but also the effects after the dust has settled and then the on-going effects of the resulting society. In the case of a transition from capitalism to socialism, perhaps the main consideration arguing against it is that socialism typically brings with it greater inequalities in power even as inequalities in wealth may diminish {‘Justice and Equality’: 126-8}.

151. Why is skin color not morally relevant?     [Top]
The moral irrelevance of skin color can be seen by considering a bilateral case between a white woman (WW) and a black woman (BW), in which the white woman wants, only because of the difference in skin color, to do something to the black woman which the latter very much does not want done to her. If the white woman then universally prescribes as she (WW) wants, and so is appealing to a racist moral principle, then WW would acquire in imagination the desires of BW, and their very strong intensity, so that WW would be prescribing actions that would not satisfy WW’s newly acquired strong desires but would only satisfy WW’s desires of weaker intensity. So WW ought not to do the prescribed actions; and since the prescription distinguished itself by making skin color the morally relevant factor, this attribution of moral relevance to skin color must be the mistake that led to prescribing what ought not to be prescribed; thus skin color is not morally relevant {‘Relevance’: 76, 88-9; Freedom and Reason: 222}.

152. Are control groups used in medical experiments unfair to the participants?     [Top]
In the real world, there is little chance of unfairness in using control groups for conducting medical experiments. This is so for two reasons. First, there are usually both advantages (e.g., exposed to less risk) and disadvantages (e.g., denied a possibly beneficial treatment) involved in control group participation. Second, either participants themselves or their proxies will know that a control group is being used in the experiment and that they or their charges may be placed in the control group; if the possibility of such placement is unacceptable, they can refuse consent {‘Little Human Guinea-Pigs?’: 90}.

153. Can a person be harmed by being prevented from existing?     [Top]
Yes. There is a sense in which a person can be harmed by being prevented from existing. Such a person can be harmed in the sense of being denied or deprived of enjoyable experiences which she would have had if she had not been prevented from existing. But there are also senses in which such a person cannot be harmed by being prevented from existing; these senses include being harmed now (when the person does not exist) and being harmed by being deprived of something by its being taken away from the person {‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 221; ‘The Abnormal Child: Moral Dilemmas of Doctors and Parents’: [Essays on Bioethics: 190]}.

154. Should medical experimentation on children be allowed?     [Top]
Yes. Just as we allow normal adults to consent to being experimental subjects, because such people generally know best what is in their own interests, parents and guardians of children, for the analogous reason that they generally know best what is in the interests of the children, should be allowed to give carefully monitored proxy consent for their children to become subjects of medical experiments {‘The Ethics of Clinical Experimentation on Human Children’: 687; ‘Little Human Guinea-Pigs?’: 88; ‘Health’: [Essays on Bioethics: 48-9]}.

155. In what does the wrongness of abortion consist?     [Top]
Abortion is prima facie morally wrong in that it stops a person from coming into existence. That is the main wrongness. If fetuses can suffer (e.g., feel pain), then that would be an additional wrongness. Because this wrongness is prima facie it can be overridden by other reasons such as that the fetus will not have an enjoyable life (e.g., because of severe deformities) and its termination through abortion would enable the mother later to birth a child who will have an enjoyable life. Identifying such overriding reasons typically requires that one do some critical moral thinking {Moral Thinking: 50-2; ‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 205, 221; ‘The Abnormal Child: Moral Dilemmas of Doctors and Parents’: [Essays on Bioethics: 187-9]}.

156. Who should sit on ethics committees?     [Top]
There should probably be a mixture of people – experts as well as knowledgeable laypersons – who are permanent or temporary members of ethics committees: doctors, lawyers, philosophers, clergy, theologians {‘Little Human Guinea-Pigs?’: 89}.

157. Does the non-identifiability of potential people impair their moral status?     [Top]
The question is improper, for potential people can be identified. Although they cannot be identified in the sense of anyone who is now existing, they can be identified in the sense of a reference by description (e.g., the first person to walk on Mars) {‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 220}.

158. Can hypothetical acts or omissions be condemned?     [Top]
Yes for both. As an example of the condemnation of a hypothetical act consider: ‘It would have been wrong for Nixon to stay in office’ or ‘It would have been wrong for Obama to run for a third term in office’. As for hypothetical omissions, they can be meaningfully condemned insofar as it is meaningful to commend the corresponding act; thus, if ‘Obama did right to obey the law on term limits’ is meaningful, then so is ‘Obama would have done wrong not to obey the law on term limits’ {‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 219-20}.

159. Is there a moral difference between acts and omissions?     [Top]
At the critical level of moral thinking, there is no moral difference between acts and omissions (e.g., killing and letting die). The intuitive level of moral thinking, however, might make a moral distinction between acts and omissions. There are several reasons for this different treatment at the two levels.

  • The distinction has appeal, for reasons of simplicity and discernment, for the ordinary human operating at the intuitive level.
  • The distinction, though itself not significant, might map onto other important distinctions that are recognized by critical thinking.
  • The optimific set of prima facie moral principles, which are those used at the intuitive level only, may be a set whose principles incorporate the distinction; for, given the way the world actually is, most cases of killing differ from most cases of letting die in ways that make the former morally wrong.

Because it is up to critical moral thinking to select the principles that ought to be used at the intuitive level, it will be critical thinking that decides whether there is to be a moral distinction at the intuitive level between acts and omissions {‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 215-6; ‘Reasons of State’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 12]}.

160. To what kind of population policy does the method of universal prescriptivism lead?     [Top]
The method of moral reasoning – putting oneself in others’ shoes with their preferences – leads to a population policy identical to that recommended by classical or total utilitarianism. Classical utilitarianism acknowledges the realities of diminishing marginal utility and increasing marginal disutility and thus realizes that there will come a point at which adding another person to the population will begin to lower total utility. More concretely, in transitioning in the real world to higher population levels, a point will be reached when a sufficiently large number of people have lives not worth living, and so will either commit suicide, rebel, or be forced into slavery, thus creating disutilities that cancel out the utility that their existence added to the total. So this method of moral reasoning does not lead to a population policy of unlimited growth and does indeed put a limit on population level, although higher than the level to which average utilitarianism leads {‘Preferences of Possible People’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 129]; ‘Possible People’: [Essays on Bioethics: 70, 79]; ‘Moral Reasoning about the Environment’: [Essays on Political Morality: 238-9]; ‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 218; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 117}.

161. Why does the abortion issue call for critical-level moral thinking?     [Top]
The abortion issue calls for critical-level moral thinking rather than intuitive-level moral thinking because our intuitions about abortion conflict and because intuitions, being the result of our upbringings, are of very suspect epistemological value. So, in the effort to answer the abortion question, making appeals to the moral intuitions we have is pointless, and the discussion consequently needs to be elevated to critical moral thinking {‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 201-2, 214-5}.

162. How is putting ourselves in the other’s place with the other’s preferences, as universal prescriptivism’s method of moral reasoning recommends, supposed to work when the other (e.g., a very young fetus or zygote) probably has no preferences?     [Top]
The Golden Rule type of moral reasoning that universal prescriptivism leads to still works in cases in which the other does not currently have preferences, no point of view. In such cases, it must be asked whether the creature will have preferences in the future. If it will have future preferences, the point of view of a typical grown person, then we must according to the Golden Rule method fully represent those future preferences to ourselves and thus will now (at the time of the full representation) acquire replicas of those future preferences. It is then these replicas that the method works with. A less technical way of putting the point is that it matters to each of us now (as typical adults glad to be living our lives) that we were not killed as embryos and so we must, in line with universalizability, equally consider in similar cases the future preferences of the adults that present embryos will probably become {‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 68]; ‘Embryo Experimentation: Public Policy in a Pluralist Society’: [Essays on Bioethics: 128]; ‘A Kantian Approach to Abortion’: [Essays on Bioethics: 178, 183-4]; Moral Thinking: 95, 100-1}.

163. Does the extended Golden Rule still work if I am not glad that I was born?     [Top]
Yes. The extended Golden Rule is that we ought to do to others as we are glad they did do to us. It can be rephrased like so: ‘we ought to do to others as we can wish, for those who would be glad, they (i.e., the others) did do to us’. In other words, we who are not glad about what was done to us can still wish that what was done to us be done to those people who would be glad about it being done to them. The rephrasing is justified because even those who are not glad can still wish that, for people who would be glad, that be done to them which makes them glad {‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 209}.

Descriptivism

164. In what way does descriptivism get truth about moral statements wrong?     [Top]
Descriptivists focus on a view of truth as the satisfaction of truth conditions. But this is only one of the functions that ‘true’ plays in natural languages such as English. Because descriptivists ignore these other functions, such as the endorsing function, and rely instead on truth conditions, which are culturally relative, descriptivism degrades into relativism {‘Objective Prescriptions’: 30; ‘Imperatives, Prescriptions, and their Logic’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 50-1, 53]}.

165. Given that naturalism and intuitionism are both kinds of descriptivist theory, what makes them different?     [Top]
There are two main kinds of descriptivism: naturalism and intuitionism. They both claim that moral judgments are purely fact-stating. What makes these two descriptivist theories different is how they see the relation between an action’s descriptive properties and its moral properties. The naturalist takes the relation to be analytic, taking the moral words to mean something factual (but not really morally neutral as naturalism requires), to be defined in terms of the descriptive properties, so that moral facts are indirectly ascertainable; for example, ‘wrong’ might be taken to mean ‘such as to endanger the State’. The intuitionist takes the relation between kinds of properties to be synthetic, necessary, and non-empirical, known by a special faculty of intuition, so that moral facts are directly ascertainable. In other words, naturalists take the truth conditions of moral judgments to be natural properties explained wholly by non-moral terms while the intuitionist takes the truth conditions to be non-natural properties explainable only in moral terms {Sorting Out Ethics: 63-4, 67-8, 127; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 181-2]; ‘Why Moral Language?’: 84; ‘How to Decide Moral Questions Rationally’: 64-5; Moral Thinking: 77-8; ‘Platonism in Moral Education: Two Varieties’: 570; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 111]; Freedom and Reason: 86-7; ‘Nothing Matters’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 40]; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 46]}.

166. What is descriptivism?     [Top]
Descriptivism is the thesis that meaning, not counting any meaning contributed by formal or syntactical features such as mood-signs indicating illocutionary force, determines truth conditions or application conditions and vice-versa. In other words, there are descriptive meaning-rules that tell us under what conditions words can appropriately be applied and the reasons why and vice-versa. For example, a descriptivist account of ‘lawful government’ says that there are criteria for the application of ‘lawful’ to ‘government’ such that, for any government which satisfies those criteria, it can properly be said to be a lawful government. For (strong) descriptivism, the two main kinds of which in ethics are naturalism and intuitionism, the only kind of meaning the moral words have is descriptive meaning {Sorting Out Ethics: 51, 54-5; ‘Imperatives, Prescriptions, and their Logic’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 50-1]; ‘A Reductio Ad Absurdum of Descriptivism’: 122-4; ‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 96]; Plato: 62, 65; Moral Thinking: 218; ‘Some Confusions about Subjectivity’: 196; ‘The Lawful Government’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 91]; Freedom and Reason: 17}.

167. In what way have ‘desires’ and ‘needs’ misled descriptivists?     [Top]
Descriptivists have been misled by ‘desires’ and ‘needs’ into making logical connections where there are none. In particular, they have been misled into making logical connections between things and between things and words; but there are only logical connections between words and other words. The descriptivists have been tricked by the sporadic logical connections that do obtain between ‘good’ and ‘needs’ and ‘desires’ and by the classification of some things as needs and some things as desired. Having thus been tricked, descriptivists come to believe that there are logical connections between ‘good’ and things needed and things desired, and this belief then leads to their typical mistakes in the definition of moral terms {Hare and Critics: 214; ‘Descriptivism’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 72-3]}.

168. What is the mistake that naturalist theories make?     [Top]
Naturalist – and in general descriptivist – theories of ethics leave out the prescriptive element of moral judgments; naturalists claim that words only have descriptive meaning, and they try to define or explain words using only non-moral language. For example, it is because ‘good’ is almost never defined naturalistically that it can be used to commend. In general, words which have commendation as their distinctive function cannot be adequately analyzed semantically in purely factual terms. Naturalist theories leave out the prescriptive element because they try to make moral judgments derivable from statements of fact. It is important to note that this mistake is committed by metaethical naturalism concerned to define moral terms in non-moral terms; it is not necessarily committed by a normative naturalism according to which all right acts are right because they have certain natural properties {‘A Reductio Ad Absurdum of Descriptivism’: 122; ‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 5-6; Freedom and Reason: 21-2; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 45]; The Language of Morals: 30, 82, 89, 171}.

169. What is old-fashioned subjectivism?     [Top]
Old-fashioned subjectivism is a kind of descriptivism which claims that moral judgments can be deduced from statements about the attitudes that people have, that, for instance, thinking something morally correct makes it morally correct. In particular, old-fashioned subjectivism is a descriptivism that is a naturalism sub-species that is in some (typically unacknowledged) ways very similar to intuitionism. The absurd thesis – a thesis about the meaning of moral words and not about the existence of properties – of this naturalism sub-species is that moral judgments are reports of subjective properties such as psychological states (e.g., states of approval or disapproval). It is therefore not equivalent to C. L. Stevenson’s emotivism or J. L. Mackie’s brand of subjectivism. It is, however, refuted by its inability to account for moral disagreement. It is similar to intuitionism in that both base ethics on subjective feelings, though – and this is the main difference between them – intuitionism does not recognize that they are subjective {‘Philippa Foot on Subjectivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 89-90]; Sorting Out Ethics: 66, 90, 92-5; ‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 90]; Hare and Critics: 256; Moral Thinking: 76-8, 85; ‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 623-4; Freedom and Reason: 199; ‘Nothing Matters’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 43]; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 48]}.

170. Why is universal prescriptivism not a kind of descriptivism, naturalism in particular?     [Top]
There are several ways to see that universal prescriptivism is not a kind of naturalism.

  • Universal prescriptivism, unlike descriptivism, does not leave prescriptivity out of its account of moral judgment {The Language of Morals: 82}.
  • Universal prescriptivism recognizes that the amoralist, who accepts all the relevant facts and makes no mistakes in logic, has a logically consistent position, but universal prescriptivism rejects amoralism for prudential reasons {‘Do Agents Have to be Moralists?’: 57; Hare and Critics: 213; Moral Thinking: 184, 186-7, 218-9, 228}.
  • It is important to remember that there is a difference between a person’s desire and the fact that she has the desire, between a prescription and the fact that someone has assented to a prescription, and the latter do not entail the former {Hare and Critics: 213; Moral Thinking: 220; ‘Contrasting Methods of Environmental Planning’: [Essays on Political Morality: 230]; ‘Wrongness and Harm’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 100, 104]; ‘Wanting: Some Pitfalls’: [Practical Inferences: 57-8]; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 106]}.
  • Universal prescriptivism does not argue from facts to prescriptions, for included among the facts is a prescriptive element: the prescriptivity of ‘I’ whereby in indentifying with others I prescribe (not state) that the others’ preferences be satisfied {Moral Thinking: 222}.
  • Universal prescriptivism leaves us free to prefer what we prefer, subject to the reduction in freedom required by universalizability {Moral Thinking: 225-6}.
  • The foundation (i.e., the logic of the moral concepts) of universal prescriptivism is content-neutral and formal; but naturalism’s foundation is neither content-neutral nor formal {Freedom and Reason: 88, 97, 195, 200}.
  • In claiming that moral judgments can be reached only using non-moral facts and logic, naturalism leaves out the additional necessary component of volition or willing which is used, in universal prescriptivism, in accepting or rejecting singular prescriptions {Freedom and Reason: 198}.
  • Universal prescriptivism does not take moral words or expressions to mean the same thing as non-moral words or expressions {Sorting Out Ethics: 78}.

So although universal prescriptivism gets to the truth or rightness of moral principles via the meanings of the moral words and through inclusion of facts about preferences, it is not a naturalism and not a descriptivism {Sorting Out Ethics: 78; Hare and Critics: 213; Moral Thinking: 218-28; ‘Value Education in a Pluralist Society: A Philosophical Glance at the Humanities Curriculum Project’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 149-50]; Freedom and Reason: 187-202}.

171. Why can a description alone not be a commendation?     [Top]
A description alone, if its words are evaluatively neutral, has no evaluative meaning and so cannot commend. It is possible, however, to make it appear as if it alone commends, if there are prevailing standards of value that are embedded in background assumptions used in arriving at the commendation. Once this background information comes to the fore, it becomes clear that the commendation is something in addition to the description {‘Descriptivism’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 61-2]; Freedom and Reason: 187-191}.

172. What is the fallacy or mistake that descriptivism makes?     [Top]
The error that descriptivism makes is that it supposes all words behave like ‘red’ or ‘rectangular’ do. And the fallacy is then to conclude from this mistaken supposition that all there is to knowing the meaning of the moral words is to know to what they may or may not be applied, to know their application conditions. That this is indeed a mistake is shown by the counterexample of inconsistent imperatives; their meaning can be the same even while their application conditions differ {‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 19]; Sorting Out Ethics: 48, 67, 71-3; ‘A Reductio Ad Absurdum of Descriptivism’: 124; ‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 90-1]; ‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 2; Moral Thinking: 67; ‘Platonism in Moral Education: Two Varieties’: 570-1; ‘Descriptivism’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 55]}.

173. Is ‘naturalism’ the name of a common mistake?     [Top]
Yes. ‘Naturalism’ is the name of the mistake of thinking that if a moral judgment cannot be derived from a fact, whether or not other factual premises are included in the argument, then the fact cannot be a reason for the moral judgment. This is a mistake because it is possible for the moral judgment to be derived from the fact in conjunction with a substantial moral premise and perhaps other non-moral premises, too {Moral Thinking: 217-8; ‘Broad’s Approach to Moral Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 4]; The Language of Morals: 82}.

174. What is the essence of naturalism?     [Top]
The core of the naturalist doctrine is the claim that understanding the meaning of a moral word does not allow the denial of certain moral assertions. For example, the naturalist might say that if you understand the meaning of ‘courageous’ then you cannot deny that an action of a certain description is a courageous and morally commendable action. This impossibility of denial results from the naturalist making moral judgments mean the same as (non-moral) factual statements, thus ignoring the prescriptive element in the meaning of moral judgments {‘How to Decide Moral Questions Rationally’: 64; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 103]; Freedom and Reason: 187; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 44]}.

175. How do descriptivists misuse moral disagreement?     [Top]
Descriptivists claim that the descriptive meaning of the moral words – the only meaning they have, according to descriptivists – used in moral judgments determines without doubt (as long as the facts are undisputed) the rightness or wrongness of the judgments. If this claim were true, then, since one party in a moral disagreement must be wrong, there would have to be a pre-existing and pre-determined principle or rule that determines which party is wrong. But it is never the case that the principle adopted in order to determine rightness or wrongness is fixed ahead of time, antecedently; there is always a decision to be made based on some moral thinking {‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 636-7; ‘Some Confusions About Subjectivity’: 206-7; ‘Platonism in Moral Education: Two Varieties’: 571; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 113-4]; Freedom and Reason: 37-8}.

176. What is the most fundamental objection to naturalism?     [Top]
The most fundamental objection to naturalism is that it commits the error of making moral issues rely on conceptual issues, in particular, on the unalterability of a conceptual apparatus or scheme. If a conceptual scheme is fixed and if in it the descriptive meaning of some moral word has got locked in to the word’s evaluative meaning, then the naturalist program according to which our use of words with certain descriptive meanings requires that we make certain moral evaluations looks promising. But it is not the case that conceptual schemes are fixed; instead, they are alterable, and we are free to stop using words, or using them with the same meanings, if our attitudes change {Freedom and Reason: 187-91}.

177. Why is the philosophical problem of ‘ought’ implying ‘can’ presumptive evidence against descriptivism?     [Top]
If ‘ought’ were purely descriptive as descriptivists maintain, then the question of ‘ought’ implying ‘can’ would not arise and there would consequently be no associated philosophical problem. But the problem does exist, and so descriptivism is presumptively a mistaken view of moral language {Freedom and Reason: 67-8}.

178. Why are descriptivist theories of no use in resolving controversial moral issues?     [Top]
Descriptivist theories such as naturalism and intuitionism are useless when it comes to controversial moral issues because such theories claim there are some moral judgments that are analytically true or, if Quineans, at least entrenched in our web of belief, or are in some way obviously or intuitively correct. But if the issue is a controversial one, then the very point of contention will be the status of such moral judgments, whether they be claimed analytic or intuitively self-evident or merely entrenched. What is needed, and not provided by descriptivist theories, is a method of moral reasoning, such as that provided by universal prescriptivism, which can be used to break through the impasse {‘Why Moral Language?’: 82}.

179. Can a naturalist be a particularist?     [Top]
No. It is impossible for a moral naturalist to be a particularist, for such a naturalist holds that moral properties are dependent on non-moral properties. This dependence requires that a moral judgment made about one situation would also have to be made about any situation exactly like, in their non-moral properties, the original situation; and this requirement amounts to universalism rather than particularism {‘Wrongness and Harm’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 97, 100]; Freedom and Reason: 20}.

180. What – in the widest sense – is a naturalistic definition?     [Top]
A naturalistic definition, in its widest sense, is a definition that gives the criteria for the proper application of the expression. For the moral words, this kind of definition is a mistake because it has the effect of building substantial moral opinions into the definitions of the moral words {‘Platonism in Moral Education: Two Varieties’: 572; ‘The Argument from Received Opinion’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 123]}.

181. Can the descriptivist thesis be given different strengths?     [Top]
Yes. Although universal prescriptivism generally treats descriptivism as the thesis that the meaning which the moral words have is only descriptive meaning, this can actually be seen as a strong version of the thesis. It is also possible to formulate a weak descriptivism according to which the meaning the moral words have is not exclusively descriptive meaning; thus universal prescriptivism, in holding that the moral words have both descriptive and prescriptive meaning, can also be taken as a kind of weak descriptivism, though it is better not to do so in order to avoid confusion {‘Universal Prescriptivism’: 452; Freedom and Reason: 17}.

182. What is ethical descriptivism?     [Top]
Ethical descriptivism, one kind of descriptivism, is the meta-ethical theory that moral judgments are purely descriptive and state facts. The ‘purely’ means that the judgment only has descriptive meaning; the descriptive meaning is its whole meaning (apart from any meaning contributed by syntactical features), and there is no evaluative or prescriptive element to its meaning. Saying that it is ‘descriptive’ indicates that the judgment’s truth or application conditions and meaning reciprocally imply each other; they are so closely tied to each other that changing one changes the other. Putting the two together, a purely descriptive judgment is one which has meaning if and only if it has truth conditions, and the truth conditions are all there is to the meaning (apart, again, from any meaning contributed by syntactical features). In other words, according to ethical descriptivism, to know fully the meaning of a moral predicate such as ‘good’ is nothing more than to know to what objects one may correctly apply the predicate, as with words like ‘red’ or ‘rectangular’. Examples of ethical descriptivist theories include naturalism and intuitionism. Ethical non-descriptivism (which aligns terminology-wise with what others, for example Simon Blackburn, call anti-realism) is the opposite of ethical descriptivism, and it claims that moral judgments are not purely or wholly descriptive and do not merely state facts, and that there is more to the meaning of moral predicates than simply knowing the criteria of their application. Examples of ethical non-descriptivist theories include emotivism and universal prescriptivism {‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 19]; Sorting Out Ethics: 51, 54-5; ‘Philosophy and Conflict’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 60-1]; ‘Imperatives, Prescriptions, and their Logic’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 50-1]; ‘A New Kind of Ethical Naturalism?’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 70]; ‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 96]; ‘Supervenience’: 7; ‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 309; Moral Thinking: 212; ‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 623-6; ‘Some Confusions About Subjectivity’: 196; ‘Platonism in Moral Education: Two Varieties’: 570; ‘Descriptivism’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 55]}.

183. How does descriptivism lead to relativism?     [Top]
Descriptivism leads to relativism through the interplay of two factors. First, descriptivists (e.g., W. D. Ross) take the meaning of moral predicates to be exhausted by their descriptive meaning, that is, by the criteria for the correct application (i.e., by the truth conditions) of the moral predicates to objects or actions. Second, the ‘correct application’ will be dependent on how a given society uses the moral predicates, on what criteria and standards the society’s language users employ in deciding whether to apply the word or not apply it in particular cases; for, having neither a neutral nor non-circular way of ascertaining the correctness of their definitions or intuitions, they have no choice but to fall back on the morals prevalent in their culture {‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 25]; Sorting Out Ethics: 65, 68-9, 79, 88-9; ‘Imperatives, Prescriptions, and their Logic’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 53]; ‘Philosophy and Conflict’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 61-4]; ‘Philippa Foot on Subjectivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 89]; ‘How to Decide Moral Questions Rationally’: 66-71; ‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 90-1]; ‘Platonism in Moral Education: Two Varieties’: 572; ‘Geach: Good and Evil’: 106; Freedom and Reason: 17}.

184. Why is it important to note the difference between understanding what someone says and understanding why she says it?     [Top]
There are several reasons why it is important to note the difference between understanding what someone says and understanding why she says it.

  • Ignoring the difference can lead us to think that features of situations that may be morally relevant are morally irrelevant; observing the difference can help us keep an open mind and so not dismiss out of hand features that might seem strange to us at first.
  • The difference makes it clear how there can be rational discussion between people who initially share no values, for we might understand what others say by sharing with them an understanding of evaluative meaning even while not understanding why they say it insofar as we do not have their values and thus do not give our words the same descriptive meaning.

{‘Philosophy and Conflict’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 65-6]; ‘A Reductio Ad Absurdum of Descriptivism’: 129; ‘Relevance’: 74}.

185. Why can descriptivists not establish truth conditions for moral judgments?     [Top]
Descriptivists are unable to establish truth conditions for moral judgments because they leave prescriptivity out of the account. Prescriptivity is an essential element in the reasoning that leads to the establishment of truth conditions for moral judgments; for it is that reasoning which yields substantial moral rules or principles that are the link between moral and non-moral properties, and these latter properties are those referred to in descriptive meanings. Also, because descriptivists make the descriptive meaning the whole meaning of moral terms, and descriptive meaning varies, descriptivists cannot isolate one set of truth conditions among all the variations {‘A Philosophical Autobiography’: 304; Sorting Out Ethics: 83, 138; ‘Imperatives, Prescriptions, and their Logic’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 54]; Freedom and Reason: 22}.

186. According to descriptivism, what must moral disagreements be about?     [Top]
If descriptivism is assumed, then moral disagreement can only be about either the criteria for the application (i.e., the descriptive meaning) of the moral words or about the facts. Descriptivism leaves no room for a third original – one that is independent of the other two – source of disagreement: disagreement in evaluation (i.e., the prescriptive meaning) {Sorting Out Ethics: 38-9; ‘Platonism in Moral Education: Two Varieties’: 571; Freedom and Reason: 28-9; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 42-3]; ‘Broad’s Approach to Moral Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 15]}.

187. If descriptivism were true, could people who initially shared no values communicate?     [Top]
If descriptivism were true, people who initially shared no values could not engage in a rational discussion to resolve their moral dispute; for values determine descriptive meaning, and descriptivism holds that words only have descriptive meaning, and so the disputants could have no shared meaning for their words. By contrast, a non-descriptivism such as universal prescriptivism allows that people who initially shared no values could indeed engage in a rational discussion to resolve their moral dispute; it allows this rational route to resolution through a common prescriptive meaning that primary evaluative words can have in addition to a possibly unshared descriptive meaning {‘A New Kind of Ethical Naturalism?’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 85]; Sorting Out Ethics: 121; ‘Philosophy and Conflict’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 65-6]; ‘A Reductio Ad Absurdum of Descriptivism’: 122, 131}.

188. What are the main ways descriptivists have of fixing truth conditions?     [Top]
There are two main ways in which descriptivists fix truth conditions:

  • They become intuitionists and rely on moral intuitions, which can and do vary between cultures.
  • They become naturalists and either
    • analytically define moral terms exclusively by their descriptive meanings, which are also culturally relative or
    • metaphysically link moral and non-moral properties, which link remains mysterious.

So, even if they can manage to fix truth conditions, the descriptivists’ intuitionism or naturalism collapses into relativism or remains mysterious {Sorting Out Ethics: 82-3, 89, 127; ‘Imperatives, Prescriptions, and their Logic’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 53-4]; Freedom and Reason: 21-2}.

189. What is the descriptivist take on ‘good person’?     [Top]
The descriptivist would fully explicate ‘good person’ by simply listing the characteristics that a person needs to have in order for ‘good’ to be properly applied to the person. Through this descriptivist explication we learn the content of moral goodness. In contrast, the prescriptivist account would emphasize the logical properties (e.g., universalizability, prescriptivity) of ‘good person’, thus giving a formal account while not necessarily denying all that the descriptivist has said – in fact only denying that the descriptivist has given a complete explication {Sorting Out Ethics: 52-4; ‘Platonism in Moral Education: Two Varieties’: 569}.

190. Why is descriptivism absurd?     [Top]
Descriptivism leads to the relativistic thesis that all or many words are culture-bound so that people from different cultures cannot communicate with each other. Then, since they cannot communicate, they cannot peacefully resolve their disputes and so have to resort to violence. But this result is absurd, for not all inter-cultural disputes are settled by violence. If disputants use primary (rather than secondary) value-words in order to talk about their differences, then there is actually a good chance that disputes will be resolved peacefully {‘A Reductio Ad Absurdum of Descriptivism’: 118-9, 121, 132}.

191. What failure in distinction leads to descriptivism?     [Top]
The failure to distinguish meaning and criteria is what leads to descriptivism. If, that is, one thinks that the application-conditions for a term exhaust its meaning, then one will come to think that the descriptive meaning of a term is the only meaning that it has {Plato: 65}.

192. Under what conditions might descriptivism be an adequate moral theory?     [Top]
If we were intuitive-level proles who had guardian archangels guiding our every move, then some kind of descriptivism might be an adequate moral theory because questions of prescriptivity could then arise only in theory, not in practice {‘Moral Conflicts’: 191-2}.

193. In what way do descriptivists have things backwards?     [Top]
Descriptivists, because they hold that moral judgments and principles have only descriptive meaning, believe that moral principles are given to us, dictated to us, either by our (descriptive) language or by the moral facts as allegedly revealed to us in our intuitions or by our dispositions. But in believing this the descriptivists get things the wrong way around. It is the moral principles which we choose, through autonomous moral reasoning, to adopt or accept that determine what acts we can call right or wrong or what we are to experience as moral facts {Moral Thinking: 153; ‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 637}.

194. What typically motivates someone to become a descriptivist or a realist?     [Top]
People who become descriptivists or realists are typically urged on by a desire for rationality; this desire then spawns a desire for objectivity and an aversion to relativism, which, it is then thought, can only be secured by descriptivism {Sorting Out Ethics: 65, 101; ‘A Reductio Ad Absurdum of Descriptivism’: 118; ‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 92]}.

195. Why is it a mistake to fixate on objectivism?     [Top]
Objectivism, which claims that moral judgments only state facts independent of people’s subjective states (e.g., attitudes), tends to lead to a misunderstanding of morality. It leads, for example, some people, who think that they have got hold of some objective moral truths, to feel that they are superior to others who then come to resent the censorious people. Objectivism also can lead people to believe that they themselves do not need to do their own moral thinking and to make their own moral decisions, for it sets morality up as something apart from us which we just have to take as a given. A further consequence of objectivism is that in setting morality up as apart from us, it alienates us from the reasons for doing what moral precepts tell us to do, thus leading to ‘So what?’ moralities in which the prescriptive backbone of moral language is broken. In this way, objectivism usurps reason in moral thinking, which is what we should really be focusing on instead of fixating on some fantasy in which moral judgments are objective in the sense of being descriptive or factual {‘How did Morality Get a Bad Name?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 92-4]}.

196. What does descriptivism get right and what does it get wrong?     [Top]
Some things that descriptivism gets right include the following.

  • Descriptivists give a perhaps adequate account of the meaning of descriptive statements {‘A Reductio Ad Absurdum of Descriptivism’: 124}.
  • Descriptivists give a partly adequate account of the intuitive level of moral thinking {‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 104-5]}.
  • Descriptivists, especially naturalists, are correct to see that we must look to the meanings of the moral words in order to find canons of moral reasoning {Plato: 66; Moral Thinking: 69; ‘Language and Moral Education’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 155]}.
  • Descriptivists, especially naturalists, are correct to note that moral conventions are similar to linguistic conventions {Moral Thinking: 70}.
  • Descriptivists, especially naturalists, are correct to think that the moral words do have descriptive meaning, application conditions, and hence truth conditions {Sorting Out Ethics: 138; Moral Thinking: 71; Freedom and Reason: 21}.
  • Descriptivists, especially naturalists, are correct to imply that universalizability is due to descriptive meaning {Freedom and Reason: 21}.
  • Descriptivists, especially naturalists, are correct to hold that even general words such as ‘good’ that are usually primarily evaluative can be used descriptively or conventionally {Freedom and Reason: 190}.
  • Descriptivists, especially some non-naturalists, are correct in holding that moral properties or concepts are sui generis {Freedom and Reason: 202}.

Some things that descriptivism gets wrong include the following.

  • Descriptivists try to cram all kinds of speech act under the same descriptivist account of meaning even though some of them (e.g. imperatives) will not fit {‘A Reductio Ad Absurdum of Descriptivism’: 124}.
  • Descriptivists, especially naturalists, confuse moral conventions with linguistic conventions, making moral reform impossible because there would be no verbal agreement between the reformers and the conventionalists {Sorting Out Ethics: 68; Moral Thinking: 69}.
  • Descriptivists leave prescriptive meaning out of their account of the moral words, thus leading to a ‘so what?’ morality {Sorting Out Ethics: 119; Moral Thinking: 71-2; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 113]; The Language of Morals: 30}.
  • Descriptivists fail to notice that people can use moral words such as ‘wrong’ in the same sense and yet disagree about what properties of actions make the actions wrong {Moral Thinking: 70}.
  • Descriptivists erroneously think that the meaning of a word is wholly fixed by the descriptive criteria used for applying the word {Moral Thinking: 70}.
  • Descriptivists mistakenly think that the meaning of a word cannot be known prior to knowing to what objects the word applies {Moral Thinking: 70}.
  • Descriptivists, especially intuitionists, tend to objectify subjective properties of acts, as if our felt responses to certain acts were objective qualities in the acts themselves {Moral Thinking: 72}.
  • Descriptivists frequently hold ontological views according to which there are in actions inherently motivating properties {Moral Thinking: 72}.
  • Descriptivists view descriptive and prescriptive meaning as inseparable {Moral Thinking: 73-4}.
  • Descriptivists, especially intuitionists, take the moral words to behave just like the non-moral words {Moral Thinking: 75}.
  • Descriptivists, especially naturalists, place both form and content restrictions on what can count as a moral judgment {‘Why Moral Language?’: 84}.
  • Descriptivists, especially naturalists, think that our merely using a word with a specific descriptive meaning commits us to making certain moral evaluations {Freedom and Reason: 190, 198}.
  • Descriptivists, especially naturalists, leave volition out of their account of moral judgment {Freedom and Reason: 198}.
  • Descriptivists, especially naturalists, build substantial moral content into their concepts by verbal legislation, which are thus neither content-neutral nor formal {Sorting Out Ethics: 68, 138; Freedom and Reason: 195, 200}.
  • Descriptivists, especially some non-naturalists, are correct to hold that moral properties or concepts do not vary independently of non-moral properties but rather supervene on them {Freedom and Reason: 19}.

In general, descriptivism gives a tolerable account of the intuitive level of moral thinking or of the moral concepts found at that level, but only from the perspective of someone whose thinking is limited to the intuitive level {Moral Thinking: 68-9; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 188}.

197. Is universal prescriptivism a more complex theory than other meta-ethical theories such as descriptivism?     [Top]
Yes. Universal prescriptivism is a complex theory and a non-descriptivist theory. One of the reasons why it is complex is that it gives an account of both descriptive and prescriptive meaning, unlike descriptivist theories which ignore prescriptive or evaluative meaning and are therefore incomplete and hence inadequate. Universal prescriptivism is also more complex because it additionally gives a meta-ethical argument for a theory of moral reasoning {‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 309, 313; Moral Thinking: 82; ‘A Reductio Ad Absurdum of Descriptivism’: 121; ‘Principles’: 15}.

198. Is universal prescriptivism a totally non-descriptivist theory?     [Top]
No. Universal prescriptivism is not totally non-descriptivist because it maintains that moral judgments and words do have some descriptive meaning. Universal prescriptivism is more like a hybrid theory in which the moral words have both descriptive and prescriptive meaning {Sorting Out Ethics: 11; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 177]; ‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 95]; Moral Thinking: 223; Freedom and Reason: 14}.

199. What is the crucial difference between a descriptivist and a non-descriptivist?     [Top]
The crucial difference between a descriptivist and a non-descriptivist is that only the latter thinks there is evaluative or prescriptive meaning. So the descriptivist thinks that if a change in descriptive meaning (thus a change in truth conditions or semantics) occurs, then the whole meaning of a moral judgment or statement also occurs; the non-descriptivist, in contrast, thinks that the whole meaning need not change because there might be constant evaluative meaning present in the moral statement {Sorting Out Ethics: 52}.

Epistemology

200. Are moral facts needed?     [Top]
No. Strictly speaking, there are no facts at all that are spatially positioned in the world, because there are only things. But setting that point aside, there is no need for moral facts as opposed to ordinary facts. The method of moral thinking endorsed by universal prescriptivism, by relying only on ordinary, non-moral properties (or facts in the sense of statements about such properties) of actions and on logic in order to secure the agreement of rational thinkers on moral matters, makes it clear that moral facts are not needed {Sorting Out Ethics: 7; ‘Objective Prescriptions’: 18; ‘Philosophy and Conflict’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 64]; ‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 107]; ‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 88]; Moral Thinking: 216-8; ‘Philosophical Discoveries’: 159}.

201. Are there any self-evident substantive moral principles?     [Top]
No. Although there are analytic and hence self-evident moral principles (e.g., we ought to do our duty), there are no analytic, self-evident substantive (i.e., having content that singles out particular actions to be done or not done) moral principles. That there are none can be clearly seen in the disarray among intuitionists, who claim self-evidence for their intuitions and yet have conflicting intuitions. This non-existence claim holds up even if self-evidence is weakened from the logical impossibility to reject (i.e., the analytic interpretation of ‘self-evident’) to the psychological impossibility to reject or to the rational impossibility of rejecting {‘Arguing about Rights’: [Essays on Political Morality: 109]; ‘Broad’s Approach to Moral Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 16]; The Language of Morals: 41-3}.

202. Why is Cartesianism doomed from the start?     [Top]
Whether in science or morals, a Cartesian foundationalist approach is untenable because there are no self-evident first principles from which conclusions of substance can be deduced; for all deduction is analytic so that the substance in the conclusions would have first to be in the premises, in the first principles. But with the substance put in, the first principles cease to be self-evident and can be denied {‘Foundationalism and Coherentism in Ethics’: 190, 196-8; Hare and Critics: 291-2; ‘Medical Ethics: Can the Moral Philosopher Help?’: [Essays on Bioethics: 3]; The Language of Morals: 32, 38-44}.

203. What is it in moral judgments that can make them true or false?     [Top]
The descriptive meaning element (i.e., truth or application conditions) in moral judgments, which they have in addition to their evaluative meaning element, is what makes them either true or false, verifiable or falsifiable. Especially when descriptive meaning has the upper hand on a moral term used in an intuitive-level principle, we are more likely to view the principle as obviously true {‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 25]; Sorting Out Ethics: 138-9; ‘Some Confusions About Subjectivity’: 196, 202-3; Freedom and Reason: 28; ‘Religion and Morals’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 50]}.

204. How can it plausibly be claimed that the critical level is epistemologically prior to the intuitive level when it is also claimed that intuitive-level principles are not to be questioned?     [Top]
Although the prima facie principles of the intuitive level are to be very firmly held or, as the intuitionists might say, taken as obviously true, this high regard for these principles does not require that they never be questioned or that they be taken as indubitable. The high regard in which the prima facie principles are rightly held in virtue of their justification at the critical level of moral thinking – which explains why the critical level is epistemologically prior to the intuitive level – does typically require, however, that, in those situations in which one most relies on prima facie principles, such as stressful or tempting situations, one not question the principles. In short, the best (general) policy is not to question the prima facie principles {Sorting Out Ethics: 139; Hare and Critics: 212-3; Moral Thinking: 46, 50}.

205. Does universal prescriptivism, or the utilitarianism associated with it, have a foundationalist principle of utility as in classical utilitarianism?     [Top]
No. Although universal prescriptivism is foundationalist in a Kantian (not Cartesian) sense, it is not built on an indubitable supreme principle such as the principle of utility found in classical utilitarianism. Instead, it is built on the logical properties of the moral words. And the utilitarianism associated with universal prescriptivism also does not have a foundationalist principle of utility. Instead, the associated utilitarianism has a method of moral reasoning identified by universal prescriptivism, and this method of moral reasoning is coherentist rather than foundationalist {Sorting Out Ethics: 141; ‘Foundationalism and Coherentism in Ethics’: 197-8; Hare and Critics: 291-2}.

206. Why must we assent to moral prescriptions before truth conditions for moral statements can be established?     [Top]
The truth conditions for moral judgments or statements are given in the descriptive element of the total meaning, descriptive and prescriptive, that moral statements have. The process of supplying content for this descriptive element or meaning is begun when people start, and consistently continue, to use certain expressions to commend, praise, endorse, or to condemn, blame, repudiate, or in other ways to prescribe, behavior exhibiting particular characteristics. By this consistent prescriptive usage, the characteristics become criteria specified in standards for behavior. When these standards are sufficiently firm in society, the society can be said to have adopted certain principles for behavior. It is at this point, and not before, that we can ask for the truth conditions for moral statements; for before this point the principles and the standards to which they refer have not gained a sufficiently firm and widespread foothold in society for the descriptive meaning to be settled. Put somewhat more briefly, because truth conditions are tied to descriptive meaning, and descriptive meaning is only available after society’s adoption of, or assent to, principles and standards, assent must precede any specification of truth conditions for moral statements (all of which always refer to or invoke principles). Even shorter, there is no way around having to reason to decisions as to what standards or principles we ought to use in assessing truth claims {‘A Philosophical Autobiography’: 304; Sorting Out Ethics: 54, 57, 138; ‘Imperatives, Prescriptions, and their Logic’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 50-1]; ‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 636-7; ‘Religion and Morals’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 54-5]}.

207. What is mistaken about the procedure of reflective equilibrium?     [Top]
Reflective equilibrium embodies several mistakes:

  • the convictions, moral intuitions, or considered moral judgments from which it starts have been accepted without argument
  • the convictions, moral intuitions, or considered moral judgments from which it starts may be the result of prejudice
  • the procedure can, depending on the beliefs with which it starts, generate two sets of moral beliefs, inconsistent with each other, yet both of which are in equilibrium

In short, the basic mistake that reflective equilibrium makes is to treat moral intuitions as possessing probative force {Hare and Critics: 291; Moral Thinking: 12, 76; ‘The Argument from Received Opinion’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 122, 125-7]}.

208. Does moral epistemology have a foundationalist or coherentist structure?     [Top]
Moral epistemology has elements of both foundationalism and coherentism. What is foundationalist is the argument for the method of moral reasoning identified by universal prescriptivism. But this foundationalism is not of a Cartesian sort which posits an indubitable first premise; rather, it is a Kantian foundationalism which, in developing and drawing out the logical structure underlying the moral concepts, lays bare the logical properties (universalizability and prescriptivity) of the moral words. The method itself, as opposed to the argument for it, is coherentist because the moral principles and singular prescriptions that are held tight in trains of linear inferences are floating, not anchored, and so can be adjusted by the logic and facts that bind them together {‘Foundationalism and Coherentism in Ethics’: 190-4, 196-7; Hare and Critics: 213, 291-2}.

209. What is it that gives moral epistemology, in contrast to other kinds of epistemology, a greater chance of early success?     [Top]
Moral epistemology’s advantage vis-a-vis other kinds of epistemology stems from the prescriptivity of moral statements. Because moral statements are not factual or merely descriptive, the problems that beset general epistemology, which seeks to ground knowledge of facts, do not hinder moral epistemology. The goal of moral epistemology is the grounding of rationally acceptable prescriptions, and the will is fully capable of doing this by prescribing universally {‘Foundationalism and Coherentism in Ethics’: 190-1, 195-6}.

210. What is the ultimate goal of moral epistemology?     [Top]
Moral epistemology’s goal is just the identification of rationally acceptable prescriptions. It’s goal is not to determine what the facts are which are needed in order to apply the rationally accepted prescriptions; rather, the non-moral facts are given or already supplied as inputs to moral reasoning {‘Foundationalism and Coherentism in Ethics’: 191, 195-6; Moral Thinking: 117, 216-7}.

211. Why is the cognitivist and non-cognitivist distinction misleading?     [Top]
Characterizing ethical theories epistemologically as cognitivist or non-cognitivist muddies the waters because the epistemological problem of how to justify moral judgments depends on a solution to the conceptual problem of understanding what we are saying when we make moral judgments; for understanding what we mean when we make moral judgments involves understanding what we are implying when we make those moral judgments. And looking into what inferences we can make involves us in an investigation into the logic of the moral words, an investigation which forms the basis for a method of moral reasoning that can justify moral judgments. So the distinction between cognitivist and non-cognitivist can mislead, first, by closing off this avenue to the solution to the epistemological problem of justification; in short, the distinction diverts us from the most important task of finding a way to discuss moral problems rationally. Secondly, because both descriptivists and non-descriptivists can claim that moral judgments can be true or false, the cognitivist and non-cognitivist distinction built on opposing responses to that claim does nothing to help us choose between the descriptivist and non-descriptivist positions. Thirdly, the cognitivist and non-cognitivist distinction, by framing the metaethical debate in terms of truth, leads people to claim that they can know that moral judgments are true or right; but these claims are always disputed, and so no progress is made and we have again been misled down an unhelpful path {Sorting Out Ethics: 56-7; ‘Objective Prescriptions’: 18; ‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 95]}.

212. Can moral judgments or statements or prescriptions be true or false?     [Top]
Yes. There are at least three ways in which ‘true’ functions in natural languages such as English. One of these is the formal feature identified by Tarski that P is true if and only if P, where P is either a non-moral or moral statement. Another is the endorsing function that Strawson identified such that to say ‘P is true’ is to assent in some sense to P. This endorsing function, however, can fully account for the Tarskian feature because statements also have the formal feature that they can be endorsed; and this endorsement brings with it requirements that one not contradict oneself. The third function of ‘true’ has to do with truth conditions (i.e., descriptive meaning), so that the predicate ‘is true’ means something like ‘satisfies the applicable truth conditions’. Universal prescriptivism embraces even the last of these functions of ‘true’; for accepting truth conditions for moral statements or judgments boils down to accepting certain substantive moral principles, and such acceptance by all can be achieved by following the method of moral thinking proposed by universal prescriptivism {‘A Philosophical Autobiography’: 303; ‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 25]; Sorting Out Ethics: 17, 48, 54, 57-8, 138-9; ‘Philosophy and Conflict’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 64]; ‘Objective Prescriptions’: 30-31; ‘Supervenience’: 6; ‘Do Agents Have to be Moralists?’: 58; ‘Some Confusions About Subjectivity’: 191-2; Freedom and Reason: 28; ‘Religion and Morals’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 50]}.

213. How can we recognize a good person?     [Top]
We can only tell if a person is good by what acts the person does. If the acts she does are typically morally right, then only can we conclude that she is good. It must be remembered, however, that the acts of a person cannot be sharply distinguished from the intended consequences of the acts. The intended consequences, direct or oblique, are morally relevant, as are foreseen or known consequences {‘A Utilitarian Approach to Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 153-4]; Sorting Out Ethics: 164; ‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 142, 145]; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 129; ‘Can I Be Blamed for Obeying Orders?’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 5]}.

214. Can we ever know what action is the morally right action?     [Top]
The superhuman and omniscient archangel knows what action is morally right: the act that conforms to specific moral principles arrived at through the archangel’s perfectly-executed critical moral thinking which includes knowledge of all the facts. But actual humans are neither angels nor archangels and so can only approximate the thinking of the archangel. Humans, therefore, in speaking of choosing what they are to do, can only speak of knowing what actions are most probably morally right {‘Utilitarianism and the Vicarious Affects’: 147-8; Moral Thinking: 59, 89; ‘On Terrorism’: [Essays on Political Morality: 41]; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 126, 128; Freedom and Reason: 74}.

Fanatic

215. Who or what is the fanatic?     [Top]
The fanatic is someone who clings to moral intuitions or convictions, unwarrantedly giving them an added epistemological weight. The fanatic’s allegiance to these convictions or to an ideal (which is a kind of desire or liking that reflects preferences) of human perfection or of duty, is so strong that she is willing to sacrifice her own preference-satisfactions, and those of anyone else who might get in the way, in the attempt to adhere at all costs to her convictions and to realize the ideal; it is this extreme strength of conviction that sets the fanatic apart. Such a person, though rare, is a problem for utilitarianism because this single-minded pursuit of the ideal, and her unwavering dedication to her convictions, can lead the fanatic to act in ways that do not maximize preference-satisfactions for all affected parties {Hare and Critics: 220; ‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 13; ‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 312-3; Moral Thinking: 170, 183, 226; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 121; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 108]; Freedom and Reason: 105-6, 153, 161-2, 171-2}.

216. What dilemma does the pure fanatic face?     [Top]
The pure fanatic effectively faces a choice between ceasing to be a fanatic or not needing to be a fanatic. This choice comes about because either the fanatic’s preferences are outweighed by others’ preferences, so that after acquiring their preferences as she must (for the pure fanatic does critical thinking correctly), she will no longer be a fanatic. Or the fanatic’s preferences outweigh the others’ preferences, in which case she only needed to have strong, not fanatical, preferences. In either case, then, the strongest preferences prevail, thus giving the utilitarian answer {Hare and Critics: 203, 221, 233; Moral Thinking: 181-2; ‘Wrongness and Harm’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 107]}.

217. Why do ordinary people not become fanatics?     [Top]
Fanatics can go on pursuing their ideals even when the pursuit runs against their own or anyone else’s interests or desires, even when they acquire the others’ desires through hypothetical imaginings. But when we ordinary folk desire something, we desire it because it has some feature. And so, because hypotheticality and actuality are not features, when we acquire others’ desires through hypothetical imaginings, we still desire it for the same feature {Sorting Out Ethics: 23-4; Freedom and Reason: 197}.

218. Why will an appeal to overridingness not help the fanatic?     [Top]
The fanatic clings to intuitions and so might appeal to her moral convictions, but these are not overriding because they are operative only at the intuitive level. Moreover, in critical thinking, which the pure fanatic does, the choice is often only between universal prescriptions (i.e., moral principles) and not a choice between a personal preference, which might be thought to be of lesser importance, and a moral principle {Moral Thinking: 178}.

219. Who is the true fanatic?     [Top]
The true, real, sincere, super, or hard core fanatic is the person who sticks to her universalized ideals even after fully using her imagination and knowledge of the facts to imagine vividly the experiences of others and of herself if she were in the place of the others. This kind of fanatic is totally unselfish and extremely rare and cannot be swayed by argument because unwilling or unable to think clearly. The only response we can give, as moral philosophers (but not perhaps as psychologists who might be able to devise some effective therapy), to such a fanatic is the one we can only give to the true amoralist: let her try to live as she chooses {Hare and Critics: 221, 233; ‘On Terrorism’: [Essays on Political Morality: 36, 39, 43-4]; ‘Wrongness and Harm’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 102, 105-6, 108]; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 108]; ‘Peace’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 80-1]; Freedom and Reason: 184, 197, 199-200, 203; The Language of Morals: 69}.

220. How does the pure fanatic differ from the amoralist?     [Top]
Though both the pure fanatic and the amoralist do critical thinking perfectly, the pure fanatic makes moral judgments and accepts the logic of the argument from universal prescriptivism to utilitarianism and yet rejects utilitarianism. The amoralist, on the other hand, either refuses, always or only sometimes, to make moral judgments (i.e., universal prescriptions) or makes only judgments of moral indifference (such that one neither ought nor ought not do something), and the amoralist rejects the implications of the logic of the argument from universal prescriptivism to utilitarianism, rejects, for example, the implications of the logical property of universalizability. There is, however, a kind of impure fanatic, the one who is a fanatic in the sense of incompletely universalizing imprudence by giving excessive weight to present prescriptions simply because they are present now rather than later, who can be assimilated to the amoralist {Moral Thinking: 176, 179, 183-4; ‘Wrongness and Harm’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 103, 108]; Freedom and Reason: 162}.

221. Will the fanatic always be with us?     [Top]
Yes. As long as human nature remains as it is and the world continues to operate along the same lines, there will always be some fanatics such as Nazis or terrorists. We may be able to reduce their numbers and their ability to cause trouble, but they will exist and we should be prepared for them. One of the ways in which we can prepare ourselves is by doing moral philosophy well, for the tools and results of well-done moral philosophy can provide us with the intellectual resources that will make it even easier for us to see through the propaganda that the fanatic likes to use to advance her cause and gain adherents and collaborators {Freedom and Reason: 184-5}.

222. Why must the fanatic always rely on censorship?     [Top]
The fanatic finds it necessary to use censorship because the general public is sufficiently well-informed by life experience to know the difference between journalism and propaganda {Freedom and Reason: 182}.

223. What weapons can the liberal use against the fanatic?     [Top]
The liberal has at her disposal three kinds of weapons to employ in defense against the fanatic.

  • promote universal prescriptivism and its recommended method of moral reasoning;
  • minimize censorship and encourage the free exchange of ideas and information;
  • foster activities that help to develop the (sympathetic) imagination.

By fully deploying these three weapons, the liberal can hope to reduce the number of fanatics and to reduce the effectiveness of those fanatics who still manage to survive {‘Adolescents into Adults’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 61]; Freedom and Reason: 180-1}.

224. Since aesthetic judgments and moral judgments expressing ideals are both universal and prescriptive, what makes the fanatical Nazi different from the liberal connoisseur?     [Top]
The difference between the fanatical Nazi and the liberal connoisseur is, firstly, that the fanatic’s moral judgments have an impact on others’ interests while purely aesthetic judgments do not. It is this difference that makes the fanatic’s position, at least the less extreme of them, susceptible to golden-rule methods of argumentation. Secondly, the fanatic, unlike the connoisseur, is not willing to restrain or curb her ideals and is willing instead to act on her idealist prescriptions and even to give them overriding weight and free reign by altering moral principles; it is this second feature that makes golden-rule arguments appear powerless against the extreme fanatic {Freedom and Reason: 166-9, 175}.

225. What is it about ideals that makes conflicts which involve them so intractable?     [Top]
Unlike interests, ideals have their own universalizability – are themselves universal principles – and this built-in universalizability makes them less amenable to the treatments (e.g., prudential bargaining or moral thinking) effective in resolving conflicts only involving interests {Freedom and Reason: 157-9}.

226. Why does the pure fanatic not present a difficulty for universal prescriptivism or utilitarianism?     [Top]
The pure fanatic does not present a difficulty for universal prescriptivism or utilitarianism because the pure fanatic cannot reject the utilitarian conclusions; for the pure fanatic (by hypothesis) correctly executes the role-reversal procedure that is part of the critical thinking that the pure fanatic does, and the role-reversal procedure yields (via the argument from universal prescriptivism to utilitarianism) conclusions that, if followed, would maximize preference-satisfaction {Hare and Critics: 221; Moral Thinking: 176-8}.

227. In what ways can argument be used in conflicts involving ideals and interests?     [Top]
The interplay between argument, ideals, and interests goes like this.

  • When interests are not involved, there are few argumentative means to resolve conflicts between ideals.
  • When interests, but not ideals, are involved, the golden-rule type of moral reasoning can be used to resolve the conflict between interests.
  • When interests and ideals are involved, and they conflict, golden-rule type moral arguments can be used to show that the truly fanatical idealist is a very rare individual.

{Sorting Out Ethics: 153; ‘Wrongness and Harm’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 106-7]; Freedom and Reason: 155-7, 171-2}.

228. Why is the pure fanatic supposed to be a difficulty for universal prescriptivism or utilitarianism?     [Top]
The pure fanatic, it is supposed, can do critical thinking without making any mistakes. She is fully informed of, and gives due consideration to, all of the facts. She makes no errors in reasoning or logic. And yet she rejects utilitarian conclusions. So this combination, making no mistakes in her critical thinking but still rejecting utilitarian conclusions, is the supposed difficulty {Moral Thinking: 176}.

229. Can we argue rationally about ideals?     [Top]
Whether we can argue rationally in order to resolve conflicts between ideals depends largely on the presence of ancillary conflicts between interests. If interests are not involved in the conflict between ideals, then the types of argument available to resolve the conflict are severely limited {Sorting Out Ethics: 153; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 107-8]; Freedom and Reason: 150-1, 155-6}.

230. How are the impure and the pure fanatic similar and dissimilar?     [Top]
The impure and pure fanatic are similar in that they cling to intuitions and reject utilitarian conclusions. They are dissimilar in that the impure fanatic either refuses or is unable to do critical thinking while the pure fanatic is willing and able to do critical thinking and does do it {Moral Thinking: 170-1, 176}.

231. What makes the fanatic so dangerous?     [Top]
The fanatic is especially dangerous because she cares only about her ideals of human perfection or of absolute duty or obligation, even if pursuing those ideals works against her own interests. So the fanatic cannot be reasoned with even by appealing to her (or anyone’s) self-interest {Freedom and Reason: 114, 153, 157, 161}.

232. Since good ordinary people ought in almost all cases to follow their inculcated intuitions, how do such people differ from the impure fanatic, who also sticks to intuitions?     [Top]
The difference between impure fanatics and good ordinary (non-fanatical) people is that the impure fanatic has effectively banished (either by refusal or inability to engage in) the critical level of moral thinking forever and for always. Good ordinary people do typically stick firmly to their inculcated intuitions, but they are – unlike the impure fanatic – willing and, some of them, able to do critical moral thinking when they are not in stressful situations that present additional difficulties for doing critical thinking well {‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 18]; Moral Thinking: 175-6}.

233. What are some characteristics of ideals?     [Top]
Some of the characteristics of ideals and their holders include the following.

  • An ideal is not a mere inclination of the person who holds the ideal; it might even be independent of anyone’s inclinations or wants.
  • An ideal need not, and perhaps more typically does not, align with the interests of the person who holds the ideal.
  • An ideal is a kind of disposition to action and is prescriptive.
  • An ideal demands universal implementation.
  • An ideal can be expressed in universal prescriptions and thus those prescriptions can be moral at least in their form.
  • An ideal reflects preferences.
  • Judgments embodying ideals are like aesthetic evaluations.
  • To have an ideal is to think that something is pre-eminently good within some class of things of which it is a member.
  • To have an ideal is to have an interest in not being hindered in pursuing the ideal.
  • To have an ideal is to want or desire (in wide senses of these terms) something.
  • The holder of the ideal treats it as having the formal characteristic of overriding importance.
  • The holder of the ideal thinks of herself as superior precisely because she does not waver from her ideal when conflicts with anyone’s interests (including her own) arise.

The fanatic is someone who holds such ideals; an example is an extreme Fascist, Nazi, or terrorist who holds to her ideals no matter what the cost to her or anyone else {Hare and Critics: 220; ‘On Terrorism’: [Essays on Political Morality: 37]; Freedom and Reason: 105, 114, 152, 159-62, 169-70, 175}.

234. Can the fanatic be refuted?     [Top]
No. The fanatic cannot be totally defeated in argument; universal prescriptivism has always remained steadfast in maintaining the theoretical possibility of the fanatic. What can and has been done is to deploy new arguments against the fanatic. These new arguments show even more strongly that the fanatic is so rare in the real world as to be practically insignificant {Hare and Critics: 201-4; Moral Thinking: 181-2; ‘Wrongness and Harm’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 106-7]; ‘Peace’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 80-2]; Freedom and Reason: 184-5}.

235. Is it the content of moral intuitions that makes someone a fanatic?     [Top]
No. An impure fanatic is someone who refuses to do or cannot do critical moral thinking. So the fanatic is stuck at the intuitive level of moral thinking. Consequently, the fanatic resolves conflicts between intuitions by irrationally giving priority to one intuition over all others. Such conflicts and this irrational way of resolving them can occur with both bad (e.g., break your promises) and good (e.g., keep your promises) intuitions. Which kind of intuition the fanatic has depends on what kind of upbringing she had. It is therefore the fanatic’s attitude toward intuitions, not their content, that makes her a fanatic: even a liberal could become a fanatic {‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 13; Moral Thinking: 40, 175; Freedom and Reason: 178}.

236. How can universal prescriptivism overcome the problem of the fanatic?     [Top]
The fanatic is someone, very rare in the real world, who is willing to sacrifice everything in pursuit of an ideal. But ideals are a kind of desire or liking. Ideals will therefore be subject to universal prescriptivism’s recommended role-reversal method of moral reasoning which bids us to put ourselves imaginatively into the place of others with their desires, preferences, likings, and hence with their ideals. In this method, equal weight is given to equal preferences; so the problematic fanatic’s ideal will have to be so strongly held by her that it outweighs the preferences and ideals of all other affected parties. But, first, such strongly held ideals are extremely uncommon in the real world; even Nazis did not hold their ideals so strongly. And, second, even if such a fanatic were encountered in the real world and even though the fanatic’s position cannot be refuted by reference to its form alone (i.e., the fanatic, too, prescribes universally), the case would have to be judged by critical-level, not intuitive-level, moral thinking; for such a case would be very uncommon and therefore the ordinary morality operative at the intuitive level, which was expressly designed for common kinds of cases, would not be suitable for assessing the case. So we will very probably not face such a case and, even if we did, our intuitive response to it could not be used to impugn universal prescriptivism {Hare and Critics: 220-2; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 121-2; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 108]; Freedom and Reason: 170-3}.

237. If fanaticism is so rare, then how is it that whole nations have become fanatical?     [Top]
Fanaticism is indeed extremely rare in individuals. But whole nations (e.g., Nazi Germany) can adopt fanatical policies if the following conditions obtain.

  • The country’s population is not clear-headed. This condition is easily satisfied by nearly all countries at all times. It is the job of philosophy in general to combat this intellectual malady.
  • The country’s population does not have access to the free flow of information.
  • The country’s population has little to no say in the affairs of its government.

When these three conditions obtain, just a few fanatical people can gain political control of the country’s power structure and direct the muddle-headed masses through propaganda and coercion to engage in fanatical policies {‘Wrongness and Harm’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 106-7]; ‘Peace’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 83-5]}.

238. How many kinds of fanatic are there?     [Top]
Although many different kinds can be distinguished, there are two main kinds of fanatic: impure and pure.

  • Impure fanatics: they reject utilitarian conclusions because they are unwilling or unable to do moral thinking at the critical level. There are many of this kind of fanatic in the world and there are many reasons (e.g., psychological problems or cognitive deficiencies) why they refuse or cannot do critical moral thinking. Though a big practical problem, they pose no theoretical threat to utilitarianism.
  • Pure fanatics: they can do critical moral thinking but still reject utilitarian conclusions after doing the thinking. There are two varieties of the pure fanatic, corresponding to two ways in which they still might reject utilitarian conclusions after having done critical thinking:
    • they hold conclusions that are inconsistent with utilitarian conclusions;
    • they hold conclusions that actually are not inconsistent with utilitarian conclusions.

Although for different reasons, the pure fanatics are also no theoretical threat to utilitarianism; for the first kind of pure fanatic cannot exist, and the second kind of pure fanatic does not exist in the actual world {Moral Thinking: 170-1; ‘Wrongness and Harm’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 102]}.

239. Why does appeal to external preferences not help the pure fanatic?     [Top]
If the pure fanatic makes an appeal to external preferences so as to tip the balance in her favor, then there will in all likelihood be contrary external preferences held by non-fanatics such that the fanatic’s appeal is neutralized {Moral Thinking: 182}.

240. How does the fanatic differ from the nationalist?     [Top]
The nationalist pursues the interest of the group to which she belongs. The fanatic pursues an ideal regardless of interest; the ideal is typically associated with some human quality or to a state of affairs that is either adored or loathed. Though distinct, nationalism and fanaticism can be combined by making the people of a nation essential to the achievement of an ideal. This combination is especially dangerous: it is the main cause of wars {‘Peace’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 71-2, 79-80]}.

Golden Rule

241. Since Golden Rule arguments depend on imagination, are such arguments fallacious if deployed against people who have poor imaginations?     [Top]
No. If someone has a meagre imagination and is unable to place herself imaginatively into the other’s shoes, then that is a defect in the moral thinking of the person with the meagre imagination and not a logical defect in Golden Rule arguments; for the logical strength of arguments does not vary with the abilities (e.g., sensitivity) of the people who evaluate them, although their psychological responsiveness to the arguments might so vary and can perhaps be improved insofar as imagination can be cultivated {‘Relevance’: 79; Freedom and Reason: 97-8, 224}.

242. Does the Golden Rule have some limitations?     [Top]
Yes. One limitation is that the Golden Rule provides no direct guidance in circumstances in which what we wish were done to us we do to some others, but in which by doing so we prevent ourselves from doing the same to yet other others {‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 212-3}.

243. Why is the Golden Rule such a good starting point for moral argument?     [Top]
Since the Golden Rule is not exclusively Christian, but is found in other religions and even pre-dates Christianity, it is a good starting point for moral argument because it provides common ground for many of the parties to moral disputes. It is a good starting point for another reason: it is a purely formal principle. This formality means that it does not already contain any substantial moral content that might, if it were present, put off some people. Instead, the Golden Rule only contains implicitly the purely logical features of prescriptivity and universalizability; and since all rational people must accept these logical features, it again supplies common ground for discussion of moral issues {‘How did Morality Get a Bad Name?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 94-5]; ‘Medical Ethics: Can the Moral Philosopher Help?’: [Essays on Bioethics: 10]; ‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 207-8}.

244. What logical grounds justify the extended Golden Rule?     [Top]
The Golden Rule says that we ought to do to others as we wish them to do to us. This can be logically extended by two changes:

  1. we ought to do to others as we wish they had done to us;
  2. we ought to do to others as we wish they did do to us;

and the result is ‘we ought to do to others as we are glad they did do to us’. The first change is justified by the moral irrelevance of time references and grammatical tenses to moral judgments; for moral judgments are universalizable and universal judgments must apply to all times. The second change is justified by the moral irrelevance of the transition from hypothetical to actual for moral judgments; for moral judgments are universalizable and universal judgments apply equally to hypothetical and actual cases that are identical in all their universal properties. The switch from ‘wish’ to ‘are glad’ in the final version is merely done to bring out that preferences or desires are involved for the satisfaction of which we would be thankful {Moral Thinking: 101, 112-6; ‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 208, 218, 220; The Language of Morals: 157; ‘Imperative Sentences’: 38}.

245. What is the basis of the Golden Rule?     [Top]
One of the bases for the Golden Rule, which is the foundation of morality, is the logical features of universalizability and prescriptivity that moral judgments have {‘How did Morality Get a Bad Name?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 94-5]; ‘Justice and Equality’: 117; ‘Opportunity for What?’: 209; ‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 208; ‘Adolescents into Adults’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 61]}.

246. Is the Golden Rule sufficient as a basis for a theory of moral reasoning such as that endorsed by universal prescriptivism?     [Top]
No. Althought the Golden Rule is indeed compatible with universal prescriptivism, the Golden Rule provides only a kernel for the grounding of a theory of moral reasoning such as universal prescriptivism fully provides. That kernel then needs to be developed much further, as universal prescriptivism does, before there is a firm basis for a theory of sound moral reasoning {‘One Philosopher’s Approach to Business and Professional Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 199]; ‘Is medical ethics lost?’: 70}.

247. Since universal prescriptivism makes use of Golden Rule reasoning, is the argument for it based on biblical authority?     [Top]
No. Although universal prescriptivism does make use of Golden Rule moral reasoning and the Golden Rule is found in the Bible, and although the variety of utilitarianism based on universal prescriptivism can be characterized as Christian (as well as Kantian), the argument for universal prescriptivism does not have among its premises any appeals to biblical authority or to the words of Christ. The relation between the two is in fact just the opposite; that is to say, the independent rational argument used to establish universal prescriptivism happens to lend support to Christ’s moral teaching {‘Is medical ethics lost? Response from Professor Hare’: 238; ‘Moral Reasoning about the Environment’: [Essays on Political Morality: 242]; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 130}.

248. What does the Golden Rule reflect and express?     [Top]
The Golden Rule reflects the formal requirement on moral judgments that they be universalizable. It is through this required logical feature that the Golden Rule, and moral judgments in general, express the doctrine of universal love that is the cornerstone of the moral teaching of Christ {‘Is medical ethics lost? Response from Professor Hare’: 238; ‘What Is Wrong with Slavery?’: 121; ‘Appendix: Rejoinder to G. J. Warnock’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 175-6]}.

249. What is a Golden Rule type of moral argument?     [Top]
A Golden Rule type of moral argument is one in which a proposed principle of action is evaluated by asking whether one can accept the consequences of the action no matter what role one plays in the situation in which the action is performed {‘The Promising Game’: 411-2}.

250. Is the Golden Rule to be taken in a conditional or hypothetical sense or in an indicative sense?     [Top]
The Golden Rule is, and not just for the correct grammatical reasons, to be taken in an indicative sense. That is to say, the hypothetical, incorrect form is ‘As you would like …’ while the indicative, correct form is ‘As you do wish …’. The difference in senses brings out that we are to be considering not what we would like if we were in the other’s place, but rather what we do wish or prescribe or prefer should be done to us if we were in the other’s place with the other’s preferences. It is the difference between

  • I do prefer now that if I were in the other’s position …
  • were I in the other’s position, I would prefer ….

In other words, we are to assume the role of critical moral thinkers who are deciding what rule should be followed – ‘should be done to us if we were in the other’s place’ – so that the Golden Rule is, in short, a summary of a particular method of moral reasoning {Sorting Out Ethics: 25; ‘A Kantian Approach to Abortion’: [Essays on Bioethics: 173]; ‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 310-1; Moral Thinking: 95-6; ‘Medical Ethics: Can the Moral Philosopher Help?’: [Essays on Bioethics: 10]; ‘Euthanasia: A Christian View’: 44-5; ‘Drugs and the Role of the Doctor’: 88; Freedom and Reason: 108}.

251. Is the Golden Rule an imperative sentence?     [Top]
Yes. The Golden Rule, ‘As you would that men should do to you, do you also to them’, is an imperative and is thus, imperatives being a species of the genus, a prescription. Indeed, the Golden Rule is prescriptive in a twofold way: from Christ to us, and from us to ourselves. In particular, the injunction to action in the second clause is prescriptive; and the first clause is prescriptive in that it enjoins us to will our prescriptions universally – that is the force of the ‘would’ {‘Euthanasia: A Christian View’: 43-4}.

252. What does loving one’s neighbor as oneself mean?     [Top]
Loving one’s neighbor as oneself means giving in our moral thinking the others’ (i.e., all who may be affected) preferences a weight that is equal to the weight we give our own preferences {‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 69]; ‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 3}.

253. What mistake is Kant making in his criticism of the Golden Rule in the footnote at Ak:430 (=68)?     [Top]
The mistake Kant makes is in interpreting the Golden Rule reasoning as permitting a single person to have veto power. The judge, if operating at the critical level of moral thinking, should be considering not just the criminal’s preferences but also the preferences of all the others who may be affected by the judge’s sentencing of the criminal; if operating at the intuitive level, then the judge should impose the sentence prescribed by the prima facie principles of justice that have been adopted for that lower level of moral thinking. In short, Kant’s judge is over-simplifying, treating a multilateral case as a bilateral case {Hare and Critics: 216; ‘The ethics of medical involvement in torture: commentary’: 140; ‘Some Reasoning about Preferences’: 83-4; Freedom and Reason: 116-7, 124-5}.

254. What is a frequent misinterpretation of the Golden Rule?     [Top]
The Golden Rule in the Bible is frequently taken to say ‘As you would that men should do to you, do you also to them likewise’. This is a misinterpretation of the Greek and should instead be ‘As you wish that men should do to you, do you also to them likewise’. The correct interpretation refers to what you do wish if you were in the other’s position with the other’s temperament; it does not refer to what you would wish if you were in the other’s position with your own temperament {‘Drugs and the Role of the Doctor’: 88}.

255. Should universal prescriptivism’s golden-rule arguments be likened to expressions such as ‘How would you like it if …?’?     [Top]
No. Universal prescriptivism’s golden-rule arguments rely on charges of inconsistency or contradiction, and actual preferences (e.g., ‘I do now prefer …’) rather than hypothetical preferences (e.g., ‘I would prefer if …’) are required in order to generate an inconsistency or contradiction {Sorting Out Ethics: 25; Moral Thinking: 95-6; Freedom and Reason: 108, 116}.

Imperatives

256. What is the ‘verbal shove’ theory of the meaning of imperatives?     [Top]
The ‘verbal shove’ theory claims that what singles out imperatives is that they try to get someone to do what one has been told to do. This theory is incorrect for at least two reasons. First, sentences other than imperatives – such as plain statements – can be used to get someone to do something. Second, imperatives can be used to get someone to do the opposite of what one was told to do. In general, the verbal shove theory is incorrect because it does not see the difference between illocutionary and perlocutionary speech acts {Sorting Out Ethics: 15-6, 108; ‘Imperatives, Prescriptions, and their Logic’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 44]; ‘Why Moral Language?’: 74; ‘Prediction and Moral Appraisal’: [Essays on Bioethics: 199]; ‘Freedom of the Will’: 213}.

257. As far as ethics is concerned, why is it important to study imperatives?     [Top]
There are several reasons why the study of imperatives is important for ethics.

  • Ordinary imperatives are a particularly simple kind of prescriptive language; this simplicity makes them especially suitable for beginning to learn about moral prescriptions and illustrate their features.
  • The existence of imperatives shows that descriptivism is false, for imperatives have no application conditions or truth conditions as descriptivism requires.
  • The use of imperatives reveals that, even when there is no agreement about the reasons for the imperatives, their prescriptivity can be understood by all parties.
  • The use of imperatives reveals that, even when no one agrees about the truth of descriptive statements about values, they may yet agree about the prescriptive element in the imperatives.

{‘Philosophy and Conflict’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 65]; ‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 99]; ‘A Reductio Ad Absurdum of Descriptivism’: 123-4; The Language of Morals: 2}.

258. What do all prescriptive speech acts have in common?     [Top]
For all prescriptive speech acts, to assent sincerely to what one is told to do involves doing what one is told to do; but it must be remembered that there are degrees of assent and that one might change one’s mind {‘Imperatives, Prescriptions, and their Logic’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 43]; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 184]; Moral Thinking: 21; Freedom and Reason: 36; The Language of Morals: 19-20, 169-70}.

259. Do hypothetical imperatives have descriptive force?     [Top]
Though the line between hypothetical and non-hypothetical imperatives is blurry, so that we cannot assume that only moral imperatives are non-hypothetical, an hypothetical imperative has descriptive force in its hypothetical clause where something like criteria for application or standards of value are specified {The Language of Morals: 36}.

260. What are some differences between indicatives and imperatives?     [Top]
The essential difference between indicatives and imperatives is tied up with what it is to assent to them. Sincerely assenting to a statement or indicative is to believe that it is true. To assent sincerely to a command is to do or resolve to do what it commands, provided one has the chance and ability to do it. If we recall that tautologies are in play here, sincerely assenting to a statement amounts to believing something and sincerely assenting – though it must be remembered that there are degrees of assent – to a command amounts to doing something (given the opportunity and ability). Some other differences include: imperatives are typically never made in the past tense; most imperatives are in the second person; acceptance of an imperative is fulfillment of the action it commands while acceptance of an indicative is belief in what it states; simple imperatives have no square of opposition {Sorting Out Ethics: 12; ‘Imperatives, Prescriptions, and their Logic’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 48]; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 184]; Moral Thinking: 21; ‘Some Alleged Differences Between Imperatives and Indicatives’: 313; The Language of Morals: 19-20, 169-70, 187-8; ‘Imperative Sentences’: 25}

261. Can an imperative conclusion be derived from only indicative premises?     [Top]
Yes and no. In general, imperative conclusions cannot be derived only from indicative premises; for then something would be in the conclusion which does not appear in the premises, violating the analytic character of all deductive inference. In general, then, if an argument contains an imperative in the conclusion, there must be an imperative in the premises. But hypothetical imperatives are an exception and can be derived from indicative premises alone; this is because, as Kant recognized, the imperative component in hypothetical imperatives is analytic, and so the imperative as imperative has no content {Moral Thinking: 223; The Language of Morals: 28, 33-4, 37}.

262. Are imperatives more emotive than other kinds of sentence?     [Top]
No. Besides their appearance in laws and rules of inference, both elements in dispassionate disciplines, imperatives are not more emotive than other kinds of sentence; for they need neither express the speaker’s emotions nor evoke the hearer’s emotions any more than other kinds of sentence do these things {‘Imperative Sentences’: 37-9}.

263. What is an imperative sentence?     [Top]
An imperative sentence is a sentence in the imperative mood that gives a command and does not state that something is or is not the case. It is a speech act which, if complied with, issues in at least a disposition on the part of the person to whom it is directed to do what is commanded. It is, however, not a part of the meaning of an imperative that it get someone to do something; truth conditions, too, are not part of the meaning of imperatives. An imperative sentence does not impart knowledge that but can, by what it tells us, impart knowledge how. Imperatives seem to be more fundamental than questions, for a question can generally be translated into a command. But an imperative provides an answer to questions such as ‘What is to be the case?’ or ‘What am I to make the case?’ rather than ‘What is the case?’; thus imperatives are implicated in choice situations, in deliberation, and in issuing commands either to ourselves or others. Though imperatives in natural languages are typically restricted in grammatical tense and person and are therefore poorer or defective relative to indicatives, the logician may construct imperatives in any tense and person {‘Philosophy and Conflict’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 61]; Sorting Out Ethics: 112-3; The Language of Morals: 22; ‘Imperative Sentences’: 22-5, 27}.

264. Why does there seem to be a gap between ‘Do a’ and ‘Do not do a’?     [Top]
There seems to be a gap between ‘Do a’ and ‘Do not do a’ because people tend to think (perhaps in part because of confusion with ‘You are to do …’) that some kind of assertion of a norm lies behind these imperatives. But there is no such assertion. To issue a command such as ‘Do a’ is not to assert anything, not to state anything, and not to report anything. In short, there is no command that can be given between ‘Do a’ and ‘Do not do a’ {‘Some Alleged Differences Between Imperatives and Indicatives’: 324}.

265. Can a command be fulfilled by fulfilling another command inferable from the first?     [Top]
Not generally. In the relatively uncommon case that the inferred command is weaker (i.e., gives only a necessary but not sufficient condition for fulfilling the inferred-from command) then we cannot be sure that fulfilling the weaker command will also fulfill the command from which it is inferred. For example, ‘Put on your parachute and jump out’ is not fulfilled by only fulfilling ‘Jump out’; jumping out is necessary to fulfill the conjunctive command but not sufficient {‘The Rights of Employees’: [Essays on Political Morality: 138]; ‘Practical Inferences’: [Practical Inferences: 68]; ‘Some Alleged Differences Between Imperatives and Indicatives’: 313; ‘Imperative Sentences’: 31-3}.

266. In what ways are imperative sentences and indicative sentences the same?     [Top]

There are several ways in which imperatives and indicatives are alike.

First, imperative and indicative sentences share two common elements, a phrastic and a neustic. The phrastic is always exactly the same for both kinds of sentences, if the sentences are about the same thing. Though not itself a sentence, the phrastic performs a descriptive function, that of describing a series of events. The phrastic is what is embedded in an imperative; the imperative does not embed the indicative. The neustic or sign of subscription, on the other hand, is always different for the two kinds of sentence, even if their phrastics are exactly the same; the neustic performs the dictive function of saying (e.g. commending, stating, etc.) and is not embedded since it applies to the whole sentence. For example, given the indicative ‘You are going to shut the door’ and the imperative ‘Shut the door’, the phrastic and neustic together are ‘Your shutting the door soon, yes’ and ‘Your shutting the door soon, please’, respectively. Though typically implicit rather than explicit, separated they are as follows:

Mood (Tropic) Phrastic (Descriptor) Neustic (Dictor)
Indicative ‘Your shutting the door soon’ ‘yes’
Imperative ‘Your shutting the door soon’ ‘please’

In 1949’s “Imperative Sentences,” which uses different terminology, the phrastic is the descriptor while the neustic is the dictor. Also, in 1970’s ‘Meaning and Speech Acts’, the sign of mood is dubbed the ‘tropic’, which governs the phrastic; and the neustic is more narrowly defined specifically as the sign of subscription without which a speech act cannot occur.

Second, both indicatives and imperatives, because of their common phrastic element, can fail to refer and thus be meaningless by the Logical Positivists’ verificationist criterion (which can be useful for assessing statements in some fields of inquiry); in such a case, the phrastic element has no descriptum (i.e., that which would be the case if the indicative were true or would be the case if the imperative were obeyed).

Third, because logical connectives (such as negation or disjunction) and quantifiers (e.g., ‘all’, ‘some’) go in sentences’ phrastics insofar as they have nothing to do with a sentence’s mood, both indicatives and imperatives can contradict others of their kind. That imperatives, too, are governed by logical rules because they, like indicatives, have phrastics is also evident in that an imperative can, by a circumlocution, be rephrased as a command to make an indicative true; so ‘Shut the window’ can be rephrased to ‘Make it the case that the window is shut’ and thus it is possible by a further step to make a self-contradictory imperative such as ‘Make it the case that the window is both shut and not shut’. Even more straightforward and singular self-contradictory imperatives are possible: ‘Advance to the left’. This capacity for contradiction and self-contradiction explains why formal logicians are most concerned with the phrastic or descriptor and why logicians must concern themselves with imperatives, too.

Fourth, both moods can use either two-valued or three-valued logic {‘Imperatives, Prescriptions, and their Logic’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 45, 49]; ‘Some Sub-Atomic Particles of Logic’: 36; ‘Meaning and Speech Acts’: 11, 22; ‘Nothing Matters’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 42]; ‘Religion and Morals’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 40-1]; The Language of Morals: 17-24; ‘Imperative Sentences’: 27-30, 34-5}.

267. When are two commands inconsistent?     [Top]
Two commands are inconsistent if their corresponding statements are inconsistent {‘Practical Inferences’: [Practical Inferences: 70-1]; ‘Some Alleged Differences Between Imperatives and Indicatives’: 311; ‘Nothing Matters’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 42]}.

268. Why is it important to make it clear that imperatives tell someone to do something rather than try to get someone to do something?     [Top]
Universal prescriptivism claims among other things that moral judgments are in some ways similar to imperatives. If imperatives are then (incorrectly) interpreted as attempts to get someone to do something, it might be supposed because of their similarity that moral judgments are also attempts to get someone to do something. This supposition would thus make moral judgments out to be propaganda, to be attempts to persuade. But since persuasion, insofar as it can be accomplished through non-rational and even irrational means such as threats or psychological conditioning, is not a rational process, the rationality of morals comes into question if moral judgments are made out to be propaganda. This anti-rationality, however, is anti-thetical to universal prescriptivsm, which makes the case for the rationality of morals by exposing the importance of the logic of the moral words for an understanding of morals {Sorting Out Ethics: 113-5; Freedom and Reason: 5; The Language of Morals: 12-16}.

269. Why is the imperative element in a hypothetical imperative analytic?     [Top]
The imperative element in a hypothetical imperative is analytic because the imperatives in each part of the hypothetical imperative effectively cancel each other out {‘Geach: Good and Evil’: 108; The Language of Morals: 37}.

270. What evidence is there that imperatives and moral judgments are similar in some (but not all) ways?     [Top]
One piece of evidence for their partial similarity is that parallel theories of meaning have been offered for them. As just one example, there are naturalist theories of meaning for both imperatives and moral judgments. According to these similar naturalist theories of meaning, an imperative such as ‘Shut the door’ reduces to ‘I want you to shut the door’ and a moral judgment such as ‘Keeping promises is morally right’ reduces to ‘I approve of keeping promises’. The existence of this and other common theories of meaning for both imperatives and moral judgments suggests that the logics of imperatives and moral judgments may be similar. Another piece of evidence for similarity is that both imperatives and moral judgments imply ‘can’. On the other hand, while moral judgments have the logical property of universalizability, ordinary imperatives lack this logical feature, thus evidencing dissimilarity. Another point of dissimilarity is that, although both imperatives and moral judgments have meaning, truth conditions are no part of the meaning of imperatives while they are a part of the meaning of moral judgments {‘Philosophy and Conflict’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 61]; ‘Possible People’: [Essays on Bioethics: 71]; Freedom and Reason: 36, 51; The Language of Morals: 5-16}.

271. Are there indirect commands?     [Top]
Yes. For example, ‘I insist that you go’ and ‘I tell you to leave me alone’ are indirect commands {‘Some Sub-Atomic Particles of Logic’: 30, 36; ‘Wanting: Some Pitfalls’: [Practical Inferences: 47, 56]}.

272. What is the difference between an indicative sentence and an imperative sentence?     [Top]
Many fine distinctions can be made between grammatical forms, but perhaps the most basic difference between the indicative and the imperative moods is that in the indicative somebody tells someone that something is the case while in the imperative somebody tells someone to make something the case. In other words, for an indicative, the complaisant or accordant response is belief; for an imperative it is action {Sorting Out Ethics: 111; The Language of Morals: 4-5}.

273. What is the essential difference between imperatives and normative statements?     [Top]
The essential difference between imperatives and normative statements is that only the latter are governed by universalizability. That is, normative statements have to be made according to a rule that applies in all identically similar cases, provided that in the interval between cases minds have not changed regarding the rule. The reason, why imperatives lack this feature of universalizability while normative statements have it, is that imperatives lack a descriptive element while normative statements have a descriptive element. It is the meaning of ‘ought’, and of other moral words used in normative statements, that underwrites this understanding of universalizability {‘A Philosophical Autobiography’: 290; ‘Imperatives, Prescriptions, and their Logic’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 51]; ‘Some Confusions About Subjectivity’: 205; ‘Some Alleged Differences Between Imperatives and Indicatives’: 310; Freedom and Reason: 36; ‘Universalisability’: 305}.

274. Do imperatives imply ‘can’ like ‘ought’ implies ‘can’?     [Top]
Yes. Imperatives imply ‘can’ in both the same sense and for the same reason as ‘ought’ does when it is used with full force as a universal prescriptive. For both imperatives and ‘ought’, the sense of ‘imply’ is not logical entailment or deduction but rather a giving to understand; and for both the reason is that a practical question arises only if a ‘can’ is available {‘Prediction and Moral Appraisal’: [Essays on Bioethics: 197]; Freedom and Reason: 51, 54-5}.

275. Does universal prescriptivism reduce moral language to imperatives or to orders or commands?     [Top]
No. Universal prescriptivism makes no attempt to reduce moral judgments to imperatives. First of all, universal prescriptivism recognizes that ordinary imperatives are simpler than moral judgments; that is indeed why it is helpful to study imperatives as a way of approaching the study of moral language. Second, moral judgments are actually more closely like non-moral value judgments than to imperatives. Third, universal prescriptivism claims only that imperatives and moral judgments are in some ways similar (namely, they are both prescriptive); in other ways they are different (e.g., in their accommodation of tenses) {Sorting Out Ethics: 114, 116; ‘Possible People’: [Essays on Bioethics: 71]; ‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 2; Freedom and Reason: 5; The Language of Morals: 2-3, 15, 179}.

276. Do imperatives have any descriptive element?     [Top]
No. Unlike normative statements, imperatives, which are designed to produce action or a will to it, have no descriptive element; this explains why imperatives are neither true nor false. This lack also explains why ordinary imperatives are not universalizable; they are prescriptive, but not evaluative because they have no descriptive meaning {‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 19]; ‘Imperatives, Prescriptions, and their Logic’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 51]; Freedom and Reason: 27; ‘Imperative Sentences’: 36, 39}.

277. Why is the imperative mood useful and necessary?     [Top]
The imperative mood is useful and necessary for several reasons.

  • The imperative mood is useful because it provides us with a way of saying, or telling someone to do, many different things such as is done in instructing, advising, requesting, ordering, praying, and so on, without having to give a reason for saying them. This reason-giving would be practically impossible to do on a routine basis, and so the imperative mood is also necessary.
  • The imperative mood is also very useful because, in not requiring that reasons be given, it makes it possible for people to supply their own reasons and thus opens up the imperative to a wider assortment of reasons for it, making agreement and cooperation more probable.

At bottom, the imperative mood is useful because it makes it easier to say some things and necessary because without it saying certain things would be practically impossible {‘Why Moral Language?’: 75-6; ‘Austin’s Distinction between Locutionary and Illocutionary Acts’: [Practical Inferences: 111]}.

278. Why can imperatives not be put into proper universal form?     [Top]
There are two reasons why imperatives cannot be put into proper universal form. First, imperatives only occur in the future tense, whereas universal statements apply to all tenses. Second, imperatives are mostly phrased in the second person, but universal statements can be in any person. In these ways the imperative is defective {‘Possible People’: [Essays on Bioethics: 71]; ‘Practical Inferences’: [Practical Inferences: 62-3]; ‘Wanting: Some Pitfalls’: [Practical Inferences: 55]; The Language of Morals: 187; ‘Imperative Sentences’: 25}.

279. Does universal prescriptivism require that there be logical inferences to and from imperatives?     [Top]
No. Universal prescriptivism requires only that a logical relation of inconsistency can exist between imperatives or prescriptions {‘Imperatives, Prescriptions, and their Logic’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 45]; ‘Some Alleged Differences Between Imperatives and Indicatives’: 322}.

280. Is the transformation into the imperative mood a syntactic or semantic transformation?     [Top]
The change into the imperative mood can be seen as either syntactic or semantic: syntactic (or grammatic) because the rules for forming imperatives are different than for, say, indicatives; semantic because the change makes a difference to the meaning of the resultant sentence {‘Why Moral Language?’: 72}.

Influences

281. Was Plato an intuitionist?     [Top]
No. Plato, unlike Descartes later, did not claim that we can have knowledge (e.g., knowledge of the Good) by intuition, by self-evident or clear and vividly distinct intellectual seeing. Instead, acquiring knowledge requires that claims to knowledge be subjected to a procedure of careful and exhaustive scrutiny, in essence, critical thinking {Sorting Out Ethics: 141; Plato: 37, 72}.

282. What are the historical sources of the prescriptivity of moral judgments?     [Top]
Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were all prescriptivists about moral language, though to say this is not to deny that there were also descriptivist elements. The prescriptivity, however, is especially evident in Aristotle’s account of the practical syllogism, which links thought to action, and in his rejection of Plato’s Idea of the Good. In modern times, the prescriptivity of moral judgments was recognized by Hume, Kant, and Mill, and even more recently by Carnap, Ayer, and Stevenson, and perhaps Wittgenstein (who was at least not an ethical descriptivist) {‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 20-1]; ‘A New Kind of Ethical Naturalism?’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 67-8]; ‘Philippa Foot on Subjectivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 89, 93]; ‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 106, 108]; Sorting Out Ethics: 129-30; ‘Weakness of the Will’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 109-10]; ‘Moral Terms’: [Encyclopedia of Ethics: 869-70]; Plato: 72-3; ‘Platonism in Moral Education: Two Varieties’: 574-6; The Language of Morals: 29}.

283. Did the notion of descriptive meaning originate with universal prescriptivism?     [Top]
No. In the 1930s and 1940s, C. L. Stevenson was already using ‘descriptive meaning’ as distinct from ‘emotive meaning’ {‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 25]; ‘A New Kind of Ethical Naturalism?’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 84]; ‘Philippa Foot on Subjectivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 88]; Sorting Out Ethics: 20, 52; ‘Moral Terms’: [Encyclopedia of Ethics: 869]; Moral Thinking: 70; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 50]}.

284. Who or what influenced the ‘ordinary-language’ view that problems in ethical theory should be framed conceptually rather than metaphysically?     [Top]
One of the main influences for minimizing the role of ontology in ethics was the work of J. L. Austin. It was his view that studying the way ordinary people – not philosophers – use language is the key to getting us out of philosophical muddles and that resorting to metaphysics and ontology for solutions only causes more confusion. Hume’s attentive observation regarding ‘is’ and ‘ought’ is a very important early example of how insufficient attention to language can lead to philosophical mistakes {‘A Philosophical Autobiography’: 296; ‘Can I Be Blamed for Obeying Orders?’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 3-4]}.

285. What ethical theories influenced universal prescriptivism?     [Top]
Though universal prescriptivism is neither an emotivism (as Ayer’s or Stevenson’s theories) nor an imperativism (as Carnap’s theory), it has elements of both. From emotivism and imperativism, universal prescriptivism gets the idea that moral judgments are not statements of facts, moral or otherwise, and might instead be a species of the prescriptive genus, imperatives being a different species of that same genus. These theories also suggest that moral argument might yet be possible because there might be logical relations between these prescriptive sentences; universal prescriptivism especially, in contrast to the other two non-descriptivist theories, lays great weight on the rational aspects of moral discourse {‘A Philosophical Autobiography’: 288-9; ‘Philippa Foot on Subjectivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 89]; ‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 98]; Hare and Critics: 210; ‘A Reductio Ad Absurdum of Descriptivism’: 123; ‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 1-2; ‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 202; ‘Imperative Sentences’: 23; ‘Reasons of State’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 34]}.

286. Where did the thought that a rationalist non-descriptivism (such as universal prescriptivism) is possible come from?     [Top]
The thought that rationalism could be combined with non-descriptivism (and does not require realism) came primarily from three sources. First, Hägerström’s very important seminal work along with Ayer’s emotivism and Carnap’s imperativism at least raised the possibility that a rational non-descriptivism is the kind of ethical theory to develop. Second, some articles from the early 1940s by Reginald Jackson suggested the possibility of there being a practical reason that, instead of trying to identify moral facts, could rationally organize moral prescriptions. Third, H. J. Paton, the Kant scholar, pointed out that Stevensonian attitudes and Kantian maxims are similar. So if it were possible to criticize or rationally evaluate these attitudes, as Kant has practical reason criticize maxims, then it would be possible to combine Kantian rationalism and Stevensonian emotivism in such a way that a system of moral reasoning emerges which has elements of rationalism and non-descriptivism. It was perhaps the insight that the prescriptivity of moral judgments has to do with illocutionary rather than perlocutionary force that allowed these various strands of thought to come together into a rationalist non-descriptivism {‘A Philosophical Autobiography’: 288; ‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 25]; Sorting Out Ethics: 43, 114-5; Hare and Critics: 210; ‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 92-3]; ‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 1-2, 6; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 114-5; ‘Some Confusions About Subjectivity’: 192; ‘Imperative Sentences’: 23}.

287. Is the distinction between levels of moral thinking original?     [Top]
No, not really. The distinction between levels is present, or at least intimated, in the writings of previous moral philosophers. It is, for instance, inchoately present in Socrates or Plato (in the distinction between the right opinion possessed by the auxiliaries and the knowledge possessed by the rulers) and Aristotle (in the distinctions between right motivation and practical wisdom, and the practical and intellectual virtues). The classical utilitarians used it to respond to objections raised by critics. In Bishop Butler the distinction emerges through his reservations regarding the scope of benevolence. It is also in Kant’s writings, though he sometimes does not give it the attention that it deserves. Among more contemporary philosophers, intimations of the levels distinction can be found in the writings of the intuitionists W. D. Ross and John Rawls {‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 25]; Sorting Out Ethics: 141, 158; ‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 145]; ‘Loyalty and Obedience’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 172-3]; ‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 62-3]; ‘Satanism and Nihilism’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 107]; ‘Utility and Rights: Comment on David Lyons’s Essay’: 148; ‘The Ethics of Clinical Experimentation on Human Children’: 681-2; ‘Abortion: Reply to Brandt’: 25; ‘How to Decide Moral Questions Rationally’: 75-6; ‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 4; ‘Arguing about Rights’: [Essays on Political Morality: 107, 113]; Plato: 50-1; Moral Thinking: 25; ‘Relevance’: 82; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 122; ‘Principles’: 10-1}.

288. The normative ethical theory that gives results paralleling those delivered by the method of moral reasoning drawn from universal prescriptivism has its roots in Millian utilitarianism and Kantian deontology, but isn’t it the case that these are opposing normative ethical theories?     [Top]
It is true that there are differences between Mill’s utilitarianism or consequentialism and Kant’s deontological moral theory. But they are not in all respects at opposite ends of the spectrum of normative ethical theories; that they are often presented in this way to beginners is to rely on a false dogma. When the theories are formulated with care, the apparent differences between them fade away; this fading-away can be seen at work in the theory of punishment where the reasoning of utilitarians and deontologists are often thought to be irreconcilable {‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 24]; ‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 139, 144]; Sorting Out Ethics: 26, 145, 147-8; ‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 70]; ‘Why I am only a Demi-Vegetarian’: [Essays on Bioethics: 221]; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 187]; ‘Health Care Policy: Some Options’: [Essays on Bioethics: 209]; ‘A Kantian Approach to Abortion’: [Essays on Bioethics: 172-3]; ‘Punishment and Retributive Justice’: 211, 218-20; ‘The Ethics of Clinical Experimentation on Human Children’: 681; ‘A Kantian Utilitarian Approach’: 185; Moral Thinking: 4; Freedom and Reason: 123-4}.

289. What are the historical sources of the principle of universalizability?     [Top]
There are two main sources for the concept of universalization. The first in importance is Kant, in particular in the universal law formulation of his categorical imperative. The second source is Bentham, who gave us the impartiality or equal consideration dictum that everyone is to count for one and no one for more than one, which is expressively equivalent to Kant’s first formulation of the categorical imperative. Lesser sources include Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, where universalization is taken to bring into the moral fold one’s friends. A wider extension of universalization is later evident in Stoic thought and then in Christian teaching {‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 3; Plato: 71; Moral Thinking: 4-5; ‘Platonism in Moral Education: Two Varieties’: 576; Freedom and Reason: 118}.

290. Did Kant reduce moral judgments to imperatives?     [Top]
Yes. Kant reduced moral prescriptions or judgments to imperatives, but Kant was using the concept of an imperative in an extended or wide sense. Though Kant is a major influence on universal prescriptivism, the latter does not at all reduce moral judgments to imperatives and does not view moral judgments as imperatives in disguise {‘Objective Prescriptions’: 25; ‘Philosophy and Conflict’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 64]; Freedom and Reason: 5; The Language of Morals: 2, 16; ‘Imperative Sentences’: 23}.

291. Was Kant an intuitionist?     [Top]
No. Kant was a rationalist and did not make appeals to moral intuitions {Hare and Critics: 256}.

292. Was Kant a utilitarian?     [Top]
No. Kant was not a utilitarian, first, because of his out-moded views on suicide, capital punishment, and animals, which were shaped by his upbringing. These views are actually unsupported by his ethical theory despite his efforts to make the theory support them. So Kant’s theory, but not the man himself, can be seen as consistent with a kind of utilitarianism; but Kant himself could have been a utilitarian insofar as his theory actually allows it. Second, he was not a utilitarian because he thought principles or maxims have to be general (not specific) or simple (not complex); he accordingly failed to distinguish between the universal and general and thus failed to see that a two-level utilitarianism can have universal principles that are either general or specific (but mostly specific) at the critical level and have universal principles at the intuitive level that are typically more general and simpler {Sorting Out Ethics: 141-2, 148, 154-5; ‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 144]; ‘Why I am only a Demi-Vegetarian’: [Essays on Bioethics: 221]}.

293. Who were the saviours of morality?     [Top]
Ayer and the other emotivists were the saviours of morality because they revealed that the route through descriptivism is a dead end in moral philosophy and that descriptivism breaks morality’s essential link to action {‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 5-6}.

Intuitionism

294. To what does ‘moral intuition’ confusedly refer?     [Top]
There are at least a couple of distinct elements to which ‘moral intuition’ refers. If we have had a good upbringing, then, first, we will have moral sentiments or feelings and, second, we will be aware that we have these sentiments {Moral Thinking: 58}.

295. Why do our moral intuitions support liberty and equality?     [Top]
‘Liberty’ and ‘equality’ are now hurrah-words that ring self-evidently true to us because of our upbringings shaped by historical circumstances under which democratic principles of liberty and equality have acquired wide-spread acceptance. This is why most of us raised in western democracies find liberty and equality intuitively appealing {‘Liberty and Equality’: [Essays on Political Morality: 121-2]}.

296. In what ways may received moral opinion or moral intuitions legitimately be used?     [Top]
Though moral intuitions have no probative force, they may nevertheless be legitmately used in several ways.

  • Provided that the moral intuitions, convictions and dispositions, or prima facie moral principles, have been vetted by critical thinking, intuitions used appropriately (e.g., when they are not in conflict) at the intuitive level of moral thinking are legitimate.
  • In moral anthropology, intuitions may be used as hypotheses to be tested against linguistic behavior so as to determine what people’s moral beliefs really are.
  • Intuitions can also be legitimately used in moral disputes to clear away prejudices, to show the prejudiced that there might be an alternate way to see the issue, to open minds.
  • Moral intuitions or received opinion may serve as clues to help us sort out differences between various moral outlooks.
  • Moral intuitions or our intuitive moral principles may be used to prioritize our thinking.
  • Moral intuitions or received opinion can help prod us into searching for reasons for our opinions.

In this connection, it is important to note the difference between appealing to moral intuitions and studying them {‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 149]; Hare and Critics: 213; ‘Why Do Applied Ethics?’: 231; Moral Thinking: 12, 15; ‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 212; ‘The Argument from Received Opinion’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 122, 125-7, 134-5]; Freedom and Reason: 174-5}.

297. Are the majority of moral philosophers intuitionists?     [Top]
Yes. The majority of moral philosophers are intuitionists, for the majority of them appeal to moral intuitions in trying to establish their moral conclusions. Universal prescriptivists are therefore in the minority because they do not appeal to moral intuitions but rather rely on a method of moral reasoning shaped by the logic of the moral words in order to establish their moral conclusions {‘Utilitarianism and the Vicarious Affects’: 148}.

298. For moral philosophy, what’s the most important difference between moral and linguistic intuitions?     [Top]
Though both moral intuitions and linguistic or logical intuitions are real, have legitimate roles to play in moral philosophy, and were designed only for ordinary cases, they differ in that only moral intuitions claim (or at least are taken by some philosophers to claim) to establish substantive moral doctrines {‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 20]; Moral Thinking: 11, 98, 139}.

299. In what ways do our upbringings cast doubt on our moral intuitions?     [Top]
Moral intuitions are the result of our upbringings, of what we when young were taught both by example and by word. Only some of what we learn comes from learning the meaning and use of the moral words and the consequent rules for moral thinking; there may instead be non-rational influences at work in our upbringings, too. So the characteristics of our particular upbringings will affect our moral intuitions. And because upbringings differ from society to society, we are likely to wind up with different moral intuitions; so doubt is raised about which intuitions are correct. And because upbringings are tailored to normal or ordinary circumstances, we are likely to wind up with moral intuitions that are only appropriate for non-bizarre and non-fantastic cases; so doubt arises as to whether our moral intuitions about bizarre or fantastic cases can be trusted {‘Why Do Applied Ethics?’: 232; Moral Thinking: 40, 132; ‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 210, 215}.

300. What is intuitionism?     [Top]
Intuitionism is any view that takes moral intuitions or moral convictions to be the foundational data upon which all moral reasoning must be based or against which all moral theories must be tested for moral (as opposed to anthropological) correctness. If there are many such intuitions, then the view is pluralistic; if there is only one intuition, all other moral judgments being derived from it, then the view is monistic {‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 103]; ‘The Ethics of Clinical Experimentation on Human Children’: 684; ‘Why Do Applied Ethics?’: 231; ‘The Argument from Received Opinion’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 125-7]}.

301. What is the vice of intuitionism?     [Top]
The vice of intuitionism, which is just a mask for subjectivism and which commits the latter’s descriptivist error, is that it tries to pass off psychological facts (i.e., statements about dispositions, feelings, etc.) as moral properties that actions, as the intuitionists tell it, have. But these so-called moral properties are in reality only tendencies of ordinary (i.e., not moral) properties to evoke feelings in us {Moral Thinking: 217}.

302. What is the principal defense against intuitionism?     [Top]
The principal defense against intuitionism is in a sense to join forces with it. The two-level utilitarianism argued for on universal prescriptivist grounds accords a place for intuitions in our moral experience and practice. Moral intuitions are operative at the lower, intuitive level of moral thinking, and these intuitions, by and large, are the common-sense intuitions that we already have. So when intuitionists object to utilitarianism by appealing to intuitions, universal prescriptivism can agree that there are such intuitions and can explain (by elevating our thought to the higher level of critical moral thinking) why we have them and, indeed, why we should have them {‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 313}.

303. Why is it a mistake to give moral intuitions an indisputable epistemological status?     [Top]
If moral intuitions are given, as the intuitionist does give them, an indisputable epistemological status, then there is no recourse when intuitions come into conflict, as they often do. The contrary intuitions will be claimed, by those who have them, to have the same unimpeachable status. The disputants will be deadlocked with no means in sight, for as indisputable they will not let anything count against their respective intuitions, as to how the dispute might be resolved. There will be nowhere left for the discussion to go, except to appeal to more intuitions and thus to another iteration of the intuition-fueled dispute {‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 312-3; Moral Thinking: 172}.

304. Are intuitions real?     [Top]
Yes, intuitions are real. We do have them and their content is real (though incomplete). Intuitionists are not having moral hallucinations {Moral Thinking: 11, 40, 75; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 192}.

305. What is the best that the intuitionists’ ‘method’ can do?     [Top]
To the extent that intuitionists have a method, which is simply to appeal to more intuitions, the best their ‘method’ can do is to stumble into a consensus among those people who have been similarly educated and who thus – for intuitions are a result of our upbringings – happen to have the same or similar intuitions. This similar education and the moral thinking it inculcates, however, might be faulty, resulting in shared but faulty intuitions, and the intuitionists have no independent way of telling whether the education has been done well or poorly and therefore no independent way to check if its intuitional deliverances are correct. In short, neither intuition nor consensus alone proves anything or provides good reasons. Universal prescriptivism, on the other hand, argues for a deeper justification than mere consensus; at a minimum the moral thinking also needs to be done without factual or logical errors and without special pleading or confusion {Sorting Out Ethics: 89; ‘Loyalty and Obedience’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 177]; Hare and Critics: 276-8, 292; ‘The Ethics of Clinical Experimentation on Human Children’: 687; ‘Little Human Guinea-Pigs?’: 76; Moral Thinking: 40, 132, 155-6; ‘Justice and Equality’: 124}.

306. How do intuitionists (and other descriptivists) exploit human prejudice?     [Top]
Intuitionists have no way of doing critical moral thinking, have no detailed, comprehensive method for resolving moral disputes. Since they are thus stuck at the intuitive level of moral thinking, intuitionists can only appeal to intuitions, dispositions, gut feelings, and the like – such as prejudices – in order to settle moral disputes {‘In Vitro Fertilization and the Warnock Report’: [Essays on Bioethics: 117]; Moral Thinking: 40; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 191}.

307. In what way is intuitionism inferior to utilitarianism?     [Top]
A two-level utilitarianism is epistemologically superior to intuitionism; for such a utilitarianism has, while intuitionism lacks, the means – namely, the critical level of moral thinking – to justify intuitions by giving reasons for moral convictions {Hare and Critics: 259; ‘In Vitro Fertilization and the Warnock Report’: [Essays on Bioethics: 106-7]; Moral Thinking: 137, 155-6}.

308. What does intuitionism get right and what does it get wrong?     [Top]
Intuitionism gets the intuitive level of moral thinking very nearly right: we do have rights and it is very plausible that we have intuitions or very firm moral convictions that we take to be obviously true, and it is almost always morally right to act on the basis of these intuitions. What intuitionism gets wrong, through neglect of it, is the critical level of moral thinking and a method to use at that level. This higher, critical level is necessary in order to resolve conflicts at the lower, intuitive level and also to assess the merits of the principles used at the intuitive level {Sorting Out Ethics: 128, 139; ‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 104]; ‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 144]; ‘How to Decide Moral Questions Rationally’: 75; ‘Utility and Rights: Comment on David Lyons’s Essay’: 150-1; Moral Thinking: 155-6; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 188}.

309. Why might critical thinking reject an intuition?     [Top]
If general adherence to following an intuition does not in normal circumstances lead to the best preference-satisfaction outcome, then critical thinking will reject that intuition; it will be marked by critical thinking as an intuition that ought not to be inculcated for use at the intuitive level, the only level where intuitions are allowed in moral thinking {Moral Thinking: 137}.

310. What are the sources of moral intuitions?     [Top]
There are two main sources of moral intuitions: our upbringing as children and our past experiences as adults. In both kinds of cases, if the practical principles we learn are unquestioningly accepted for a sufficient period of time, they will appear to us with intuitive force, as matters of fact and indubitable {‘Philosophy and Conflict’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 63]; ‘Do Agents Have to be Moralists?’: 52; Moral Thinking: 40, 132; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 178; ‘Justice and Equality’: 125; The Language of Morals: 77, 165, 179}.

311. Does widespread agreement in intuitions accord the intuitions any epistemological privilege?     [Top]
No. Even if there were total agreement among people’s intuitions, the intuitions should still not be on that account taken to be correct. Critical thinking must still be applied to them in order to verify that the intuitions are to be inculcated {Moral Thinking: 136}.

312. What is it to have an intuition?     [Top]
To have a moral intuition is to be convinced of a moral claim without asking for any reasons in support of it and without even questioning the claim (though one may be able and prepared to question it) {‘Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity in South Africa?’: [Essays on Political Morality: 169]}.

313. What’s the most basic objection to intuitionism?     [Top]
The most basic objection to intuitionism is its inability to resolve conflicts between intuitions, thus leading to relativism. Unlike universal prescriptivism, intuitionism provides no non-circular method for adjudicating between conflicting intuitions such as those in the abortion controversy. So, to explain away the conflicts, intuitionists have to say that the correct intuitions are those had by those who have been morally well educated. But they have no non-circular way of identifying these well-educated people, leaving us with the conflicting moral intuitions of apparently morally well-educated people in different cultures and societies {‘Philosophy and Conflict’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 63]; ‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 144]; ‘The Ethics of Clinical Experimentation on Human Children’: 684; ‘Arguing about Rights’: [Essays on Political Morality: 106-7]; Moral Thinking: 39-40, 155-6; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 178; ‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 201-2, 217; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 46-7]}.

314. Who are intuitionists?     [Top]
Intuitionists are people who think that the intuitive level of moral thinking is all there is to morality; they have, to the exclusion of other kinds of principles and thinking, zeroed in on general principles which we have as a result of our upbringing and which we uncritically use in our everyday moral thinking. By relying exclusively on these general principles, they think that they already know the answers to moral problems, and so they do not use arguments or reason to try to answer them. Intuitionists have not seen that a higher level of moral thinking, the critical level, is needed in order to secure a rational way of selecting, and resolving conflict between, the general principles which our upbringings are to inculcate in us in the first place {Moral Thinking: 132; ‘Opportunity for What?’: 207; ‘Principles’: 16}.

315. What is a common form of intuitionist argument?     [Top]
A common form of argument among intuitionists is the following.

  1. Everyone would agree with this claim.
  2. The claim depends on this principle.
  3. If you agree with the claim, then you must agree with this other claim which also relies on the same principle.
  4. So you must agree with this other claim.

There are a couple problems with this form of argument. First, even if everyone would agree with the first claim, it is just assumed that they ought to agree to it (e.g., assumed that the principle is correct). Second, it is assumed that the second claim also makes use of the same principle {‘The Role of Philosophers in the Legislative Process’: [Essays on Political Morality: 2-3]}.

316. Who or what are the crypto-intuitionists?     [Top]
Crypto-intuitionists are philosophers who want to avoid being called intuitionists but who really are intuitionists because they constantly appeal to intuitions in their arguments. They generally do not posit the existence of a special faculty of intuition as an earlier breed of intuitionist (e.g., H. A. Prichard and W. D. Ross) did and speak more of convictions than of intuitions. John Rawls, Robert Nozick, Ronald Dworkin, Stuart Hampshire, Bernard Williams, and Hillary Putnam are prime examples of crypto-intuitionists {‘The Role of Philosophers in the Legislative Process’: [Essays on Political Morality: 3]; ‘How to Decide Moral Questions Rationally’: 65; Moral Thinking: 75-6; ‘Justice and Equality’: 121}.

317. Why is it dangerous to rely on moral intuitions?     [Top]
Relying exclusively on moral intuitions is dangerous because such reliance can cause our reasoning powers to atrophy and thus cause us to become less able to argue or give justifications when they are called for {‘Liberty and Equality’: [Essays on Political Morality: 124]}.

Judgments

318. Are judgments that express ideals universalizable and prescriptive?     [Top]
Yes. Like aesthetic judgments and like other moral judgments, judgments expressing ideals – including those that might be made by a fanatic – are both universalizable and prescriptive {‘On Terrorism’: [Essays on Political Morality: 37]; Freedom and Reason: 152, 161-2, 169}.

319. What is the test that a judgment is being used as a value-judgment?     [Top]
To test whether a judgment is being used as a value-judgment we are to ask the person who makes the judgment whether she recognizes that assenting to the judgment also requires that she assent to doing what the judgment says to do when it is in her power to do it. If she recognizes this requirement of double assent, then the judgment is being used as a value-judgment {Freedom and Reason: 79; The Language of Morals: 168-9}.

320. How do moral judgments differ from desires?     [Top]
The crucial difference between moral (and aesthetic) judgments and desires (or wants and hence interests) is that moral (and aesthetic) judgments are, and must be, universalizable. Desires can be universal, but they do not have to be universal. There can, for example, be a universal desire in the sense of desiring that something always happen in certain situations. But someone’s desiring something does not commit her to desire also that other people in like circumstances have the same desire for that something. In short, desires, wants, and interests, have no universalizability of their own {Freedom and Reason: 71, 126, 157-8, 169-70}.

321. Are all ought-judgments universalizable?     [Top]
No. At least universal prescriptivism does not – nor does it need to – claim that all ought-judgments are universalizable. Universal prescriptivism only claims that in most cases ought-judgments are universalizable; in other words, there might be degenerate usages in which ‘ought’ does not have its typical universal sense {Freedom and Reason: 37}.

322. What feature do moral judgments and descriptive judgments share?     [Top]
Moral judgments and descriptive judgments both have descriptive meaning and thus are both universalizable {Freedom and Reason: 15}.

323. What are the three most important truths about moral judgments?     [Top]
The three most important truths about moral judgments are that moral judgments are:

  • universalizable
  • prescriptive
  • within the logical fold (i.e., logical relations such as contradiction can hold between prescriptive judgments and hence between moral judgments)

The last truth reveals that morality can be rational; but universalizability does this, too, because to universalize is to give a reason {Freedom and Reason: 4-5}.

324. What are moral judgments about?     [Top]
Moral judgments are about (but not indicative statements about) situations, acts, and people; in particular, they are about universal properties that situations, actions, and people have and that provide the reasons for the judgment {Sorting Out Ethics: 11-3, 97; Moral Thinking: 216; ‘Relevance’: 86; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 49, 52]}.

325. Do all moral judgments involve principles?     [Top]
Yes. In every moral judgment there is a principle, rule, or maxim involved. It need not be, and probably is not, the same principle for each moral judgment, but there is always some principle involved. In particular, for each case, whenever someone sincerely makes a moral judgment, the person commits herself, because of the universalizability of the judgment, to a meaning-rule which is a universal rule or principle and which is (in the case of moral judgments) also a substantial moral (universal) principle. The universal rule or principle lays it down that such-and-such words can appropriately be applied to any object or action of a certain kind, and the substantial moral principle prescribes or condemns, as the case may be, the object or action {‘Political Obligation’: [Essays on Political Morality: 11]; Freedom and Reason: 23, 30; ‘Universalisability’: 307-8}.

326. In what ways or senses can a judgment be subjective?     [Top]
There are many senses in which a judgment can be subjective.

  • In one (narrow or old-fashioned) sense of ‘subjective’, a judgment is subjective if it makes a statement about a person’s state of mind, disposition, attitude, feeling, and so on.
  • In another (wider) sense of ‘subjective’, a judgment is subjective if it makes a statement about an object that is in principle not publicly observable.
  • In yet another (widest) sense of ‘subjective’, a judgment is subjective if it is not fact-stating or claim-making.

Universal prescriptivism is a subjectivist theory only in the widest, and least common, sense of ‘subjective’; but it is much better to speak of it as a non-descriptivist theory in order to avoid being confused by these various senses of ‘subjective’. It should be noted that all of the above senses have reference to (semantic) theories of the meaning of moral words or judgments, not directly to (metaphysical or ontological) theories that make claims about the existence of properties {Moral Thinking: 78, 207-8; ‘Nothing Matters’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 42-3]}.

327. Why are moral judgments universalizable?     [Top]
It is because reasons can always be asked for them that moral judgments are universalizable, and in universalizing we are giving those reasons by appealing to the descriptive meaning of the words used in the judgment. If someone, when asked for her reasons for making a certain utterance which she sincerely professes to be a moral judgment, replies that no reasons are needed, we would not find her reply comprehensible and would think that she did not understand the word ‘moral’; her use of ‘moral’ would not fall within the scope of what we take to be moral discourse. But at the same time it must be remembered that this demand for reasons is not unique to moral judgments; so ‘moral’ is doing no special work here {Sorting Out Ethics: 11-3, 12-3; Freedom and Reason: 5, 10, 12, 37, 39; ‘Universalisability’: 298, 304-5}.

328. In what ways or senses can a judgment be objective?     [Top]
There are many senses in which a judgment can be objective.

  • In one sense of ‘objective’, a judgment is objective if it states a fact.
  • In another sense of ‘objective’, a judgment is objective if to know its meaning is to know its truth conditions.
  • In yet another sense of ‘objective’, a judgment is objective if it is purely descriptive.
  • There is also a sense of ‘objective’ in which a judgment is objective if it says something about an in-principle publicly observable object.
  • There is also a sense of ‘objective’ in which a judgment is objective if it says something about an in-principle publicly observable object and is made because those objects have certain properties.
  • There is also a sense of ‘objective’ in which a judgment is objective if it states something about an in-principle publicly observable object.
  • There is also a sense of ‘objective’ in which a judgment is objective if it is unbiased.
  • There is also a sense of ‘objective’ in which a judgment is objective if it conforms to the judgment of a reasonable person.
  • There is also a sense of ‘objective’ in which a judgment is objective if it is impersonal or impartial.
  • Another sense of ‘objective’ can be understood as the acceptability of a judgment to all rational thinkers.
  • A judgment can be ‘objective’ in the sense that calling it such entails the reality of moral disagreement (i.e., only one of the parties is correct).

Universal prescriptivism can be viewed as an objectivist theory in most of these senses of ‘objective’ so that it makes sense to speak of objective prescriptions. The only sense that is definitely ruled out by universal prescriptivism is the one above that would require moral judgments in their central uses to be purely descriptive. Nevertheless, it is much better to speak of universal prescriptivism as a non-descriptivist theory in order to avoid being confused by these many and various senses of ‘objective’ {‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 24]; Sorting Out Ethics: 94, 134, 141; ‘How did Morality Get a Bad Name?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 93-4]; Plato: 66-7; Moral Thinking: 207-12}.

329. In what ways do moral judgments differ from legal judgments?     [Top]
One of the main ways in which moral judgments differ from legal judgments is that legal judgments at least implicitly contain individual constants designating jurisdiction. Individual constants are barred from moral judgments by the logical property of universalizability, and so legal judgments are not universalizable. Also, since ‘ought’ is universalizable in its typical uses, ‘ought’ cannot be used in legal judgments {‘Political Obligation’: [Essays on Political Morality: 9-10]; Freedom and Reason: 35-6; ‘Universalisability’: 296}.

330. What is the solution to the dispute about whether moral judgments are objective or subjective?     [Top]
There is no solution to the dispute about whether moral judgments are objective or subjective, for the dispute itself is bogus. The dispute is bogus because it stems from descriptivism’s erroneous claim that moral judgments are purely descriptive. They are, to be sure, descriptive in part; but they also have a prescriptive or evaluative element which descriptivism leaves out. If this more complex character of moral judgments is acknowledged, then it becomes apparent that the dichotomy of objective versus subjective does not apply to moral judgments. Instead of letting themselves be side-tracked by this spurious dispute, philosophers should be focused on how moral thinking can be rational {Moral Thinking: 206; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 106]; ‘Nothing Matters’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 40-2]}.

331. What shows that moral judgments are not equivalent to imperatives?     [Top]
That moral judgments are not equivalent to imperatives can be seen in cases of disagreement. If two people disagree about a moral judgment, then one of them must be wrong. But if two people disagree about an imperative, it is not the case that one of them must be wrong. The explanation of this difference between the attribution of wrong in these contexts is that imperatives, though there can be reasons for them, can be based on whims while sincere moral judgments cannot be based on whims and must instead be based on reasons {‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 182-3]; ‘Some Confusions About Subjectivity’: 205-6}.

332. What is a descriptive judgment?     [Top]
Basically, a descriptive judgment is a judgment the meaning (and reference, too) of which determines the judgment’s truth conditions; and the truth conditions of the judgment determine the judgment’s meaning and reference. Another way to characterize a descriptive judgment is to say that it is a sentence in the indicative mood and has descriptive terms as predicates (where a descriptive predicate is such that if one knows its meaning then one is able to discern its application conditions) {‘Imperatives, Prescriptions, and their Logic’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 50-1]; Moral Thinking: 212; ‘Some Confusions About Subjectivity’: 195; ‘The Argument from Received Opinion’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 119]; Freedom and Reason: 10}.

333. Do all moral judgments have the logical property of prescriptivity?     [Top]
No. Universal prescriptivism only claims that a proper subset of all moral judgments, a subset important for moral reasoning, has the logical property of prescriptivity. The reason why some moral judgments are not full-blooded, do not have prescriptivity, is that some moral judgments do not endorse any standards – that is, they lack evaluative meaning – and so can only apply prevailing standards. An example of a moral judgment that lacks prescriptivity is a ‘so what?’ moral judgment; these are sometimes uttered in cases of weakness of will: ‘I ought, but I am not going to’ {Sorting Out Ethics: 18; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 179-80]; Moral Thinking: 21-2, 58; ‘Platonism in Moral Education: Two Varieties’: 579; Freedom and Reason: 22; The Language of Morals: 172}.

334. Are moral judgments the only kind of judgments that have both prescriptivity and universalizability?     [Top]
No. There are other, non-moral evaluative judgments that also have the logical properties of prescriptivity and universalizability. For example, aesthetic judgments have both prescriptivity and universalizability {‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 309; Moral Thinking: 21-2; Freedom and Reason: 139, 162, 169; ‘Universalisability’: 296}.

335. What makes moral judgments objective?     [Top]
The objectivity of a moral judgment or statement consists in its being a prescription to which all rational thinkers will assent: an impartial judgment. So the objectivity does not consist in being factual or descriptive, for prescriptions are not purely factual or descriptive {‘A Philosophical Autobiography’: 304; ‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 24]; Sorting Out Ethics: 134, 141; ‘Objective Prescriptions’: 25, 31; ‘Philosophy and Conflict’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 61]; ‘How did Morality Get a Bad Name?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 93-4]; Plato: 66-7; Moral Thinking: 211-2}.

336. Since both moral judgments and aesthetic judgments have the feature of universalizability, what sets them apart?     [Top]
While both moral judgments and aesthetic judgments have the logical features of universalizability and prescriptivity, only moral judgments have the feature of overridingness. It might be thought that the involvement of others’ interests also sets the judgments apart, but this is not so; for, although aesthetic judgments have nothing to do with others’ interests and some moral judgments do, some moral judgments, such as those expressing ideals, do not {‘A Philosophical Autobiography’: 290; ‘Universalizability’: [Encyclopedia of Ethics: 1259]; ‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 309; Moral Thinking: 52-62; Freedom and Reason: 139, 162, 168-9; ‘Universalisability’: 296}.

337. What is the single most decisive difference between imperatives and moral judgments?     [Top]
What sets moral judgments apart from singular imperatives most decisively is that moral judgments are universalizable whereas imperatives are not. This universalizability, which moral words like ‘ought’ have because of their supervenient character and which they convey to the sentences which contain them, makes moral judgments’ logical properties stronger than imperatives’ logical properties {‘A Philosophical Autobiography’: 290; ‘Imperatives, Prescriptions, and their Logic’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 51]; ‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 102]; ‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 636; ‘Some Confusions About Subjectivity’: 205; Freedom and Reason: 36; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 52]; ‘Universalisability’: 305}.

338. Can moral judgments be unfalsifiable?     [Top]
Yes. Along with many other kinds of utterances (e.g., religious statements), moral judgments can be unfalsifiable. But even so they still can have content and be to some extent determinate and thus meaningful {‘The Simple Believer’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 18-9]}.

339. What is a moral judgment?     [Top]
A moral judgment (or statement or proposition) is an overriding universal or universalizable prescription, permission or prohibition used as advice or guidance {‘How did Morality Get a Bad Name?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 87-90]; ‘Satanism and Nihilism’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 102]; ‘The Argument from Received Opinion’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 125]}.

340. Can there be singular moral judgments?     [Top]
Yes. The thesis of universalizability requires that moral judgments be universalizable. So there can be singular moral judgments as long as those judgments can be universalized. This universalization can be done by showing that the singular judgment can be derived from a universal principle. For example, the singular ‘She ought to keep her promises’ is universalizable because it can be derived from the universal principle ‘For all x, if x made promises, then x ought to keep x’s promises’ in combination with ‘She made promises’ {‘Universalizability’: [Encyclopedia of Ethics: 1259]}.

341. What are the three elements involved in making a moral judgment?     [Top]
In making a moral judgment, there is:

  • a what (e.g., the action to be done)
  • an ought (i.e., universally prescribing)
  • a reason (i.e., the justification for the judgment).

It is especially important to be aware that the third element, a reason, refers to the criteria for making the judgment and does not refer to the evaluative meaning of the judgment that is found in the second, an ought, element {‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 102, 104]}.

342. Must prescriptivism be a kind of internalism?     [Top]
Yes. Prescriptivism must be a kind of internalism; for prescribing is expressing desire, and desire is a kind of motivation {‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 97, 98, 101]}.

343. What is internalism?     [Top]
Internalism is the thesis that if someone sincerely makes a moral judgment then that person must be motivated or want to act (or others to act) in compliance with the judgment; the nature of the ‘must’ can vary according to the type of internalism. It is to be contrasted with externalism, which is at a minimum the thesis that there is no necessity of any kind between moral judgments and motivation; it might go farther than this and say in addition that there not even be any regularity between sincere moral judgments and motivation. Some people make this distinction between internalism and externalism in terms of ‘having a reason’, but this is to be avoided because the phrase is ambiguous {‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 96-7, 99]}.

344. What allows there to be logical relations between moral judgments?     [Top]
Illocutionary force is a part of the meaning of moral judgments or statements, and illocutionary force, unlike perlocutionary force, is rule-based on the conventions for language use and so can generate a logic {Sorting Out Ethics: 116; ‘Austin’s Distinction between Locutionary and Illocutionary Acts’: [Practical Inferences: 110]}.

345. What are the two elements in the meaning of moral statements or judgments?     [Top]
Apart from syntax, the two elements in the meaning of moral statements are the descriptive element and the evaluative element. The descriptive element is the standard or criteria used to specify the correct application of moral terms, in short, the truth conditions. The evaluative element is the expression of attitudes {Sorting Out Ethics: 104}.

346. Are all moral appraisals prescriptive?     [Top]
No. Some moral appraisals or judgments are not prescriptive. For example, someone might say that someone is good and only mean that she conforms to the prevailing standards in the community {Sorting Out Ethics: 18; ‘Prediction and Moral Appraisal’: [Essays on Bioethics: 197]; The Language of Morals: 167}.

347. Does an analytic moral judgment have any content?     [Top]
No. An analytic moral judgment (e.g., ‘we ought to do our duty’, ‘we ought not do what is wrong’) has no substantial content in the sense that it alone does not tell us to do any specific action. Such an analytic moral judgment does not enjoin this action rather than some other action because it is not informative as to what (in given the example) our duties are {‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 108]; Freedom and Reason: 31; The Language of Morals: 24, 41, 44}.

348. Are all evaluative judgments prescriptive judgments?     [Top]
Yes. Provided they are genuine evaluative judgments, all of them are also prescriptive {Freedom and Reason: 26-7}.

349. Are all prescriptive judgments evaluative judgments?     [Top]
No. There are some prescriptive judgments that are not evaluative. For example, the ordinary singular imperative, because it lacks descriptive meaning, is not evaluative, though it is prescriptive {Freedom and Reason: 27}.

350. Are all evaluative judgments moral judgments?     [Top]
No. There are some evaluative judgments that are not moral. For example, aesthetic judgments are evaluative {Moral Thinking: 22; ‘Geach on Murder and Sodomy’: 467}.

351. Are all moral judgments evaluative judgments?     [Top]
No. There are some moral judgments that are not evaluative; for, for example, some moral judgments are in inverted-commas {‘Geach on Murder and Sodomy’: 467; Freedom and Reason: 26-7; The Language of Morals: 172}.

352. What is a value judgment?     [Top]
Strictly speaking, a value judgment or evaluative judgment is a judgment that contains a non-insulated (e.g., not in inverted-commas) evaluative term, an evaluative term being one that has both prescriptive and descriptive meaning. More loosely, a value judgment is a prescriptive (prescriptivity here being understood to confer evaluative meaning) judgment that is universal or universalizable. A moral judgment is one kind of value judgment and has a subject and moral predicate(s) such as ‘good’ or ‘right’ which are predicated of the subject {‘Relevance’: 86; ‘Geach on Murder and Sodomy’: 467; Freedom and Reason: 26-7; The Language of Morals: 3}.

353. What makes moral judgments momentous?     [Top]
When we make a moral judgment, we are making a decision. But this decision is not merely for one individual on one particular occasion. It is a decision for anyone on any occasion just like this occasion in its universal properties. We are not deciding just for ourselves for just this one time. It is by this universality that moral judgments impose a rule, a discipline, and thereby become momentous {‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 636; Freedom and Reason: 12-3}.

354. Are moral judgments the same as imperatives?     [Top]
No. Moral judgments and imperatives, whether singular or universal, are not the same, and universal prescriptivism only takes imperatives to have one main feature in common with moral judgments: they are both prescriptive in their central or core uses. In short, they are the same only in that they both entail singular imperatives {‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 99]; Sorting Out Ethics: 114, 116; Hare and Critics: 252; Freedom and Reason: 5; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 49]; The Language of Morals: 179}.

355. Are moral judgments pure prescriptions?     [Top]
No. Moral judgments are not pure prescriptions, for they have – indeed, must have – a descriptive element in their meaning. So moral judgments or statements are neither completely descriptive nor completely prescriptive in meaning; their logical properties stem from both elements in their meaning, and moral judgments share some features with factual statements. In short, moral judgments are a hybrid of descriptive and prescriptive speech acts {Sorting Out Ethics: 11; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 177]; ‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 95]; ‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 626, 633}.

356. What relations obtain between a value-judgment and the standard which it uses?     [Top]
There are several ways in which value-judgments can be related to the standard they reference. First, the descriptive meaning in the value-judgment indicates whether the object of the value-judgment meets the standard. Second, if the standard is well-known and widely accepted, a value-judgment might express (not state) an acceptance of the standard. Third, if the standard is not well-known, a value-judgment might teach the standard {The Language of Morals: 135}.

357. If a moral judgment does not state facts, can making moral judgments be a rational activity?     [Top]
Yes. If moral judgments are prescriptive (and thus do not just state facts) and therefore serve to guide choices and to give advice for decision-making, the making of moral judgments can still be a rational activity; for advising, choosing, and deciding can be rational (or irrational) activities. So prescriptions – even pure prescriptions if there were any – can be rational, and rationality is not necessarily connected to the stating of facts {‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 92-3]; ‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 625-6; Freedom and Reason: 200-1}.

358. What are the purposes for making moral judgments?     [Top]
There are several purposes or functions of making moral judgments:

  • to teach moral principles by instantiation {‘Relevance’: 87; The Language of Morals: 157; ‘Freedom of the Will’: 204-5}
  • to make known the standard that is being used in making the judgment {The Language of Morals: 132, 161};
  • to make clear what our moral principles are {Moral Thinking: 88; The Language of Morals: 161}.

If we think of the purpose of a judgment also as its distinctive function and we also remember the difference between telling to do and getting to do, then moral judgments also have the purpose of guiding choices or actions and helping to resolve disagreements about interests {Sorting Out Ethics: 122; The Language of Morals: 13-5, 29, 171}

359. What decision is made in the making of a moral judgment?     [Top]
A decision of principle is made whenever we make a moral judgment. The decision made is the decision to judge all cases or situations, that are exactly similar in their universal properties to the given case (i.e., the one about which we are making the moral judgment), in the same way. Thus the decision is a decision about kinds or sorts of cases – all the kinds that are just like this one in their universal properties {‘Principles’: 8}.

360. How do value-judgments differ from singular imperatives?     [Top]
The main differences between value-judgments and singular imperatives are two. First, value-judgments are covertly universal while singular imperatives are not universal in any way. In other words, value-judgments imply similar cases are to be judged in the same way, but singular imperatives carry no such implication about similar cases. Second, value-judgments are made for reasons, but singular imperatives need not be backed up by reasons. Though a value-judgment, like an imperative, may be expressed without explicitly giving the reasons for it, there are always reasons for the value-judgment, and it is always appropriate to ask for those reasons; this is not so with imperatives {Sorting Out Ethics: 11-3; ‘Why Moral Language?’: 78; ‘Some Confusions About Subjectivity’: 204; Freedom and Reason: 56; The Language of Morals: 129-30, 154}.

361. What evidence is there that moral judgments are in some ways like imperatives?     [Top]
There is some evidence that moral judgments are in some ways like imperatives.

  • Both imperatives and moral judgments are prescriptive, not statements of fact.
  • Ought-sentences, like universal imperatives, involve a commitment and entail singular imperatives.
  • Moral teaching is often done with imperatives.

Though there are these similarities between moral judgments and imperatives, universal prescriptivism does not claim that moral judgments and imperatives are the same {Sorting Out Ethics: 114, 116; ‘Possible People’: [Essays on Bioethics: 71]; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 49, 51-2]; The Language of Morals: 2, 193}.

362. Can ought-judgments do the jobs of good-judgments and right-judgments?     [Top]
Yes {The Language of Morals: 180-1}.

363. Why does an imperative not invoke a universal principle as a reason?     [Top]
Unlike any moral judgment, an imperative – even a universal one – does not invoke or depend on a universal principle as a reason. The explanation of this difference in their logics is that people do not ask for reasons for imperatives; for example, a ‘No smoking’ sign posted in one train compartment, but not in another compartment that is just like the first, does not prompt people to ask for the reason why the second compartment does not get a posted sign. This difference in the way people use the language of morals and the language of imperatives points to the languages’ different logical behavior {Sorting Out Ethics: 11-3; The Language of Morals: 176}.

364. How are moral judgments different from universal imperatives?     [Top]
There is only one way in which moral judgments resemble universal imperatives: they both entail singular imperatives (i.e., are both prescriptive). But moral judgments differ from universal imperatives in many ways:

  • a universal imperative does not refer to or invoke a principle:
  • a universal imperative is always addressed to an individual or individual set of people;
  • a universal imperative lacks the feeling of inescapability attached to moral judgments;
  • a universal imperative cannot be used non-evaluatively as moral judgments sometimes can.

Perhaps the most significant difference is that moral principles have acquired a quasi-factual status due to their complete universality {The Language of Morals: 176-9}.

365. Do all ‘ought’-judgments entail imperatives?     [Top]
No. Universal prescriptivism does not claim that all ‘ought’-judgments entail imperatives; rather, it claims for a conceptual truth (i.e., true by definition) that all ‘ought’-judgments that are used evaluatively entail singular imperatives {Hare and Critics: 251; Freedom and Reason: 26-7; The Language of Morals: 164, 168, 192}.

Justice

366. Is justice an intuitive-level or critical-level concept?     [Top]
Formal justice, which is a purely logical consideration identified at the metaethical level of moral thinking and which amounts to impartiality (i.e., giving equal positive weight to the equal interests of all affected parties so that who plays what role is not relevant) between persons, applies for that reason (i.e., its formality) to both the critical and intuitive levels of moral thinking. Substantial justice, on the other hand, operates only at the intuitive level, though its prima facie principles are chosen at the critical level {Moral Thinking: 154, 158-60, 162, 211; ‘Justice and Equality’: 117-9; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 125}.

367. Why should the combination of cake theory and egalitarianism be rejected?     [Top]
The combination of cake theory and egalitarianism should be rejected, by eliminating cake theory, because the combination leads to absurdities such as setting extremely low standards of achievement; for there are some people who cannot achieve very much even if they are given access to amounts of resources in excess of what cake theory would allow. For example, since some cannot learn to read, no one would be allowed to be taught to read so as to sustain an egalitarian level of achievement {‘Opportunity for What?’: 213}.

368. What moral intuitions about justice should we have?     [Top]
To be useful at the intuitive level of moral thinking – to be useful as guides to conduct – our moral intuitions about justice should have content or be substantial. That substantial content should consist in principles of justice that have the greatest acceptance-utility as determined by the method of moral reasoning used when doing critical-level moral thinking {‘Liberty and Equality’: [Essays on Political Morality: 133]}.

369. What is meant, at least in part, by saying that the concept of justice belongs to the intuitive level of moral thinking?     [Top]
Substantial justice belongs to the intuitive level of moral thinking. What is meant by this attribution is, first, that critical thinking will pick, by their acceptance-utility, the prima facie principles of justice that are to be adopted at the intuitive level of moral thinking and serve as rules of social conduct. Second, because prima facie principles of justice will occasionally conflict, substantial questions of justice may sometimes have no right answer, no answer that satisfies all the demands of justice in the given moral dilemma; in such cases, it is the task of critical thinking to resolve the intuitive-level impasse, and it will do this by saying what ought to be done rather than by saying what the just act is {Moral Thinking: 158; ‘Justice and Equality’: 128}.

370. Why does equality in distribution require restrictions on equality of opportunity?     [Top]
Because some people have more talent or native ability than others, if all are given equal opportunity, then those with more talent will wind up with more of the goods to be had, thus resulting in an unequal distribution of those goods {‘Opportunity for What?’: 213}.

371. When are laws just?     [Top]
Laws are just when they distribute utility impartially {‘Liberty and Equality’: [Essays on Political Morality: 133]}.

372. Might there be situations in which there is no right, or unique and correct, answer about a question of justice?     [Top]
Yes. Being prima facie principles intended for use at the intuitive level, the principles of justice – like all other principles at that level – are general. This generality leads to their coming into conflict on occasion. When they do conflict, there may be no right answer; that is, there may be no answer that satisfies all of the demands of justice in the given situation. But there may yet be a best way of proceeding, identified by act-utilitarian critical thinking {Moral Thinking: 158}.

373. What are the cake and equipment theories?     [Top]
The cake and equipment theories are theories of distributive justice. The cake theory says that a just or fair distribution of goods (e.g., education) is one in which no person gets more of the good than any other person. An assumption of the cake theory is that only the interests of the recipients of the good matter for the assessment of the fairness of the distribution. If this assumption is rejected, and it is recognized instead that the equal weighted (according to their intensities or strengths) interests of all members of the society matter equally, thus securing fairness, we get the equipment theory; this theory says that a just or fair distribution of goods requires that some persons (e.g., those with more talent) get more of a good than other persons. From the perspective of universal prescriptivism, neither theory is fully adequate because neither leads to the selection of prima facie principles of justice that maximize acceptance-utility {‘Opportunity for What?’: 210-11}.

374. Why are justice and utility compatible?     [Top]
Justice most clearly requires giving equal positive weight to the equal interests of everyone, considered impartially. This requirement amounts to the principle of utility, and so justice and utility are quite compatible. Also, that justice itself has a public face in society is of great utility. It should be noted, however, that there might be an ideal of abstract justice that ignores interests altogether {‘Moral Reasoning about the Environment’: [Essays on Political Morality: 247]; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 117-8; Freedom and Reason: 104}.

375. When are we being formally unjust?     [Top]
We are being formally unjust when we act on differing moral judgments that have been made about identical cases {Moral Thinking: 157}.

376. In what sense are prima facie principles of justice just?     [Top]
The prima facie principles of justice that are inculcated in members of society are just in two senses.

  • The prima facie principles of justice are just in the generic or wide sense of being in accord with morality, with what is right and ought to be done.
  • The prima facie principles of justice are just in that they are the principles that have been selected by a procedure of a critical moral thinking that is formally just because it proceeds in observance of the requirements of universalizability or impartiality.

These are the only two senses in which such principles are just; in particular, they are not just in themselves independently of what is best given certain empirical facts about the way the world is and the way people are {‘Justice and Equality’: 129}.

377. What are the chief reasons in favor of liberty and equality?     [Top]
Even though liberty and equality are often at odds with each other and sometimes with themselves, the chief reasons arguing for both liberty and equality are grounded in empirical facts rather than in a priori reasonings; these facts are that people like or prefer the benefits that liberty and equality bestow on the members of societies that have such social virtues {‘Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity in South Africa?’: [Essays on Political Morality: 170-1]; ‘Liberty and Equality’: [Essays on Political Morality: 121-2]; ‘Justice and Equality’: 127}.

378. Why is formal justice alone not sufficient to generate principles of substantial justice?     [Top]
That formal justice or impartiality alone cannot derive substantial principles of social justice regarding the distribution of goods can be seen by considering the following:

  • we can take an equally small amount (e.g., a dollar or a cent) from each, thus impartially and without noticeable harm;
  • we can take the large sum of those small amounts and give it to any, thus impartially, single person.

So, with impartiality throughout, we can end up with a situation in which someone has more goods than anyone else, yielding an unequal distribution which some regard as substantially unfair or socially unjust {‘Justice and Equality’: 123}.

379. What is an example of a substantial principle of justice?     [Top]
An example of a substantial principle of justice is the principle that goods ought to be distributed equally (in the sense of mathematical equality or sameness of amount of the good, so that each person gets the same amount of the good). Such principles of justice are a kind of substantial moral claim; an example from this wider category would be that cheating at cards does not indicate a bad moral character {Sorting Out Ethics: 54; ‘Justice and Equality’: 122}.

380. What are the two stages in which arguments about what is just or fair have to proceed?     [Top]
The two stages in which arguments about what is just or fair have to proceed are:

  • selection of prima facie principles of justice;
  • apply the selected principles.

The principles are selected first and then are used in order to determine which individual acts are just {‘Justice and Equality’: 121; ‘Opportunity for What?’: 209}.

381. In what ways is Rawls’s approach similar and dissimilar to that of universal prescriptivism?     [Top]
Both Rawls and the universal prescriptivist agree that

  • there must be a method for choosing principles of justice,
  • the method must be based on formal constraints

Thus they are largely in agreement as to the formal part of their approaches. The differences creep in when applying the formal method to arrive at substantial principles of justice. Rawls uses moral intuitions in reflective equilibrium in the application of the method, making ad hoc changes to the method here and there, and so the application is inconsistent. Take away the moral intuitions, and he would have wound up with a utilitarianism instead. The universal prescriptivist, in contrast, uses no moral intuitions but only linguistic intuitions. Also, Rawls applies the formal method to fictitious rational contractors who allegedly would make certain kinds of judgments under artificial conditions of incomplete information; in contrast, universal prescriptivism applies the formal method to actual individuals who do make judgments while having access to full information. In short, Rawls does not ascend far enough from lower-level intuitive thinking to higher-level critical thinking {Sorting Out Ethics: 149; Hare and Critics: 264-5, 291; ‘Arguing about Rights’: [Essays on Political Morality: 107]; ‘Liberty and Equality’: [Essays on Political Morality: 126-8]; ‘Political Obligation’: [Essays on Political Morality: 10]; ‘Prediction and Moral Appraisal’: [Essays on Bioethics: 207]; ‘Justice and Equality’: 121; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 115-6}.

382. How does the logical tool of universalizability address the problem of inter-generational justice?     [Top]
If one is prescribing universally, then one is prescribing for anyone, hypothetical or actual, and thus also for possible people in future generations {‘Rawls’ Theory of Justice–II’: 243}.

383. How many different senses of ‘just’ or ‘justice’ are there?     [Top]
There are several prominent senses of ‘just’ or ‘justice’.

  • There is an extremely wide sense in which justice is the same as the whole of virtue.
  • In another almost as wide sense, ‘just’ means pretty much the same as ‘moral’ so that a just person is a moral person, a righteous or upright person, and a just act is a right act or the act that ought to be done with regard to other people.
  • In a more narrow or less generic sense, ‘just’ means something like ‘fair’.
  • In another sense, that of formal justice, the meaning behaves more like a consistency requirement when judging cases.
  • There is also an ideal of abstract justice that ignores people’s interests altogether instead of adjudicating between interests.

It is important to note that these senses need not all be satisfied; that is, for instance, an action could be just in the wide, moral sense but not just in the narrower, fairness sense: an act might be unfair but nevertheless one that ought to be done. This possibility reveals that principles using the narrower or less generic senses (e.g., fairness) can be overridden more easily than can those principles using the more generic or wider senses (e.g., rightness); the former, narrower-sense-using, principles are thus prima facie principles {‘Justice and Equality’: 116-9; ‘Opportunity for What?’: 209-10; Freedom and Reason: 104}.

384. How do the various senses of justice align with the levels of moral thinking?     [Top]
There are three levels of moral thinking and they line up with the various senses of justice like this:

  • meta-ethical level – formal justice
  • critical level – wider (more generic) senses of justice
  • intuitive level – narrower (less generic) senses of justice

Despite these alignments, it should not be thought that a kind of justice is exclusive to any particular level; for example, the property of formal justice is had by all moral principles at any level {‘Justice and Equality’: 117, 119}.

385. On what should a general theory of justice be founded?     [Top]
A general theory of justice, which encompasses several subsidiary accounts of justice such the theory of just punishment, should be founded upon a distributive theory of justice {‘Punishment and Retributive Justice’: 221; ‘Rawls’ Theory of Justice–II’: 242}.

386. Why would an impartially benevolent critical thinker elect to support prima facie principles that are moderately egalitarian?     [Top]
For two main reasons, an impartial and benevolent critical thinker would select prima facie principles that promote moderate and gradual redistribution of goods in the direction of equality:

  • diminishing marginal utility
  • avoidance of envy

These reasons are founded on contingent empirical facts (if indeed they are) about humans, not on moral intuitions. They do not lead to extreme egalitarianism because there are other empirical and practical considerations that serve as counter-weights: diminished enthusiasm for working hard if one’s earning are redistributed; increased feelings of hostility toward those who take one’s earnings; increased emigration; deepening alienation {‘Possible People’: [Essays on Bioethics: 78]; ‘Health Care Policy: Some Options’: [Essays on Bioethics: 209-10]; ‘Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity in South Africa?’: [Essays on Political Morality: 172]; Moral Thinking: 164-7; ‘Justice and Equality’: 125; ‘Opportunity for What?’: 215; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 117-8}.

387. Can a just moral principle be discriminatory?     [Top]
Yes. All moral principles have the property of formal justice, and formal justice allows that the different treatment of people can be based on qualitative differences such as skin color {‘Why Racism is an Evil’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 179-81]; Sorting Out Ethics: 135; ‘Relevance’: 88-9; ‘Justice and Equality’: 117; Freedom and Reason: 216, 219}.

388. Is retributive justice a form of distributive justice?     [Top]
Yes. Because legislators must do their critical moral thinking by taking into equal account the interests of all members of society, in choosing to adopt principles of, for instance, punishment that have the highest acceptance utility, legislators are impartially distributing harms and benefits to members of society {‘Punishment and Retributive Justice’: 221; Moral Thinking: 161; ‘Justice and Equality’: 119-20; ‘Rawls’ Theory of Justice–II’: 242; Freedom and Reason: 125}.

389. What is the basis of social justice?     [Top]
The basis of social or economic justice is the fair distribution of the advantages and disadvantages associated with the administration of laws and customs in a society {Moral Thinking: 161-2}.

390. In what does formal justice consist?     [Top]
Formal justice, as opposed to substantial justice, consists only in observing the formal canons of reasoning or forms of thought that derive from the logical properties of the moral words. In particular, formal justice includes both formal equality and formal liberty. Formal equality requires that we morally judge identical cases identically. Formal liberty asserts that individuals themselves are the best judges of what they now and for themselves prefer {‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 96]; ‘Liberty and Equality’: [Essays on Political Morality: 131-2]; ‘Justice and Equality’: 117}.

391. Why does justice have utility?     [Top]
Justice has utility because social harmony is necessary in order for a society to be on the whole a happy society, and social harmony requires that justice be observed. Without justice, there will be no social harmony because people will rebel and cause trouble if they think they are being treated unjustly. So, in short, justice has utility because justice is an essential component in the production of happiness in a society {‘Why Racism is an Evil’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 182-3]; ‘What Are Cities For? The Ethics of Urban Planning’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 209]}.

392. Is a person who acts for the same reasons as the archangel just?     [Top]
Yes. Someone who acts on the same grounds as the archangel – that is, on correct critical-level thinking – is virtuous and just in its widest sense {Moral Thinking: 148, 157, 160}.

393. Why should the selected prima facie principles of justice support elitism?     [Top]
The prima facie principles of justice selected by critical thinking would support elitism or a moderate egalitarianism for several reasons. First, neither the cake theory alone nor the equipment theory alone is fully adequate; there needs to be a mixture of the two. Second, any viable society must take advantage of those special talents and abilities of some of its members that hold the promise of being of service to the society. Third, envy, which is also evil in itself, should be reduced {‘Possible People’: [Essays on Bioethics: 78]; ‘Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity in South Africa?’: [Essays on Political Morality: 172]; ‘Opportunity for What?’: 211, 214-5}.

394. What is it to treat persons as equals?     [Top]
To treat persons as equals is to accord them equal concern; that is, their and our equal preferences or interests are given the same weight in our moral thinking {Hare and Critics: 257}.

395. What differences are there between formal justice and substantial justice?     [Top]
There are several differences between formal justice and substantial justice.

  • Formal justice is identified at the metaethical level of moral thinking.
  • Formal justice applies to both the critical and intuitive levels of moral thinking.
  • Formal justice is not overridable.
  • Formal justice is based only on logical considerations which amount to impartiality (which minimally is a constituent of justice).
  • Formal justice is independent of contingent facts about individuals or societies.
  • Substantial justice is overridable and is typically expressed using narrower or less generic senses of justice.
  • Substantial justice belongs to the intuitive level of moral thinking.
  • Substantial justice is dependent on contingent facts about individuals and societies.

The prima facie principles of substantial justice are chosen by critical, not intuitive, moral thinking {Moral Thinking: 158-60; ‘Justice and Equality’: 117-9}.

396. How can envy be avoided or at least reduced?     [Top]
There are several ways to reduce envy, including allowing the people:

  • to select their own leaders,
  • to remove their leaders from power,
  • to participate in the business of governing,
  • to develop their individual talents,
  • to be rewarded in proportion to their service to the community.

These measures to reduce envy require a common basic education for all which also permits different instruction for those individuals who display special abilities {‘Opportunity for What?’: 215}.

397. Is a procedurally just process sufficient to guarantee a just outcome?     [Top]
No. There are at least two factors that can interfere with a procedurally just process so that the outcome of the process is not just. The first factor is that people may be ignorant of what their real interests are and so make poor choices. The second factor is that people may not participate in the process in ways that accurately reflect the degree to which their interests are at stake {‘Contrasting Methods of Environmental Planning’: [Essays on Political Morality: 230-1]}.

Levels

398. Does the archangel advise us humans only to do intuitive moral thinking?     [Top]
No. The archangel advises us to do intuitive-level moral thinking most of the time; this intuitive level is to be the everyday level. But the archangel allows that there will be times – and we should be very careful about which times these are – when critical-level moral thinking will be necessary. So the archangel, who is wise, will advise humans to do both intuitive and critical thinking, but only when each is appropriate {‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 190]; ‘How to Decide Moral Questions Rationally’: 76; ‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 4; ‘Arguing about Rights’: [Essays on Political Morality: 117]}.

399. When should we follow our intuitions?     [Top]
We should follow our intuitions when they are clear (e.g., when they do not conflict) about a particular case and when we, having already done the necessary critical thinking, are confident that the intuitions we have are the best ones we can have. Under these conditions especially, it is wise to be cautious in departing from the dictates of our inculcated or ingrained prima facie moral principles or intuitions. This caution may lead us to do on occasion what is not morally right, but these occasions will be rare if the critical thinking determining which intuitions are to be inculcated has been done well {‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 190]; ‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 5; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 128-9}.

400. Why does the archangel think like an act-utilitarian but advise humans to be rule-utilitarians?     [Top]
In addition to all her other superhuman abilities, the archangel is wise. So, realizing that humans do not have the abilities and circumstances needed in order to think always as act-utilitarians, the archangel advises humans to inculcate general principles and dispositions that, if followed, will on the whole produce the greatest satisfaction of human preferences; and this advice, arrived at through specific rule-utilitarian thinking (which is practically equivalent to universalistic act-utilitarian thinking), is advice to implement general rule-utilitarian principles and practices {‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 189-90]; Hare and Critics: 224-227, 243; ‘How to Decide Moral Questions Rationally’: 76; ‘Liberty and Equality’: [Essays on Political Morality: 129]; ‘Utilitarianism and the Vicarious Affects’: 147-8; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 128}.

401. How many sub-levels of prima facie principles are there in the intuitive level of moral thinking?     [Top]
There are at least three sub-levels of prima facie moral principles within the intuitive level of moral thinking.

  • principles common to all individuals (e.g., principles requiring honesty and forbidding cruelty)
  • principles attaching to individuals because they occupy particular social roles (e.g., doctor, lawyer)
  • principles attaching only to individuals due to personal characteristics (e.g., being charitable)

The latter two sub-levels do not assign the same principles to everyone because not everyone plays the same roles in society nor has the same capacities {Moral Thinking: 200-1, 203}.

402. What is meant by saying that intuitive-level principles are prima facie?     [Top]
Intuitive-level principles are prima facie in the sense that they can be overridden and are defeasible {‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 147]; ‘Little Human Guinea-Pigs?’: 87; ‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 14; ‘Rights, Utility, and Universalization Reply to J. L. Mackie’: 109}.

403. Why is the intuitive level of moral thinking passive and uncritical?     [Top]
The intuitive level of moral thinking is passive and uncritical, taking its prima facie principles – which we at the intuitive level typically follow without any sustained reflection – as given and unquestionable and to be reasoned from rather than reasoned to, for several reasons. First, the intuitive level is defined as a kind of moral thinking at which appeal is made to intuitions without criticising them. Second, intuitionists do treat their intuitions in an uncritical or unquestioning way. Third, it is impossible simultaneously to treat moral intuitions as epistemologically sacrosanct and as objects of critical scrutiny {‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 18]; ‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 314; ‘Utilitarianism and the Vicarious Affects’: 146; ‘Principles’: 12}.

404. Since even fantastic cases are allowed in critical thinking, will critical thinking select prima facie principles for such cases?     [Top]
No. Critical thinking does have as one of its jobs the selection of prima facie principles for the intuitive level. But the cases for which it selects prima facie principles are ordinary cases because it is only such cases that can be effectively handled by intuitive-level thinking; for such thinking, to have a high degree of acceptance-utility, must consist of relatively simple and general principles that readily apply to the kinds of cases we typically encounter most of the time. Out-of-the-ordinary cases call for out-of-the-ordinary thinking, thus call for critical thinking. Another job of critical thinking, provided the time and other resources are available, is deciding what should be done in such out-of-the-ordinary cases. Critical thinking will use the full-blown Golden Rule role-reversal method of moral reasoning in order to decide such cases, and the result of the reasoning will be (as always) a moral principle for such cases – but not a prima facie, intuitive-level principle for such cases {‘Arguing about Rights’: [Essays on Political Morality: 117]; Moral Thinking: 141-2; ‘What Is Wrong with Slavery?’: 116-7; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 123-5}.

405. What are the chief theoretical uses of the two-level view of moral thinking?     [Top]
There are two chief theoretical uses of the separation between intuitive and critical moral thinking.

  • The separation of levels gives the utilitarian a victory over those critics that charge utilitarianism with counter-intuitiveness. The charge, in particular, is that utilitarianism’s recommendations can in some situations be brought into conflict with our common-sense moral intuitions. Far from rejecting these moral intuitions, the separation of levels shows how they can be retained and secures victory for the utilitarian by providing an explanation, consistent with utilitarianism, for why the recommendations conflict with the moral intuitions.
  • The separation of levels allows non-descriptivism to overcome the superficial appeal of descriptivism. The appeal or allure of descriptivism stems from the prevalence of the intuitive level at which we typically do our moral thinking with moral language that looks on the surface to be descriptive all the way through (e.g., paradigmatically true or false). But the separation of levels reveals an additional, not at all superficial, level of moral thinking with moral language that is now seen to be of a more complex character because it includes a prescriptive element.
  • The separation of levels makes it clear that the justification for our intuitive moral convictions is handled at the critical level of moral thinking and does not involve appeal to any substantive moral convictions or intuitions.

Besides these uses in normative ethics and metaethics, the distinction between levels can also be of great help in the philosophy of education {‘A Philosophical Autobiography’: 300; ‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 105]; Sorting Out Ethics: 136, 138-9; Zum moralischen Denken: 242; ‘A Utilitarian Approach’: 88-9; ‘Utility and Rights: Comment on David Lyons’s Essay’: 151, 153; ‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 313; Moral Thinking: 25}.

406. Why is the critical level of moral thinking needed?     [Top]
There are several reasons why the critical level of moral thinking is needed and the intuitive level alone is not self-sufficient:

  • to find, select, and justify the prima facie principles, standards, criteria, truth and application conditions, to be adopted (i.e., those which we ought to have, those which we should pass on to our children) at the intuitive level of moral thinking;
  • to resolve conflicts between intuitive-level prima facie principles, altering or modifying the principles if necessary;
  • to decide bizarre cases for which we are uncertain whether any current or already-adopted prima facie principles apply.

These functions, tasks, or objectives of critical moral thinking meet necessities which arise, most fundamentally, because the world in which we live is complex and diverse. It is this complexity and our limited abilities to cope with it that explain why we need multiple levels of moral thinking {‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 26]; Sorting Out Ethics: 141-3; ‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 144]; ‘Slavery’: [Encyclopedia of Ethics: 1159-60]; ‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 4; ‘Arguing about Rights’: [Essays on Political Morality: 108]; ‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 19, 22]; Moral Thinking: 39, 131-2; ‘Utilitarianism and the Vicarious Affects’: 146; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 177; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 124; ‘Principles’: 11; ‘What is Life?’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 68-9]}.

407. Why are the principles used at the intuitive level called prima facie principles?     [Top]
The intuitive-level principles are called ‘prima facie’ principles in honor of the intuitionists, like H. A. Prichard and W. D. Ross, who dominated moral philosophy in the early twentieth-century {‘Moral Conflicts’: 193}.

408. Why could intuitive-level prima facie principles not be designed as well for bizarre cases?     [Top]
There are several reasons why intuitive-level prima facie principles could not be designed to handle bizarre cases as well as the much more common non-bizarre cases. First, to fulfill their purpose given the limitations of the human psyche, prima facie principles need to be relatively simple, unspecific or general, and conveniently teachable; in short, they need to be designed for actual human nature. But the particulars of bizarre cases are such that principles designed to handle bizarre cases will have to have additional clauses and thus not have these features of simplicity, generality, and teachability. Moreover, the added complexity of the principles, introduced by the additional clauses, might lead to mistakes in their application, decreasing overall preference-satisfaction. Second, because they are bizarre, it will be very difficult to foresee in advance, with clarity sufficient to design principles for them, what the bizarre cases will be. Third, even if we could discern the details of bizarre cases in advance, so as to design specific principles for them, we probably would not – because of the rarity of such cases – remember the specific principle to use if we were ever to find ourselves in one of the bizarre cases for handling which we had received instruction during our upbringing {‘Utility and Rights: Comment on David Lyons’s Essay’: 156; Moral Thinking: 59, 138-9, 141-2; ‘What Is Wrong with Slavery?’: 116-7, 120; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 128}.

409. Is the two-level view an account of the way we actually do our moral thinking?     [Top]
Yes, the two-level view probably fairly accurately describes how we actual do our moral thinking. The two-level view’s helpfulness in solving so many of the problems plaguing moral philosophy leads one to believe that the view may indeed be an accurate description of how we – at least those of us who are wise – in fact do our moral thinking. The intuitive level matches up with a deontological outlook while the critical level matches up with an act-utilitarian outlook. And if the two-level view were not the way we actually do think, it is a way in which we could think and the way we should think if universal prescriptivism is correct {‘A New Kind of Ethical Naturalism?’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 83]; ‘Satanism and Nihilism’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 110]; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 190]; ‘Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity in South Africa?’: [Essays on Political Morality: 168]; ‘Rights, Utility, and Universalization Reply to J. L. Mackie’: 109; ‘The Ethics of Clinical Experimentation on Human Children’: 681; Moral Thinking: 52; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 193}.

410. Do we know that our current set of prima facie principles is the set of principles most likely to lead to the optimific act?     [Top]
No. We do not know that our current set of prima facie principles is the set of principles most likely to lead to the optimific act. But there is evidence, based on centuries’ of experience and common knowledge of how events play out in the world, that our current set of intuitive principles is generally an optimific-act-producing set {‘Utility and Rights: Comment on David Lyons’s Essay’: 153; ‘Principles’: 10}.

411. What was the genesis or motivation for the separation of levels?     [Top]
The motivation for the two-level view of moral thinking arose from a desire to defend a utilitarian position in normative ethics (in the theory of punishment, for instance). Universal prescriptivism results in a system of moral thinking that eventuates in conclusions identical to those delivered by a form of act-utilitarianism. But even classical utilitarians like Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and Henry Sidgwick were aware of objections to utilitarianism and so they dimly began to see the need for a separation of levels in order to address these objections. What emerged from their efforts to respond were various forms of rule-utilitarianism which parallel the views of intuitionists like H. A. Prichard and W. D. Ross. So, by putting these diverse strains of utilitarianism together, act-utilitarianism at the critical level and rule-utilitarianism at the intuitive level, a universal prescriptivism incorporating the two-level view provides a complete moral system able to defend a utilitarian normative ethics {‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 4; ‘Punishment and Retributive Justice’: 215, 218; ‘Utilitarianism and the Vicarious Affects’: 147; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 192}.

412. Can humans do critical moral thinking?     [Top]
Humans can only approximate critical moral thinking. Pure critical moral thinking can only be done by superhuman archangels. Though pure critical moral thinking is only an ideal for humans, we must strive toward it. By relying in part on the efforts of prior generations’ attempts and by estimating the results of renewed efforts for us now, we can approach it in its pure form and thereby identify the prima facie moral principles that we need to use at the intuitive level where we spend most of our time {Sorting Out Ethics: 142-3; Hare and Critics: 219-20, 229, 244; ‘Rights, Utility, and Universalization Reply to J. L. Mackie’: 109; ‘Utility and Rights: Comment on David Lyons’s Essay’: 153; ‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 315; Moral Thinking: 52, 98-9, 122; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 190; ‘Relevance’: 82; ‘The Argument from Received Opinion’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 128]; ‘Universalisability’: 309}.

413. Is the plain man – the typical person on the street – a prole?     [Top]
No. Because there are no actual proles, the plain man is no prole, though he does have some prolish traits {‘Moral Conflicts’: 188}.

414. How does the distinction between the two levels of moral thinking help to bring Kantians and utilitarians together?     [Top]
Kantian deontologists and utilitarians would come together in that they would agree in moral judgments made in response to any given problem case. This agreement would come about because, in making use of the two levels in their own thinking, Kantian archangels would reason to a set of maxims whose adoption and acceptance at the intuitive level would produce actions that most closely approximate those actions which would be performed if the categorical imperative were explicitly applied in every case; utilitarian archangels would similarly reason to a set of prima facie principles having optimific acceptance-utility at the intuitive level {‘The Ethics of Clinical Experimentation on Human Children’: 681; Moral Thinking: 50; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 187-8}.

415. Are different forms of utilitarianism operative at the different levels of moral thinking?     [Top]
Yes. At the intuitive level, general rule-utilitarianism operates. At the critical level, act-utilitarianism (or specific rule-utilitarianism) operates {Hare and Critics: 242-3; Moral Thinking: 43; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 181-2; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 128}.

416. What is the best set of prima facie principles?     [Top]
The best set of prima facie principles for adoption at the intuitive level is the set of prima facie principles which, if accepted and followed by members of society, would result in the performance of those actions which most closely approximate those actions which would be done if we were able to be archangels all the time and so able to do the critical moral thinking that archangels do whenever called upon {Sorting Out Ethics: 145; ‘Punishment and Retributive Justice’: 219; Moral Thinking: 50; ‘What Is Wrong with Slavery?’: 115; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 187; ‘Euthanasia: A Christian View’: 49}.

417. What is the difference between a critical moral principle and a level-2 principle?     [Top]
There is no difference between a critical moral principle and a level-2 principle. These are just two different names for the kind of principle used at the critical level of moral thinking. Likewise, the intuitive level and its prima facie principles are the same as level 1 and level-1 principles; the former are just more informative labels for the same things designated by the latter. The level-2 moral principles are called ‘critical’ because they belong to the critical level of thinking, and it is at this level that criticism or evaluation of intuitive-level principles takes place {Moral Thinking: 25; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 179; ‘Utilitarianism and the Vicarious Affects’: 146; ‘Relevance’: 81-2; ‘Justice and Equality’: 117; ‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 215; ‘Rawls’ Theory of Justice–I’: 153}.

418. How does an archangel go about deciding what prima facie principles are to be adopted?     [Top]
To decide what prima facie principles are to be adopted by our society, the archangel must consider what relatively general principles, if inculcated in our society, would probably produce the best outcome in terms of the global good and bad effects on preference satisfaction in our actual world. So the archangel, to reach a rational decision, must include in the moral thinking information about the way the world actual is and operates, and this means including information about how probable it is that certain scenarios will occur on the assumption that certain prima facie principles are in place. Accordingly, the superhuman archangel will consider all conceivable scenarios which implement a given (the one being tested or decided upon) prima facie principle, give a probability-of-occurrence weighting to each of those scenarios, and also figure in the good and bad effects of each of those scenarios. These considerations will no doubt show, for any given prima facie principle, that some of those scenarios are horrors because they combine the given prima facie principle with very bad effects. But at the same time it must also be remembered that there is a probability-of-occurrence weighting associated with each of these horror scenarios. The rational archangel will take these probabilities into account and reason that the given prima facie principle implemented in the horror scenarios may still be acceptable as long as the probability of occurrence of the horror scenario is very low. For example, the given prima facie principle might be that one should have one’s children vaccinated against measles. There are conceivable horror scenarios in which following this prima facie vaccination principle will have very bad effects such as the death or disabling, due to the vaccine, of a vaccinated child. These horror scenarios, though conceivable, are, however, very rare in the actual world. Thus, despite the possibility of the horror vaccination scenarios, it is still rational to adopt the prima facie vaccination principle and is irrational to reject the principle from a fixation on the very low probability horror scenarios. The upshot is that the archangel will, in deciding which prima facie principles should be adopted at the intuitive level, select those prima facie principles which are featured in the fewest and least probable horror scenarios – effectively banning scenarios which will not occur in the real world – while at the same time featured in the greatest and most probable preference-satisfying scenarios. This selection process will require experience, both in thinking and in living in the world as it actually is, generalizing based upon that experience, and then in the last stage of thinking assigning probabilities to occurrences in the actual world {‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 22]; Hare and Critics: 224-8, 243; Moral Thinking: 47-8, 122, 141-2, 174; ‘Utilitarianism and the Vicarious Affects’: 143; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 185-6; ‘Medical Ethics: Can the Moral Philosopher Help?’: [Essays on Bioethics: 13-4]; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 125; ‘Principles’: 12}.

419. Are the two levels of moral thinking competitors or at odds with each other?     [Top]
No, they are not rivals and are not in conflict. Each level of moral thinking is a needed procedural element in a complete system of moral thinking. They complement rather than oppose each other {Moral Thinking: 44; ‘Utilitarianism and the Vicarious Affects’: 147; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 182}.

420. Why should we not try to be archangels all the time?     [Top]
We will be more likely to approximate the archangel’s decisions if we inculcate in ourselves prima facie principles or dispositions than if we always try to think like the archangel who, being an archangel, never uses prima facie principles. Better approximations are more likely to be achieved by this dispositional approach because, given the way the world is and the way we are, there will be sub-optimal occasions when we have neither the time nor the capacity (for we are not rational all the time) to do the moral thinking required of the archangel. Consequently, if we were to attempt critical level moral thinking all the time, and thus also on those sub-optimal occasions, we would very likely make a mess of things {‘Moral Problems about the Control of Behaviour’: [Essays on Bioethics: 54]; Moral Thinking: 46-7, 192; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 184-5; ‘Medical Ethics: Can the Moral Philosopher Help?’: [Essays on Bioethics: 12-4]; ‘Euthanasia: A Christian View’: 48-9; ‘Platonism in Moral Education: Two Varieties’: 578; ‘Universalisability’: 309}.

421. How will we know when it is appropriate to use each level of moral thinking?     [Top]
There is no philosophical answer to this question of when to use each level of moral thinking. It will depend on the occasion and on one’s own assessment of one’s abilities and temperament at the time when, and the place where, the moral thinking is to be done. If that specific assessment shows one to be currently more like the archangel, then using critical moral thinking is appropriate. If, on the other hand, that context-dependent assessment shows one to be currently more like the prole, then intuitive level moral thinking is appropriate. In short, we must empirically know ourselves in order to know when to use each level.

Circumstances might also play a role in affecting when each level is appropriate. When our aim is to select principles – to find and justify them – critical thinking is appropriate. Also, when faced with a difficult case, one in which our prima facie principles conflict or in which it is not clear whether any of our current prima facie principles apply, critical thinking is appropriate in order to resolve the conflict or find applicable principles.

Generally speaking, though, intuitive thinking is especially or doubly appropriate when we are living through – engaged in, embedded in, embroiled in – a challenging practical situation such as an emergency. These situations are often stressful for us: we have little time to reflect and to think things through; we are perhaps tempted to take advantage of the enticing opportunities offered by the situation, favoring ourselves over others. Alternately, when we are not under stress and have the leisure to see ourselves as ideal prescribers, critical thinking becomes more of an option {Hare and Critics: 289; ‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 314; Moral Thinking: 44-5, 50, 139; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 179-81; ‘Relevance’: 82; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 122-4, 129; ‘Euthanasia: A Christian View’: 48; ‘Rawls’ Theory of Justice–I’: 153; ‘Principles’: 11-2; ‘Universalisability’: 309; ‘Reasons of State’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 19-20]}.

422. Is there a difference between the principles that the two levels of moral thinking use?     [Top]
Yes, there is a difference between the kinds of principles used at the two levels of normative moral thinking. The principles used at the intuitive level are relatively simple and general (i.e., unspecific) like those of a general rule-utilitarianism. The principles used at the critical level of moral thinking are potentially (depending on the circumstances of the case under consideration) very complex and specific. Both kinds of principles are, however, insofar as they are principles, universal prescriptions {Sorting Out Ethics: 142; Hare and Critics: 227, 242-3; Moral Thinking: 41, 43; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 178-9}.

423. Why is the critical level of moral thinking needed in order to resolve conflicts between intuitions?     [Top]
Another level of moral thinking, one which does not rely on moral intuitions, is needed in order to avoid circularity. If, that is, moral intuitions have been called into question because they are in conflict either between people or within the same person, we must appeal to something other than moral intuitions in order to overcome the impasse; otherwise we would be appealing to the very things that are in dispute. Also, the intuitive level lacks the resources to resolve the conflicts, for expedients such as qualifying principles or resorting to second-order principles produce principles unsuited to the intuitive level {‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 144]; ‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 4; ‘Rights, Utility, and Universalization Reply to J. L. Mackie’: 118; ‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 20]; ‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 314; Moral Thinking: 32-5, 40, 131; ‘Utilitarianism and the Vicarious Affects’: 146; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 178}.

424. Is the intuitive level of moral thinking merely a hypothetical construct or is it real?     [Top]
The intuitive level of moral thinking is real, not hypothetical. We really use such thinking in our daily lives; in fact, it is indispensable, and if it were not used, it should be. There is confirmation of the reality of the two levels of normative moral thinking, of which the intuitive is the lower level, in the transition from general public acceptance of belligerent patriotism to non-aggressive patriotism in the Western democracies in the aftermath of the World Wars. This transition in intuitive-level moral convictions was brought about by critical-level moral thinking focused on the damaging consequences of those wars. In a less serious way, the confirmation of the existence of the levels can be seen in the transition, fueled by utilitarian critical thinking, from intuitive-level condemnation of mixed bathing to its intuitive-level acceptance {‘Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity in South Africa?’: [Essays on Political Morality: 168]; ‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 11-2; Moral Thinking: 40, 75; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 178; ‘The Argument from Received Opinion’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 127]}.

425. At what level of moral thinking is descriptive meaning fixed?     [Top]
The moral standards, convictions, intuitions, dispositions, and so on, that we acquire through our upbringings are what fix the descriptive meanings or truth conditions of moral predicates; all of this occurs at the intuitive level of moral thinking {‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 26-7]}.

426. What explains why one level of moral thinking is not sufficient?     [Top]
The need for a second level of moral thinking arises because of the confluence of two factors. First, for practical and psychological reasons, the principles of action we use at the intuitive level need to be relatively simple. Second, no two situations are exactly alike because the world is diverse and changing. These two factors pull moral principles in two opposite directions: the first factor pulls principles toward greater simplicity and generality; the second factor pulls them toward greater complexity or specificity in order to handle the diversity of situations life presents us. So the question will inevitably arise whether this or that simple, general principle applies to a given new and different situation. Accordingly, another level of moral thinking, the critical level, is needed in order to resolve this question of application {‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 19]; Moral Thinking: 39; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 177; ‘Principles’: 11; ‘What is Life?’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 68-9]}.

427. At what level of moral thinking are most of the serious problems in moral philosophy to be found?     [Top]
The most vexing problems in moral philosophy are found at the critical level of moral thinking {‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 26]; ‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 105]; ‘Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity in South Africa?’: [Essays on Political Morality: 168]}.

428. What is the solution to the paradox that we can sometimes feel guilty even when we sincerely believe that we have done what we ought to have done?     [Top]
The solution to this paradox is to recognize that there are two levels to our moral thinking and that the levels have different purposes {Moral Thinking: 31-2; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 175}.

429. Why should we not think like the prole all the time?     [Top]
Although we should and do spend most of our time thinking like the prole rather than the archangel, we should not think all the time in terms of rights and duties or of intuitive absolutist principles. We should not, because those rights, duties, and principles need justification; so critical moral thinking is needed to provide this justification of what rights, duties, and prima facie principles we ought to have. Sometimes, too, conflicts can arise between different rights, duties, and principles; to resolve these conflicts, the higher critical level of moral thinking is once again needed {‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 30]}.

430. What are some typical features of moral thinking done at the critical or higher level?     [Top]
These typical features of moral thinking at the critical level are given in no particular order of importance:

  • the case under consideration is described in great detail, not sketchily;
  • one vividly imagines oneself in the place of everyone affected;
  • the impact on the preferences of all affected individuals is considered;
  • the preferences of each are considered sympathetically as if one’s own;
  • one gives equal positive weight to the equal (in intensity or strength) preferences of each individual affected;
  • at the first stage (used in selecting prima facie principles as well as in deciding particular cases), hypothetical, even fantastic, examples can be used;
  • at the second stage (used in selecting prima facie principles but not in deciding particular cases), probabilities of occurrence are assigned, meaning that contrived examples will not figure prominently in the thinking;
  • received moral intuitions (e.g., an ideal of equality) are not used;
  • descriptive meanings are not used.

These features of critical moral thinking collectively amount to a preference-satisfaction form of act-utilitarianism {Sorting Out Ethics: 141; ‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 144]; Hare and Critics: 209, 221; ‘Abortion: Reply to Brandt’: 28; ‘Arguing about Rights’: [Essays on Political Morality: 117]; ‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 20]; Moral Thinking: 122, 129, 131; ‘How to Decide Moral Questions Rationally’: 73-4}.

431. Why is the separation of moral thinking into levels the best way to handle moral conflicts?     [Top]
Conflicts between moral duties are best handled by distinguishing between critical and intuitive level of moral thinking for two fundamental reasons. First, other ways of handling the conflicts have serious drawbacks. The suggestion that we weigh the importance of the conflicting duties against each other to determine which should win out in a particular case lacks a clear account of how this weighing procedure is to be carried out in actual practice or what justifies the weighing decisions made during the procedure. And the other common suggestion that duties are to be lexically ordered fails because it, too, lacks an operational and justificatory account; and it also seems too inflexible, given that the ordering is fixed across differing situations which may call for different orderings. The second fundamental reason why the levels approach is superior is that a one-level approach to conflict resolution does not have the means to escape the conditions (e.g., the simplicity and generality of the duties or principles) generating the conflict; cautiously ascending to a higher level, thus adopting a multi-level approach, does provide a means of escape because the troublesome conditions do not, or do not have to, obtain at the higher level where there is ample time for reflection on principles that can be as complex and specific as need be {‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 15-7, 26]}.

432. Why can the metaethical level of moral thinking not distinguish between good and bad motives?     [Top]
The metaethical level of moral thinking cannot distinguish between good and bad motives because it is purely formal. As such, the metaethical level occupies itself only with the form of prescriptions (which are linguistic expressions of motivational states) rather than with their content {Moral Thinking: 107, 185; ‘Utilitarianism and the Vicarious Affects’: 150}.

433. Why do we need dispositions?     [Top]
We need dispositions because we are mere humans and are not archangels, nor even angels, and so we have weaknesses (e.g., susceptibility to temptation and special pleading) and limitations (e.g., time and information constraints). But we also have moral obligations and so need to make wise decisions. By inculcating dispositions in ourselves we can, to some extent at least, overcome our weaknesses and limitations and so have a better chance of meeting our moral obligations and making wise decisions {‘How to Decide Moral Questions Rationally’: 76; ‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 17]; Moral Thinking: 59; ‘Utilitarianism and the Vicarious Affects’: 147-8; Freedom and Reason: 74}.

434. At what level do most of us spend most of our time?     [Top]
Most of us spend most of our time at the intuitive – everyday – level of moral thinking {‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 25]; ‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 144]; ‘Satanism and Nihilism’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 98]; ‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 4; ‘Utilitarianism and the Vicarious Affects’: 146}.

435. In what does the intuitive level consist?     [Top]
The intuitive level of moral thinking consists in applying prima facie moral principles – dispositions, virtues, habits of mind, intuitions, rules, and so on – to particular cases. But if our upbringing has been well-done, then we really will not need to do much actual thinking in order to apply these prima facie principles; they will have become second nature to us {‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 144-5]; ‘Utilitarianism and the Vicarious Affects’: 146}.

436. Why is the intuitive level of moral thinking needed?     [Top]
There are a number of reasons why the intuitive level of moral thinking is needed. For example, without morality, and without the guidance of the relatively general intuitive-level prima facie moral principles in particular, the complexity involved in trying to reconcile all of our competing individual desires would be exceedingly difficult to overcome. But perhaps the two most important reasons why the intuitive level is needed have to do with moral education and also with effective performance of routine activities. To enable our children to become moral beings, they need to begin to be taught even before they can understand the critical-level reasons for the intuitive prima facie moral principles we pass on to them; so both the children need the intuitive level because that is the only level at which they can at first function, and the adults need the intuitive level because they must use that level in order to teach it to the children. And even as adults interacting with other adults, the intuitive level is needed; for our daily lives are so full of all manner of things that we – being mere humans and not archangels – could not, in the midst of all the commotion, manage to do well the critical-level moral thinking. In addition, the intuitive level, with its firm general and relatively simple principles, is needed in order to reduce the incidence of special pleading or self-deception and the number of mistakes made when trying to do on-the-spot utility calculations {‘A Utilitarian Approach to Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 162]; ‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 25-6]; ‘Why I am only a Demi-Vegetarian’: [Essays on Bioethics: 230]; ‘Satanism and Nihilism’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 110]; Hare and Critics: 211, 213; ‘Utility and Rights: Comment on David Lyons’s Essay’: 150; ‘Why Moral Language?’: 78; ‘Utilitarianism and the Vicarious Affects’: 147-8; ‘Principles’: 10-1; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 110]; ‘What is Life?’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 68]; ‘Adolescents into Adults’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 61-6]}.

437. How do we know that following the prima facie principles chosen by critical thinking is most likely to lead to the optimific act?     [Top]
We know that following the prima facie principles chosen by critical thinking is most likely to lead to the optimific act because it is one of the goals of critical-level moral thinking to select such most-likely-optimific-act-producing principles for use at the intuitive level. So we can be sure that, if the critical thinking has been done correctly, and if we are using the principles selected by that correct critical thinking, we have the best set of principles one could have {‘Utility and Rights: Comment on David Lyons’s Essay’: 153; ‘Principles’: 10}.

438. Is the thinking at the intuitive level utilitarian?     [Top]
Probably not, at least not act-utilitarian. At the intuitive level of moral thinking, the considerations usually are, and should be, non-utilitarian. At the intuitive level, we should generally be intuitionists or absolutists relying on the prima facie principles that have been inculcated in us and that probably do not look very utilitarian; in other words, at the intuitive level, if an intuition recommends an act, then that is sufficient justification for doing the act. The explanation for why we should rely on our intuitions most of the time (for we spend most of our time at the intuitive level) is that by following the intuitions we are most likely to produce the best outcomes. Although the thinking at the intuitive level is typically not act-utilitarian, the justification – which occurs at the critical level of moral thinking – of the prima facie principles used at the intuitive level is act-utilitarian; it is by this utilitarian justification that we know that the prima facie principles are the best ones (i.e., those that will most closely approximate those that would be chosen by a being able to do critical thinking all the time) to have for use at the intuitive level {‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 25-6]; Hare and Critics: 224-7; ‘How to Decide Moral Questions Rationally’: 76; ‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 4-5; ‘Arguing about Rights’: [Essays on Political Morality: 117]; ‘Utility and Rights: Comment on David Lyons’s Essay’: 153, 155; ‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 17, 22, 25]; ‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 313; Moral Thinking: 162, 205; ‘Medical Ethics: Can the Moral Philosopher Help?’: [Essays on Bioethics: 13]}.

439. Does the separation into two levels require us to compartmentalize our moral thinking?     [Top]
The separation into two levels might require us to compartmentalize our moral thinking. If it does require this compartmentalization, then this poses no special problems, for three reasons. First, good thinkers in non-moral areas seem to be able to switch effortlessly between different levels of thinking. Second, experience with moral conflicts can impart to us methodological prima facie principles that help guide us as to when each level of thinking is appropriate, and critical thinking can subsequently tweak and justify such methodological principles. Third, our moral education can provide us with instruction as to how to become intuitive thinkers who have a constant background readiness to engage in critical thinking when our circumstances allow it. In short, compartmentalization does not entail a discontinuity between levels of moral thinking {Hare and Critics: 261, 289-90; ‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 314-7; Moral Thinking: 52}.

440. In what ways can conflicts between prima facie principles used at the intuitive level be resolved?     [Top]
There are three main ways in which conflicts between prima facie principles used at the intuitive level be resolved:

  • in some simple cases, by recognizing differing importances that indicate overriding one of the principles is appropriate, conflicts can be resolved at the intuitive level alone;
  • provisionally decide that qualification of one of the principles would resolve the conflict and then act accordingly, resolving to do later the critical thinking necessary to settle on the exact features of the qualification;
  • resolution of the conflict can be achieved at the critical level by qualifying the conflicting principles so that they, as newly modified, are no longer inconsistent.

Another version of the middle way is possible, though dangerous: temporarily discard the conflicting principles and do some critical thinking as a vulgar act-utilitarian or situational ethicist who relies on no principles at all {‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 7; Moral Thinking: 50-2; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 127-8}.

441. How can the number of conflicts between prima facie principles at the intuitive level be reduced?     [Top]
Perhaps the best way to reduce the number of conflicts between prima facie principles at the intuitive level is to do very well the critical thinking that in the first place selects the best set of principles for adoption at the intuitive level. If this critical thinking is done well, then conflicts between principles at the intuitive level will only occur in exceptional cases {Moral Thinking: 50}.

442. Should the prima facie principles used at the intuitive level be taken lightly?     [Top]
No. The prima facie principles used at the intuitive level should be taken very seriously and should be deeply held, their ultimateness to be overridden only in the rarest of cases. They should be so deeply held that not adhering to them causes anguish and distress in those in whom the principles have been inculcated. The reason why they should be held so firmly is that critical thinking, if it has been done well, has identified these prima facie principles as the best principles to use at the intuitive level so as to approximate the answers that would be given by an archangel doing critical thinking about every single case that might arise {Sorting Out Ethics: 158; Moral Thinking: 50; ‘Reasons of State’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 19-20]}.

443. Do intuitive-level conflicts between prima facie principles always have to be adjudicated by moving up to the critical level of moral thinking?     [Top]
No. It is sometimes possible for conflicts between prima facie principles at the intuitive level to be resolved without having to do critical thinking. This intuitive-level-only resolution can be accomplished, for instance, in some simple cases of conflict in which we feel certain that

  • one of the conflicting principles (or perhaps some other, higher principle) is more important in the case at hand than the other principle
  • some situation-specific feature of the situation is more important.

In such simple cases, intuitive thinking alone may allow us to conclude that one of the principles ought to be overridden. An example of such a simple case might be that of a conflict between keeping a promise to take one’s children on a picnic and being kind to a visiting friend {Moral Thinking: 50}.

444. What is the function of intuitive thinking?     [Top]
The main function of the intuitive level of moral thinking is to achieve a working approximation to the deliverances of critical moral thinking. That is, whatever the archangel operating at the critical level of moral thinking decides is what we morally ought to do, and the prole’s job at the intuitive level is to carry out that decision as closely, carefully, and fully as possible given all resources available – such as intuitions and prima face principles – at the intuitive level. Perhaps the primary way in which the prole is able to achieve this approximation is by having inculcated dispositions that help to resist temptations to special pleading {‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 188]; ‘Utility and Rights: Comment on David Lyons’s Essay’: 150; ‘What Is Wrong with Slavery?’: 117; Moral Thinking: 46; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 181, 185; ‘Euthanasia: A Christian View’: 48}.

445. Will archangels, after completing their critical thinking, always agree?     [Top]
Yes. When their critical thinking on issues concerning interests is complete, all archangels will arrive at the same moral judgments. This agreement is what makes their prescriptions (and ours to the extent that we successfully approximate theirs) objective rather than subjective in an objectionable sense {‘Objective Prescriptions’: 25, 31; Hare and Critics: 238-9; Moral Thinking: 46; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 107-8]}.

446. What does an archangel decide?     [Top]
Archangels decide what it is morally best for us to do either as a rule to be followed on most occasions or as a specific prescription to be followed on a given individual occasion. Thus the archangel decides what prima facie moral principles a society should adopt for use at the intuitive level of moral thinking, and she also decides what is best in individual cases when, perhaps because of unusual circumstances, those prima facie principles do not suffice to give guidance and so need to be either overridden (because they conflict) or supplemented in some way (because they, as currently formulated, do not apply to the given situation) {Moral Thinking: 46-8; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 185}.

447. Are there genuine moral conflicts or conflicts of duties?     [Top]
Yes and no. It is clearly right to think that there can be and are genuine conflicts or moral dilemmas at the intuitive level of moral thinking; for the intuitive level has no resources to resolve such conflicts. But at the critical level of moral thinking there are no such conflicts; if the critical thinking is complete, all conflicts between duties are resolvable {‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 314-5; Moral Thinking: 26-7, 32-5, 53}.

448. What is the relation between the intuitive and critical levels, between the archangel and the prole?     [Top]
There are several ways to characterize the relation between the intuitive and critical levels of moral thinking. Metaphorically, the relation is like that of the intellect to character, the latter listening to the reasoning of the former as an obedient child to a parent, or like the relation of the guardians to the workmen or craftsmen and auxiliaries in Plato’s Republic. Epistemologically, the critical level is prior to the intuitive level. This priority of the critical level holds because the intuitive level is not self-supporting; for it is dependent on the self-supporting critical level for the selection of, and resolution of conflicts between, the prima facie principles that it (the intuitive level) is to use. In particular, critical-level principles are to be accepted for specific cases and then those intuitive-level principles whose general acceptance would tend to lead to the performance of those actions recommended by the critical-level principles are to be selected {‘Slavery’: [Encyclopedia of Ethics: 1159-60]; ‘Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity in South Africa?’: [Essays on Political Morality: 168]; Moral Thinking: 46, 49-50; ‘Utilitarianism and the Vicarious Affects’: 146; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 184; ‘Relevance’: 82; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 123; ‘Principles’: 12}.

449. What are some dangers of becoming too enamored of the intuitive level of moral thinking?     [Top]
There are two dangers especially to guard against if you find yourself becoming enamored of the intuitive level. First, belief in the correctness of the intuitive rules can become so strong that the rules become unquestionable, leading to a breakdown of morality because unquestionable rules become mere tools of conformism, and to the latter there will always arise rebels. Second, focusing only on the intuitive level cuts its simple principles off from their justification, which is found at the critical level of moral thinking, and makes orphans of them easy to bend this way and that {‘Euthanasia: A Christian View’: 49-50}.

450. Are there differences between moral intuitions, ingrained moral character, virtues, moral motivations, moral dispositions, rules, and prima facie moral principles?     [Top]
There may be subtle differences between intuitions, character, motivations, dispositions, virtues, habits of mind, rules, and prima facie principles. For example, prima facie principles may embody, provide the content for, be the basis of, or express, intuitions and may be acted on or reinforced by moral dispositions or feelings. But it is not necessary to note these differences in order to mark the distinction between the intuitive and critical levels of moral thinking because the critical level rejects for its own use all such intuitive-level phenomena no matter what they are called {‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 145]; Hare and Critics: 226-7, 279-80; ‘Why Moral Language?’: 86; ‘Utility and Rights: Comment on David Lyons’s Essay’: 149, 151; ‘Arguing about Rights’: [Essays on Political Morality: 108]; ‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 18]; ‘Utilitarianism and the Vicarious Affects’: 146, 148; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 184, 188-9; ‘Relevance’: 82; ‘Justice and Equality’: 120}.

451. Who is to be an archangel, to make the decisions that archangels make?     [Top]
Each of us is to be an archangel, to take on the thinking tasks of the archangel, on those specific occasions when we, through an accurate assessment of our capabilities at the time, determine that we can correctly perform those archangel tasks. When the assessment shows us to be not up to the tasks of the archangel, then we must turn those tasks over to those whom we trust to perform them well; these others will then act as legislators for us all. And there must be such legislators in default of ourselves, for there otherwise would be no one to do the archangel tasks of selecting and adjudicating between the prima facie moral principles used at the intuitive level of moral thinking {Moral Thinking: 45-7; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 183, 185; ‘Principles’: 13}.

452. What are the characteristics of the archangel?     [Top]
The archangel, who is an idealized, God-like being, a perfect moral judge, an ideal observer, a philosopher-king, has the following characteristics:

  • as far as moral thinking goes, uses only critical moral thinking
  • thinks as an act-utilitarian
  • has superhuman powers of thought (e.g., always clear-headed)
  • has superhuman knowledge (e.g., omniscient, knowing all the facts)
  • has no human weaknesses (e.g., immune to temptation)
  • is not biassed or partial to self or anyone else (e.g., not vulnerable to special pleading)
  • can fully represent, and identify with, the situation (e.g., preferences, motivations, willing) of the other
  • can apprehend all the details of a situation in a fraction of a second
  • can immediately foresee all consequences of action in a situation
  • can formulate a role-acceptable universal principle of any specificity at once
  • has no need of moral intuitions (e.g., an ideal of equality), sound general principles, or good dispositions
  • does not use descriptive meanings or truth conditions for moral terms

These are basically the characteristics opposite to those of a prole {Sorting Out Ethics: 25, 27, 138, 141; Hare and Critics: 221, 226; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 188-9]; Hare and Critics: 257; ‘How to Decide Moral Questions Rationally’: 76; Moral Thinking: 44-5, 89, 98-9, 122, 211; ‘Utilitarianism and the Vicarious Affects’: 147; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 182; ‘Principles’: 13}.

453. What are the characteristics of the prole?     [Top]
The prole, who is an idealized being, has the following characteristics:

  • stupidity
  • incapable of critical moral thinking no matter how much time is available
  • must use moral intuitions, good dispositions, sound prima facie principles, descriptive meanings, truth conditions
  • must be taught (by others, non-proles, either formally or by example) the sound prima facie moral principles humans like us need

These are basically the characteristics opposite to those of an archangel {Sorting Out Ethics: 138, 141; Moral Thinking: 45; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 182}.

454. Who or what is the prole?     [Top]
The prole is an idealized character used in order to help us understand the intuitive level of moral thinking. There is no actually existing prole; in that sense the prole is an exaggeration, a caricature, an idealization of a being who has no capacity at all for moral thinking at the critical level. Though none of us is a prole, we do always have some of the prole’s characteristics to some extent and sometimes we have all of them. So it is not really possible to divide the human population into two distinct and permanent classes, into proles and non-proles (i.e., archangels) {Moral Thinking: 45; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 182-3; ‘Principles’: 13}.

455. How do moral conflicts arise?     [Top]
Moral conflicts between two prima facie moral principles or duties arise when each requires an action that is incompatible with the action required by the other principle. The actions required by the two principles differ because each principle selects a different set of relevant features of the situation under consideration. For example, a prima facie principle forbidding the breaking of promises might select as a relevant feature of a situation that a promise has been made; meanwhile, another principle advocating kindness to others might select as a relevant feature of the same situation that the situation presents an opportunity to show kindness to others. These kinds of conflicts between principles happen, ultimately, because the principles at the intuitive level have to be relatively simple and general even though the world is diverse and complex; the conflicts pop up because of this tension between what we as humans can handle and the way the world is {‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 19]; Moral Thinking: 39; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 179}.

456. Who or what is the archangel?     [Top]
The archangel is an idealized, God-like act-utilitarian character used in order to help us understand the critical level of moral thinking. None of us is an archangel {‘How to Decide Moral Questions Rationally’: 76; Moral Thinking: 44; ‘Utilitarianism and the Vicarious Affects’: 147-8; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 182-3}.

457. Why are the principles used at the critical level of moral thinking called ‘critical’?     [Top]
There are three reasons why the principles used at the critical or higher level of moral thinking are called critical principles. First, they are the principles used at the critical level. Second, the principles at the critical level are used to criticize the principles used at the intuitive level. Third, they are also used to make distinctions between cases that the intuitive principles do not distinguish {‘Moral Conflicts’: 179}.

458. How many levels of moral thinking are there?     [Top]
There are three levels of moral thinking, though there are sub-levels of principles within the intuitive level:

  • intuitive level
  • critical level
  • metaethical level

The first two levels, the intuitive and critical, are normative levels in that they deal with substantial questions in ethics. Practical considerations regarding learning and temporality make the intuitive level necessary. For example, young children are typically not able to learn complex moral rules; so in order to teach them to be morally good people when they grow up, the relatively simple rules found at the intuitive level need to be used. These relatively simple rules also need to be used in order to help us make morally good decisions when we are under stress, perhaps in an emergency, and have little time to think things through carefully and calmly.

But theoretical considerations regarding the need to resolve conflicts between the moral rules used at the intuitive level make the critical level necessary, too. So the critical level is needed in order to adjudicate between intuitive-level rules that come into conflict on occasion, and the thinking done at the critical level is also needed in order to decide which rules to adopt at the intuitive level in the first place.

The third, metaethical level of moral thinking, sets aside substantive normative issues and focuses instead on formal semantics and logic, in particular, on the meanings of the moral words, on their logical properties such as formal justice or universalizability, and on the constraints these properties impose on moral thinking. The thinking done at this metaethical level is a necessary precursor to correct thinking at the two normative levels {‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 104]; ‘Foundationalism and Coherentism in Ethics’: 197; ‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: 144; ‘Loyalty and Obedience’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 172]; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 189-90]; Moral Thinking: 25-6, 139, 199-200; ‘Utilitarianism and the Vicarious Affects’: 146; ‘Justice and Equality’: 117; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 122-4}

459. Are intuitions or dispositions at the intuitive level rules of thumb?     [Top]
No. Rules of thumb merely save time and thought; breaking such rules does not offend against our character and raises no sentiments of wrong-doing such as remorse, indignation, or compunction. While relying on intuitions and dispositions does save time and thought, their purpose also is to raise sentiments of wrong-doing so that we are more likely to stay on the morally right path even though we might on rare occasions individually suffer more by staying on that path. In other words, intuitions and dispositions are not only time-savers but also a firewall against the sometimes heated passions of temptation {Hare and Critics: 223-4; ‘Moral Problems about the Control of Behaviour’: [Essays on Bioethics: 54]; ‘Utility and Rights: Comment on David Lyons’s Essay’: 149; ‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 19]; Moral Thinking: 38-9; ‘Utilitarianism and the Vicarious Affects’: 149; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 181; ‘Relevance’: 85; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 123-4; ‘Rawls’ Theory of Justice–I’: 153; ‘The Simple Believer’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 22]; ‘Principles’: 16-7}.

Logic

460. Are illocutionary acts subject to logical rules?     [Top]
Yes. Speech acts that are illocutionary acts are indeed subject to logical rules such as consistency. Perlocutionary acts, however, are not subject to logical rules {Sorting Out Ethics: 13-7, 113; ‘Why Moral Language?’: 72-3; ‘Austin’s Distinction between Locutionary and Illocutionary Acts’: [Practical Inferences: 110]}.

461. What are some examples of the formal canons of reasoning that govern moral argument?     [Top]
A couple examples of the formal canons of reasoning or forms of thought that are ultimately based on linguistic intuitions and that govern moral argument are these rules:

  • If there is no qualitative difference between individuals that grounds the discrimination between them, then we may not morally discriminate between the individuals.
  • Equal moral weight is to be assigned to the equal interests of different individuals.

Formal canons or rules such as these derive from the meanings or purely logical properties of the moral words {‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 96]; Moral Thinking: 16; ‘Justice and Equality’: 117; ‘Language and Moral Education’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 155]; Freedom and Reason: 216-7}.

462. Is the logic of the moral words neutral?     [Top]
Yes. The logic of the moral words, upon which universal prescriptivism is built, is content-neutral in at least a couple of ways. First, the logic is purely formal and only provides a framework within which moral reasoning is to take place; no substantive moral beliefs or ideals are contained within it, nor can any substantial moral judgment be derived from it alone or from it along with purely factual premises. So no moral standpoint is ruled out from the start; the logic of the moral concepts does not, for instance, prejudge the issue between the liberal and the fascist. Second, if someone does not have in her language the moral words in question (e.g., ‘ought’, ‘wrong’), she can learn these words without modifying the meanings of any of the words already in her language; she would merely be adding to or extending her language {Sorting Out Ethics: 22, 136; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 182]; Hare and Critics: 253, 255; ‘Why Moral Language?’: 83, 85; ‘A Reductio Ad Absurdum of Descriptivism’: 126, 133; ‘Liberty and Equality’: [Essays on Political Morality: 128]; ‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 633; Freedom and Reason: 89, 97, 154, 178, 192}.

463. Does particular descriptive meaning determine the logic of moral arguments?     [Top]
No. The logic of moral argumentation stems from the evaluative meaning, and not from any particular descriptive meaning, of the moral words; for universalizability only requires that there always be some descriptive meaning and not that the descriptive meaning be unchanging {‘A Reductio Ad Absurdum of Descriptivism’: 126; Freedom and Reason: 14}.

464. Why, in making a moral judgment, is the requirement to ascertain the facts a logical requirement?     [Top]
Moral judgments attach moral predicates to subjects via meaning-rules. These meaning-rules tell us what predicates can appropriately be applied to any subject of a certain kind. To use the meaning-rules, then, it is necessary to know the kind of the thing to which the subject refers, and this requires that we know the universal properties of the thing and thus know facts about the thing. If, then, we did not know these facts, we could not apply the meaning-rules consistently and hence not logically. Another way to see that one logically must try to ascertain the facts if one is making a moral judgment is to reflect on the logical feature of prescriptivity that moral judgments have. To make a prescription rationally, one must try to figure out what the consequences or future facts of following the prescription will be; for, if one does not try to figure out what the future facts will be, one does not know – even in a weak sense of knowing – what one is committing oneself to in making the prescription, and committing oneself to what one knows not what is not rational {‘Appendix: Rejoinder to G. J. Warnock’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 176]; ‘Relevance’: 86-7}.

465. What are logical requirements?     [Top]
For the purposes of universal prescriptivism, logical requirements come in at least two varieties.

  • It is a logical requirement to avoid self-contradiction and to maintain consistency.
  • There are logical requirements of a semantical, dialectical, and conversational kind.

We use both of these varieties of logical requirements in order to make sense of what we say to each other. For example, when we sincerely make a factual statement, it is typically understood within the conversational context that we have evidence to support the truth-claim that the statement asserts {‘Relevance’: 86}.

466. Do slippery-slope arguments have any force?     [Top]
Whether slippery-slope arguments have any force depends on the kind of moral thinking being done. At the critical level of moral thinking, such arguments have little force; for critical thinking can be as specific and detailed as we wish and can therefore make very fine distinctions which can halt a slide down the slope. The intuitive level of moral thinking, however, requires relatively simple and general principles which are easy to apply and which therefore will typically not be able to handle the fine distinctions that could halt a slide down the slope; so intuitive-level principles will have fewer defenses to ward off a slippery-slope attack, thus giving such arguments more force at the intuitive level. Consequently, slippery-slope arguments are best deployed at the intuitive level at which they will argue for upholding the relatively gross distinctions that prima facie moral principles make (e.g., birth in the abortion issue) {Sorting Out Ethics: 33-4, 145; Hare and Critics: 211; ‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 216-7; ‘Principles’: 15-6}.

467. What is the contradictory of ‘Smith ought to do a’?     [Top]
The negation or contradictory of ‘Smith ought to do a’ is ‘It is not the case that Smith ought to do a’; it is not ‘Smith ought not to do a’. Likewise, the contradictory of ‘Smith ought not to do a’ is ‘It is not the case that Smith ought not to do a’ {‘Some Alleged Differences Between Imperatives and Indicatives’: 318}.

468. What is it that allows moral argument to get a grip?     [Top]
Prescriptivity and universalizability, which are logical properties of the moral words and are as such at the very foundation of moral argument, are ultimately what allow moral argument to get a grip. By providing this traction, prescriptivity and universalizability enable moral argument to serve its practical purpose of helping us answer the moral (i.e., universal prescriptive) questions that we ask. If prescriptivity and universalizability, which are purely formal, metaethical features of moral language, and which are detected in the meanings of the moral words as we in practice use them, are not already firmly in place before moral argument begins, then there is little chance that moral argument will be of any practical value; for the meanings of the terms used in the arguments will be unclear, the arguments themselves thus not cogent, and in the end will be unconvincing to the extent that they substitute unshared substantial moral convictions for the content-neutral formal features which everyone asking the same questions must accept {‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 20]; Sorting Out Ethics: 129, 133-4; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 177-80, 182]; Hare and Critics: 219, 283; ‘Why Moral Language?’: 83, 87; ‘Adolescents into Adults’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 59]}.

469. Is acceptance of a conclusion a necessary or sufficient condition for acceptance of the premise?     [Top]
For all inferences, whether in ordinary logic or imperative or deontic logic, the conclusion gives a necessary condition for accepting the premise and not necessarily also a sufficient condition {‘Some Alleged Differences Between Imperatives and Indicatives’: 314}.

470. What is moral argument?     [Top]
Moral argument is essentially a matter of finding out what moral judgments imply and what they commit the speaker to. We find these things out by consulting our understanding of how we use words, which informs us of the words’ logical properties; this initial step of discovery is the bedrock of moral argument. Next we ask whether those implications or commitments can be accepted; and then we decide, on the basis of the answers, whether to go on saying those moral judgments {‘Philosophy and Conflict’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 59]; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: 175-7}.

471. What is validity?     [Top]
An inference is valid just in case the inference, in taking us from premise to conclusion, adds nothing of substance. The ‘nothing of substance’ allows that there may be additions; for example, it allows additions due only to the definitions of terms {‘Geach on Murder and Sodomy’: 471; The Language of Morals: 32-3}.

472. What is the difference between affirmation and assent?     [Top]
Affirmation is something that the speaker does in relation to the sentence she speaks. The sentence, whether indicative or imperative, is affirmed if it is used – not mentioned, not in inverted commas – in earnest. Assent, on the other hand, is something done by the hearer in relation to the sentence heard. Assenting sincerely to an indicative or statement is for the hearer to believe that the statement is true or is the case. Assenting sincerely to an imperative is to do or agree or resolve to do what is commanded; this presumes that the hearer is physically and psychologically able to do what is commanded and does not change her mind in the interval between time of assent and time of action {‘Practical Inferences’: [Practical Inferences: 66]; The Language of Morals: 19-20}.

473. What qualifications are needed to make Hume’s Law acceptable?     [Top]
Hume’s Law is the doctrine that there can be no ‘ought’ from an ‘is’; that is, roughly, moral conclusions do not logically follow from non-moral premises. This Law needs qualification in several ways.

  • It needs to be understood that Hume’s point has to do with logicality and not supervenience.
  • The Law needs a more precise formulation, something along the lines of: morally significant conclusions cannot be derived only from a consistent set of non-evaluative premises.
  • ‘Morally significant conclusions’ and like expressions, need to be made clear. A step in that direction would be ‘synthetic evaluative judgment’.
  • It must be understood that the outlawed conclusions are logically simple in the sense that they contain no logical connectives.

With qualifications such as these in place, Hume’s Law is acceptable and universal prescriptivism abides by it and does not, for instance, make deductions from claims of aversions to moral judgments {Moral Thinking: 16, 187, 223-4; ‘Geach on Murder and Sodomy’: 467-72; Freedom and Reason: 2, 108; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 43-4, 46]}.

474. Must there be some logical device to indicate subscription or non-subscription to a sentence?     [Top]
Yes. In order to be clear about what people are saying, there must be some logical device to indicate subscription or non-subscription to a sentence {‘Some Sub-Atomic Particles of Logic’: 25-6}.

475. Should logic be confined to indicatives?     [Top]
No. Inconsistency is a basic logical notion, and there can be inconsistency between imperatives. Logic must also give an account of imperativity because the validity of some inferences can be affected by changes of mood of the sentences making up the inference. Whether there can, in addition, be inferences between imperatives is a more difficult matter, but it is clear at least that imperativity must be one of the concerns of logic {‘Some Sub-Atomic Particles of Logic’: 24; ‘Geach on Murder and Sodomy’: 467-8; ‘Imperative Sentences’: 34, 37}.

476. How are conditionals to be understood?     [Top]
To understand how a conditional sentence (‘If…then…’) functions is to understand how logical inferences such as modus ponens (‘If P, then Q; P; therefore Q’) operate {‘Meaning and Speech Acts’: 16, 18}.

477. What kinds of inference are there?     [Top]
There are at least two kinds. First, there are anchored linear inferences. These are chains of inferences which are, at least at one end of the chain, anchored with a foundational first premise that is supposed to be indubitable or self-evident. Then, second, there are floating linear inferences. These are chains of inferences which have no anchor at either end of a chain. At one end of a floating chain is a moral principle; at the other end is a singular prescription; in between the floating ends are general principles and factual statements. The ends are floating in the sense that they can be modified or adjusted {‘Foundationalism and Coherentism in Ethics’: 191-4}.

478. What would show that a statement is not analytic or is synthetic?     [Top]
If one can deny a statement without contradicting oneself, then the statement is not analytic. For example, the statement ‘It is always right to give a madman back his weapons which he entrusted to us when sane’, suggested by a certain definition of ‘right’ in Plato’s Republic, is not analytic because to deny it is not to contradict oneself. Loosely, but as relevant background information, the definitions of ‘analytic’ and ‘synthetic’ are as follows: a sentence is analytic just in case (1) a person’s denying the sentence is a sufficient condition for our claiming that the person has misunderstood the sentence or (2) the sentence is entailed by a sentence that is analytic in sense (1); a synthetic sentence is a sentence that is not analytic or self-contradictory {‘The Argument from Received Opinion’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 121-2]; ‘Philosophical Discoveries’: 161; The Language of Morals: 41-2}.

479. What kind of logical relations does universal prescriptivism require between prescriptions?     [Top]
Universal prescriptivism requires only that there be ordinary logical relations of inconsistency between prescriptions. Although The Language of Morals argues for more than this, arguing additionally for logical inferences between imperatives and other prescriptions, only the inconsistency or self-contradiction relation is actually needed for the successful operation of the method of moral reasoning that universal prescriptivism identifies {‘A Philosophical Autobiography’: 289-90; ‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 64]; ‘Some Sub-Atomic Particles of Logic’: 24; The Language of Morals: 27-8}.

480. What is logic?     [Top]
Logic is, among other things, learning to formulate the meaning-rules that allow us to understand what people say (e.g., what senses of words or contingent linguistic conventions they are using such that they can play the game of logic and so utter necessary truths) {Sorting Out Ethics: 3-4, 115; Freedom and Reason: 7; ‘Practical Inferences’: [Practical Inferences: 73]; ‘Philosophical Discoveries’: 159}.

481. Why is it important for universal prescriptivism that there be logical relations between imperatives as argued for in The Language of Morals?     [Top]
Even though universal prescriptivism is not a theory about imperatives, which are a kind of prescriptive sentence, and does not try to reduce moral judgments to imperatives, the possibility of logical relations – such as contradiction but not necessarily inference – between imperatives, and even within a single imperative, remains important because that possibility shows that prescriptivity and logical relations are compatible, neither one excluding the other. The possibility of logical relations between imperatives thus opens the door to a theory such as universal prescriptivism which claims that reasoning with moral prescriptions is a viable enterprise. In short, it is important because it makes possible moral argument within a non-descriptivist framework {‘A Philosophical Autobiography’: 289; Sorting Out Ethics: 114-6; Freedom and Reason: 5; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 52]; The Language of Morals: 15-6, 27-8; ‘Imperative Sentences’: 31-5}.

482. What is a practical syllogism?     [Top]
In all, a practical syllogism has three main parts, mixing dictors or neustics. It has a major or universal premise, which is always evaluative or practical, thus an imperative-like neustic. It has a minor or singular (or particular) factual premise (with an indicative neustic) which subsumes (hence the subsumptive premise) a particular case (typically an action) under the universal premise. And it has an action as a singular conclusion which is prescriptive, thus with an imperative-like neustic. A typical form of the syllogism is

For all x, if Gx then Fx.
Ga.
So Fa.

The gist of it is that if someone accepts both premises, and can act as they conjointly prescribe, then the person will necessarily act in the prescribed way; and if the person does not so act, then the person did not sincerely accept at least one of the premises. This action-entailing or imperative-entailing character of the practical syllogism is due to the motivation to act that is implicit in the universal premise when it is accepted. The desire-based theory of action that underlies this account of the practical syllogism is probably analytically true, given what we mean by ‘desire’ {‘Weakness of the Will’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 110-1]; ‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 136-7]; ‘Supervenience’: 4; Plato: 73; ‘Prediction and Moral Appraisal’: [Essays on Bioethics: 200-1]; ‘Platonism in Moral Education: Two Varieties’: 575; Freedom and Reason: 55; ‘Religion and Morals’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 44-5]; The Language of Morals: 26; ‘Imperative Sentences’: 34}.

483. Can linguistic intuitions come into conflict?     [Top]
Yes. But this possibility of conflict should not cause too much alarm; for, unlike moral intuitions, linguistic intuitions do not carry with them substantive moral content, are the basis of logic, and have an authoritative source. Moreover, linguistic intuitions can be assessed philosophically and empirically, and the argument for universal prescriptivism only uses those linguistic intuitions attached to the use of the simplest moral words {‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 64-5]; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 179]; ‘Punishment and Retributive Justice’: 212; Moral Thinking: 9, 11-12, 17-8, 80-1, 116}.

484. What is the basis of logic?     [Top]
Linguistic intuitions, which are rooted in our understanding of how we use words – in our linguistic conventions – are the basis of logic and of specific logical theses. The rules of inference (e.g., modus ponens) used in ordinary logic are based on the definitions of the logical words (e.g., ‘all’, ‘some’). And our linguistic intuitions regarding contradictions also inform us about logical entailments, for instance that being legally obligated to do something entails being legally permitted to do it {Sorting Out Ethics: 4, 37-8, 115; ‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 65]; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 177]; ‘The Rights of Employees’: [Essays on Political Morality: 138]; ‘Punishment and Retributive Justice’: 212; Moral Thinking: 11; The Language of Morals: 47}.

485. How do normative statements acquire truth conditions?     [Top]
Normative statements comes to have truth conditions in a society when the norms to which the statements refer are so generally or widely accepted (but not necessarily always obeyed) that they are taken for granted by the members of the society. When the norms or rules have become entrenched, fixed, or stable in this way, the normative statements are true when they satisfy the requirements of the referenced norms, when the conditions specified in the truth conditions are fulfilled {‘Imperatives, Prescriptions, and their Logic’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 53]}.

486. How similar are the logics of imperatives and indicatives?     [Top]
It is controversial to what extent the logic of imperatives is isomorphic with the logic of indicatives, but there are a number of weak arguments that purport to show that they are radically different:

  • One weak argument claims that inferences to disjunctions do not work the same in the two logics. H. P. Grice’s theory of conversational implicatures as distinct from entailments shows this argument to be weak.
  • Another weak argument claims that a logic of satisfaction used for imperatives can lead to inconsistencies. But for basic use in moral philosophy such a logic of satisfaction is adequate.
  • Although the law of excluded middle does apply to imperatives (as well as to all moral judgments), there is a weak argument that claims the law of excluded middle does not apply to imperatives. This argument rests on confusions between issuing an imperative and reporting that an imperative has been issued, between contraries and contradictories, and between imperatival and normative sentences which express deontic modalities.
  • Another weak argument points out that compound imperative sentences have unusual senses. But there are also such anomalies associated with compound indicatives.

One outstanding problem for a logic of imperatives is that imperatives cannot appear in subordinate clauses or in if-clauses as can indicatives {‘Imperatives, Prescriptions, and their Logic’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 46-50]; ‘Some Confusions about Subjectivity’: 202; ‘Practical Inferences’: [Practical Inferences: 63, 67]; ‘Some Alleged Differences Between Imperatives and Indicatives’: 309-17, 318-20, 324; The Language of Morals: 23-4}.

487. Is there a common moral grammar?     [Top]
Yes. Analogous to the linguist’s universal grammar which provides the formal structures for any human language, there is a moral grammar or logic that accounts for the similarity in morals between cultures {Sorting Out Ethics: 87}.

488. How do we know when someone is misusing a word?     [Top]
We know when this misuse occurs because we understand the language the person who makes the mistake is speaking. We understand, that is, how the language can properly be used, and we can also recognize misuses of that language. In short, we know the language’s meaning-rules for words. For words with descriptive meaning, for example, we know (which does not mean that we can formulate in words) the descriptive meaning-rules that tell us to what kind of objects the words can appropriately (so that we will be understood) be applied; if we break these meaning-rules, applying the word to a kind of object to which the meaning-rule says it does not apply, then typically we are misusing the word. In making these determinations of proper and improper use, we rely on certain assumptions about what the speaker intended to convey in saying what she said and on linguistic, not moral, intuitions which inform us of the logical properties of words. How exactly we make these determinations is a difficult question, but it has to do with things we have learned but have in some sense forgotten and now need somehow to recall {‘Philosophical Discoveries’: 158-9, 161; Moral Thinking: 7-10; Freedom and Reason: 8}.

489. What is a logical connection?     [Top]
A logical connection is a relation based on the meanings of words {‘Descriptivism’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 73-4]}.

490. How do we know when someone is contradicting herself?     [Top]
We know this because we understand the language the person who is contradicting herself is speaking. We understand, that is, how the use of different words can change the logic of a sentence; and we understand how the language can properly be used, and we can also recognize misuses of that language. Self-contradiction is one of those misuses {‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 64-5]; Moral Thinking: 9}.

491. Can logic determine what things we desire?     [Top]
No. There are no logical restrictions on what things we might desire. We might even desire, or at least not dislike, pain. And there is no logical barrier to becoming a fanatic. But there are logical restrictions on what words we can appropriately use in connection with the things we desire, and logic can compel us to abandon certain principles given that we have certain desires {‘Universalizability’: [Encyclopedia of Ethics: 1260-1]; ‘Wrongness and Harm’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 102, 109]; ‘Pain and Evil’: 83, 90-1; ‘Descriptivism’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 65, 67]}.

492. How do we go about finding the logical properties of the moral words or even of any word?     [Top]
We have no alternative but to rely on linguistic, not moral, intuitions, on our understanding of the meaning of a word, on our understanding of the proper use of the language that we speak. More specifically, we must rely on the linguistic intuitions of competent speakers of the language regarding when an utterance is used inconsistently, incomprehensibly, or falsely, which are not to be confused with merely using the utterance in a misleading or inappropriate way {‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 65]; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 175]; Plato: 65-6; Moral Thinking: 8-10; Freedom and Reason: 59, 97}.

493. What are some features of linguistic or logical intuitions?     [Top]
Linguistic or logical intuitions, not moral intuitions, are the basis for universal prescriptivism. They have features such as the following.

  • Linguistic intuitions provide the foundation for the ordinary procedures of philosophical logic.
  • Linguistic intuitions can be shared even by people who do not share substantive moral opinions.
  • Linguistic intuitions are learned when we learn our language.
  • Linguistic intuitions are not taught as a component of our moral training.
  • Linguistic intuitions are not expressed in substantive moral judgments.
  • Linguistic intuitions are expressed in statements of logic.

Because linguistic or logical intuitions have features such as these, they are particularly well-suited to be the basis of an ethical theory like universal prescriptivism which is built on the logic of the moral words or concepts {‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 64-5]; ‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 20]; Moral Thinking: 7-9; ‘Plato and the Mathematicians’: 25; ‘Philosophical Discoveries’: 158-9, 161}.

494. In what sense are all moral arguments ad hominem?     [Top]
All moral arguments are ad hominem in the sense that such arguments have to do with the interests, desires, and inclinations of at least one individual and with the consistency (or lack of it) that the individual manages to maintain given that she does have those inclinations {‘Universalizability’: [Encyclopedia of Ethics: 1260]; Freedom and Reason: 111}.

495. What is the basis of all moral reasoning?     [Top]
The meaning of the moral words and the logic that is determined by that meaning are the basis of all moral reasoning. For example, it is a logical property of ‘right’, a logical feature of rightness, that the only difference between two actions cannot be that one is right while the other is not right; this logical property requires that there at least be a second difference – a non-moral qualitative difference – that in some way accounts for, or gives the reason for, the difference in the one action being right and the other being not right. Though this is a purely logical thesis, mere ideas or concepts can be powerful and have far-reaching ramifications on our moral thinking {‘How did Morality Get a Bad Name?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 95]; ‘Drugs and the Role of the Doctor’: 90; ‘Peace’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 74-5, 82]; Freedom and Reason: 12, 35; ‘A School for Philosophers’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 48]}.

496. Why does moral language have the logic that it has?     [Top]
Moral language has the logical properties of prescriptivity and universalizability because in order to accomplish its main point of guiding action it must appeal to our impartially benevolent feelings. The prescriptivity is the means to accessing our benevolent feelings, and the universalizability is the means by which that access is deployed impartially. Even more fundamentally, moral language has the logical properties it has because moral language gets its main point of guiding action from the fact that we have moral freedom {‘Why Moral Language?’: 82, 86-7; Freedom and Reason: 61}.

497. What is it to have a reason for saying something?     [Top]
To have a reason for making an utterance is to have in our minds something that is our reason for saying whatever it is that we said. This something in our minds is our reason if it and an accepted universal synthetic premise together entail what we said {‘Why Moral Language?’: 80-1}.

498. Does the non-derivability of prescriptions from ‘is’-statements render them non-rational?     [Top]
No. Even in the case of ordinary imperatives, which are like moral judgments in being prescriptive, their non-derivability from ‘is’-statements is not commonly taken to make those who use them (i.e., everyone) less than rational. In general, we say many things – and are not thought irrational or even non-rational for it – that are accepted as justified even though they are not entailed by ‘is’-statements. Insisting on derivability from ‘is’-statements reveals a conception of rationality and of having a reason that is too narrow {‘Why Moral Language?’: 79-80}.

499. What is the nature of definition?     [Top]
A definition says something about the meanings of words; it does not tell us anything about the world. This helps to explain why we feel more confident rejecting definitions that make statements in ordinary language self-contradictory rather than those that seem to make them false {‘A New Kind of Ethical Naturalism?’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 78-9]; ‘The Argument from Received Opinion’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 121-2, 125]; The Language of Morals: 48}.

500. What is the nature of deduction?     [Top]
All deduction is analytic. What this means is that a deductive inference puts nothing of substance (i.e., something in addition to what can be attributed merely to the definition of terms) in the conclusion which was not already, either implicitly or explicitly, in the premise or premises {The Language of Morals: 32-3}.

501. What is the logician’s job?     [Top]
Since logic is mostly concerned with assessing the validity of inferences rather than with the determination of truth, the logician’s job is to show us how to say, with precision and no ambiguity and without contradiction or inconsistency, the sentences that we want to say {‘Imperative Sentences’: 36, 39}.

502. What is the dictive indifference of logic?     [Top]
The dictive indifference of logic is the principle that any object-sentence (not meta-sentence) sentence-formula that can be given an indicative interpretation can also be given an imperative interpretation. That this principle holds is clear from the separation of descriptors from dictors (phrastics from neustics) {‘Imperative Sentences’: 35}.

503. What is the criterion of logicality?     [Top]
The criterion of logicality is the criterion used to mark off those linguistic entities deemed fitting objects of study for logicians. The linguistic entities are typically sentences, and in particular those sentences that give information in the sense of stating that something is or is not the case. In short, the criterion admits indicatives but rejects imperatives as fitting objects of logical study. Universal prescriptivism of course condemns this criterion as being too narrow {‘Imperative Sentences’: 21-2, 28}.

504. Why do disjunctive imperative inferences appear paradoxical?     [Top]
Inferences from simple commands (e.g., ‘Post the letter’) to disjunctive commands (e.g., ‘Post the letter or burn it’) appear paradoxical for two reasons.

  • They are rarely used because their conversational implicatures (i.e., the conventions underlying communication) are different.
  • In the case of disjunctive imperative inferences, it is often overlooked that the premises of an imperative inference are not necessarily fulfilled by fulfilling the conclusion. (By contrast, in conjunctive imperative inferences, it is rather obvious that fulfilling the conclusion does not necessarily fulfill the premise: put on parachute and jump out; so jump out.)

So the apparent paradoxicality of disjunctive imperative inferences does nothing to show that imperative logic is different from ordinary, indicative or assertoric, logic {‘The Rights of Employees’: [Essays on Political Morality: 138]; ‘Practical Inferences’: [Practical Inferences: 67-8, 71-2];‘Some Alleged Differences Between Imperatives and Indicatives’: 314; ‘Imperative Sentences’: 32-3}.

505. Is the logic of imperatives also the logic of normative judgments?     [Top]
No. The logic of imperatives is different from the logic of normative judgments. This can be seen in that the logic of imperatives is very much like ordinary, indicative or assertoric, logic (because both imperatives and indicatives have the same descriptors or phrastics and reasoning operates with descriptors), while the logic of normative judgments is not like ordinary logic {‘Imperatives, Prescriptions, and their Logic’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 45]; ‘Some Alleged Differences Between Imperatives and Indicatives’: 310; ‘Imperative Sentences’: 33, 37}.

506. Do facts and logic have a bearing on the rationality of choices and prescriptions?     [Top]
Yes. In order to make rational choices and prescriptions, we need first to know that we face a choice and so need to be able to frame it in words to ourselves; this framing involves understanding the meaning of the words we use to represent the choice to ourselves, and thus involves understanding the logical properties of the words. Second, we need to know what will probably happen if we make this choice as opposed to that choice; so we also need to know, as best we can, facts or at least educated guesses about the future, about the predictable consequences of our decisions {‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 627}.

507. Should logicians doing work on imperatives be looking for a truth-substitute?     [Top]
No. It is misguided to look for a truth-substitute for imperatives, for in the case of commands there is nothing that corresponds to truth in indicatives. Logicians doing work on imperatives should rather be looking for a logic that can help us see what implicit imperatives we are commanding when we give a certain command, just as ordinary indicative logic tells us about what implicit assertions we are asserting when we make certain assertions {‘Some Alleged Differences Between Imperatives and Indicatives’: 325-6}.

508. Is usage an infallible guide to logical properties?     [Top]
No. There can be, and are, degenerate usages of words that mislead us as to the logical properties of words. An example is ‘right’ when used as a near equivalent to ‘yes’. To combat this possibility of being misled, we have at least two counter-measures. First, we should study a wide range of usages of the words under consideration and thereby become capable of identifying degenerate uses. Second, we need to conduct dialectical conceptual analyses of the word usages to find those analyses that stand up under scrutiny informed by ordinary usage and logic {‘Why Do Applied Ethics?’: 230-1; Hare and Critics: 241; Moral Thinking: 80-1; ‘Some Confusions About Subjectivity’: 204; ‘Philosophical Discoveries’: 160-1}.

509. What is the logic of imperatives about?     [Top]
Imperative logic is about consistency and inconsistency between imperatives and about what we must agree to, or what we commit ourselves to, when we say an imperative; imperative logic is not, in particular, about an imperative being the case {‘Some Alleged Differences Between Imperatives and Indicatives’: 322}.

510. What does ‘entail’ mean?     [Top]
There are stricter and looser senses of entailment. In at least one sense, entailment is inferring solely on the basis of the meaning of the words. In a strict sense, one sentence S1 entails another sentence S2 just in case the conjunction of the one sentence S1 and the negation of the other S2 is a contradiction. Along the same lines, we can tell that one sentence (e.g., asserting a legal obligation to do X) does not entail another (e.g., asserting a moral obligation to do X) if it is possible without contradiction to hold the one sentence and to hold the negation of the other {Sorting Out Ethics: 120; ‘Political Obligation’: [Essays on Political Morality: 9]; ‘The Rights of Employees’: [Essays on Political Morality: 138, 140]; ‘Descriptivism’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 74]; ‘Universalisability’: 303; The Language of Morals: 45, 50, 154}.

511. To what conjunction is ‘It is indifferent whether Smith does a’ equivalent?     [Top]
‘It is indifferent whether Smith does a’ is equivalent to the conjunction ‘It is not the case that Smith ought to do a, and it is not the case that Smith ought not to do a’ {‘Some Alleged Differences Between Imperatives and Indicatives’: 318}.

512. Can theses that are analytic nevertheless be of great practical importance and thus not trivial?     [Top]
Yes. An example of such a thesis is the claim that moral judgments are universalizable. This thesis is a logical thesis – analytically true – and yet has, through its use in universal prescriptivism, far-reaching practical consequences for moral thinking and decisions about how to conduct ourselves. Another example is the tautological conceptual thesis that in hypothetically identifying with another person I will acquire replicas of that person’s preferences and myself prescribe that those preferences be satisfied. Yet another example draws upon the tautology that no one wants things done to her that are against her will; this tautology can be used in an argument to support the right to liberty {‘Universalizability’: [Encyclopedia of Ethics: 1260-1]; ‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 29]; Moral Thinking: 95-6, 222; Freedom and Reason: 12, 15, 35; ‘Universalisability’: 299}.

513. Does the law of excluded middle apply to moral judgments?     [Top]
Yes. Provided that we are aware what the contradictory of a given moral judgment is, the law of excluded middle applies to all moral judgments. In short, a three-valued logic is not needed for moral ought-judgments {‘Imperatives, Prescriptions, and their Logic’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 46-7]; ‘Some Confusions About Subjectivity’: 201-2; ‘Some Alleged Differences Between Imperatives and Indicatives’: 318-20}.

514. How far can logic alone take us toward a theory of moral thinking that can succeed in answering our moral questions?     [Top]
Logic alone – the study of the meaning of the moral words – can take us quite far, but not all the way to a complete moral system that includes a theory of moral thinking that can succeed in answering our moral questions. Even with the facts added in with the logic, a unique determination of substantive moral conclusions is not possible, especially in the sense of a linear derivation. In order to reach well-justified normative conclusions, we also need, besides logic and linguistic (not moral) intuitions and facts, some singular prescriptions {‘How did Morality Get a Bad Name?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 87]; Moral Thinking: 5; ‘Value Education in a Pluralist Society: A Philosophical Glance at the Humanities Curriculum Project’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 147, 149-50]; ‘Rawls’ Theory of Justice–I’: 147}.

515. In what sense does a prescriptive statement entail an imperative?     [Top]
An imperative is entailed by a prescription if and only if the prescription is logically inconsistent with the negation of the imperative. In other words, if someone affirms the prescription and at the same time affirms the negation of the imperative, then the person is contradicting herself. Since imperatives or commands can be negated and can figure in inconsistencies, this account of entailment does not misfire {‘Foundationalism and Coherentism in Ethics’: 192; Moral Thinking: 21; ‘Nothing Matters’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 42]; The Language of Morals: 168-9}.

516. On what do the ordinary procedures of philosophical logic depend?     [Top]
The ordinary procedures of philosophical logic, such as making inferences and recognizing contradictions, depend on things we have learned but have in some sense forgotten and now need somehow to recall. One way in which they seem to be recalled is through linguistic intuitions; so logic depends, somehow, on language {‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 65]; Moral Thinking: 7-9; ‘Plato and the Mathematicians’: 25; ‘Philosophical Discoveries’: 158-9, 161}.

517. Universal prescriptivism is built on the logic of the moral words. But is there any requirement that we use the moral words?     [Top]
There is no logical requirement that we use the moral words that we in fact use. But if we are not using them already, it is possible for us to learn them and to start using them, and there are strong non-logical reasons for our doing so: in general, prescriptive language is indispensable. And once we do start using the moral words to say the things we want to say and to ask the questions to which we want answers, then the logic of the words constrains us to do our moral thinking in a certain way {Sorting Out Ethics: 3-6; ‘Objective Prescriptions’: 26; ‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 66-7]; ‘Why Moral Language?’: 76-7, 86; ‘Punishment and Retributive Justice’: 217-9; Moral Thinking: 17}.

518. How are word usage and entailment related?     [Top]
There is a tautologous relation between word usage and entailment. In particular, we continue to use words in the same sense if and only if the entailments of the words are the same {The Language of Morals: 25}.

519. Does universal prescriptivism presuppose the analytic-synthetic distinction?     [Top]
No. Although the analytic-synthetic distinction is closely related to the descriptive-evaluative meaning distinction, and the defense of universal prescriptivism is less complex and clearer if the analytic-synthetic distinction is accepted, it is not required. Universal prescriptivism only needs to use the idea of logical truth; it does not need the ideas of analyticity or synonymy. This independence from the distinction is possible because the moral concepts can be elucidated by appealing only to their formal logical properties rather than to their material semantics which are tied up with their descriptive meanings {‘A Philosophical Autobiography’: 299-300; ‘A New Kind of Ethical Naturalism?’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 69]; Sorting Out Ethics: 6; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 176-7]; ‘Why Moral Language?’: 81-2; ‘Autonomy as an Educational Ideal’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 135]; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 104]}.

520. Why think that there are entailment relations between imperatives?     [Top]
Because there can be contradictions between imperatives, they are governed by logical rules which are revealed by consulting proper usage. These rules apply to all the words in a sentence. Logical words such as ‘all’ can appear in the phrastics of imperatives just as they do in the phrastics of indicatives. So ‘all’ and other logical words in imperatives are governed by the logical rules, and in the case of the logical words their meaning is wholly given by the logical rules. So the meaning of the logical words will be revealed by our inquiring into the proper usage of the words, and this is done by asking what sentences are entailed by a sentence containing a logical word such as ‘all’. So, since imperatives can contain logical words and are meaningful, they must admit of entailment relations {‘Imperatives, Prescriptions, and their Logic’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 45]; The Language of Morals: 21, 24-5}.

521. Does universal prescriptivism violate Hume’s Law?     [Top]
No. In universal prescriptivism, unlike in naturalism, there is no deduction of, and no linear inferences to, logically simple moral conclusions from nothing but factual premises. So there is in universal prescriptivism no violation of Hume’s Law. What there is, is the establishment of canons of formal reasoning on the basis of linguistic intuitions; then, using these established canons or forms of thought along with some substantial premises, we reason to moral conclusions {‘A Philosophical Autobiography’: 299; Sorting Out Ethics: 12-3; Hare and Critics: 213; ‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 96]; Moral Thinking: 16, 187, 223-4; ‘Geach on Murder and Sodomy’: 467-9; ‘Value Education in a Pluralist Society: A Philosophical Glance at the Humanities Curriculum Project’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 149-50]; ‘Universalisability’: 302-3; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 103-5]; Freedom and Reason: 2, 21-2, 108, 116, 186-7; ‘Can I Be Blamed for Obeying Orders?’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 3-4]; The Language of Morals: 29, 173}.

522. Why think that imperatives are governed by logical rules?     [Top]
There are several reasons for thinking that imperatives observe logical rules. First, some evidence that logical rules are at play in our use of imperatives comes from the realization that imperatives provide answers to questions such as ‘What shall I do?’ which are asked by rational agents. Second, that imperatives can stand in contradiction to each other, and can stand in self-contradiction with themselves, indicates that they are regulated by logical rules. Third, because imperatives have a phrastic, just as indicatives do, imperatives are also governed by logical rules {Sorting Out Ethics: 14; ‘Imperatives, Prescriptions, and their Logic’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 45]; The Language of Morals: 15-6, 22, 46; ‘Imperative Sentences’: 34}.

523. What is the function of value-words?     [Top]
The function of value-words such as ‘good’ and ‘ought’ is to commend, prescribe, teach a standard {The Language of Morals: 29, 91, 161}.

Meaning

524. What is a prerequisite for genuine moral disagreement?     [Top]
For two or more people to be having a genuine, not merely verbal, disagreement, they must be using the moral words in the same sense. If, that is, one says an action is right while the other says it is not right, then they must both mean the same thing by ‘right’; for if they were using ‘right’ with different meanings they would not be contradicting each other, not disagreeing {‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 22]; ‘A New Kind of Ethical Naturalism?’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 83]; Sorting Out Ethics: 68-9; ‘Philosophy and Conflict’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 58, 62]; Hare and Critics: 248; ‘How to Decide Moral Questions Rationally’: 70-1; Plato: 40; Moral Thinking: 69; ‘The Argument from Received Opinion’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 120-1]; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 42]; ‘The Lawful Government’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 100]}.

525. What allows us to speak of knowing that an act is morally wrong or right?     [Top]
We can speak of knowing that an act is morally right or wrong or that a moral judgment is true – to the extent that mere humans as opposed to archangels can know these things – because our moral evaluations and judgments are made for reasons specified in universal principles. These reasons point to non-moral properties or non-moral facts which are captured in the descriptive meanings of the universalizable moral words. These descriptive meanings are typically, within a stable society, consistent and firm, and so we can know whether an action is morally right by knowing whether it really has the non-moral properties {Sorting Out Ethics: 11-3; ‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 97]; Freedom and Reason: 5}.

526. When is a word vacuous or trivial?     [Top]
When a word or concept fails, by indicating no distinctions, to make a difference to what we do or can do, then it has become vacuous {‘Function and Tradition in Architecture’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 25, 29]}.

527. Why are there primarily evaluative words?     [Top]
There are secondarily evaluative words such as ‘courageous’ that, because of the conceptual apparatus that we have adopted, have their descriptive meanings firmly tied to their use while their evaluative meanings are often somewhat less firmly attached. If our attitudes (e.g., to heroism in battle) start to change, as they sometimes do, so that we no longer want to commend something as much as we once did, then we might want to stop using the word in the same old way. We can use primarily evaluative words to help us bring about this change in usage by saying things with the primarily evaluative words that disparage that which we no longer wish to commend so highly; we can say it is bad, or not so good as we once thought, ‘bad’ and ‘good’ being examples of such primarily evaluative words and as such can be more flexibly applied to situations characterized descriptively as, for example, courageous. In this way we can begin to weaken the conceptual connections between the descriptive and evaluative meanings of words within a particular conceptual apparatus and so alter it {‘A Reductio Ad Absurdum of Descriptivism’: 128-31; Freedom and Reason: 189-91}.

528. Why does the perlocutionary depend on the illocutionary?     [Top]
The perlocutionary involves getting, or trying to get, someone to do something by making a prescription. To do this, the person will typically have to know what to do. Knowing this requires that the person understand in what compliance with what she is being asked to do consists, and this understanding requires that she recognize the implications of the prescription with which she is being asked (or commanded, ordered, etc.) to comply. These implications are given in making the prescription, and are largely determined by the logical properties of the words used in the prescription. So the getting to do by making the prescription – the perlocutionary act – depends ultimately on the logical properties conveyed in making the prescription – the illocutionary act – and in which it is made clear what to do in order to comply. In short, the illocutionary act is a means to the perlocutionary act {‘Why Moral Language?’: 73-5}.

529. Why can talk of ‘pragmatics’ be misleading?     [Top]
Talk of ‘pragmatics’ in the context of discussions of moral language can be misleading because such talk can blur the distinction between illocutionary and perlocutionary speech acts. Because moral language is an illocutionary, not perlocutionary, kind of speech act and logical rules apply to illocutionary, but not perlocutionary, acts, the blurring of the distinction can lead people to think (mistakenly) that moral language is perlocutionary and thus not subject to logical rules such as consistency. In this way, the rationality of morals can be undermined by talk of ‘pragmatics’ {Sorting Out Ethics: 13-6, 112-3; ‘Why Moral Language?’: 72-3; ‘Austin’s Distinction between Locutionary and Illocutionary Acts’: [Practical Inferences: 110]}.

530. What is it about the moral words that allows standards to change?     [Top]
It is the logical characteristic that the moral words carry both descriptive and prescriptive meaning which accounts for the possibility of using the moral words to express changing standards of human conduct. In particular, especially when prescriptive meaning of the moral word is primary and the descriptive meaning is secondary, standards can change such that the descriptive meaning of a moral word accordingly changes (because, being secondary, it is less firmly attached to the word) while the prescriptive meaning stays the same. An example is what happened to ‘wrong’ and wife-beating: standards regarding wife-beating changed from morally acceptable to morally unacceptable; the descriptive meaning or truth conditions of ‘wrong’ accordingly changed to reflect the change in standards, thus now also picking out cases of wife-beating whereas before it did not. All the while, ‘wrong’ will have continued to have the same prescriptive meaning signifying morally unacceptable behavior; we will simply have acquired some new reasons (or will have realized that the old reasons applied as well to the case of wife-beating) for judging a practice wrong {‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 23]; Sorting Out Ethics: 54; Freedom and Reason: 24-5}.

531. Are ‘ought’ and ‘wrong’ interdefinable?     [Top]
Yes. ‘Ought’ and ‘wrong’, in their central evaluative uses, are interdefinable in terms of their logical properties alone, even though they also have descriptive meanings or semantics. It is this interdefinability that at least in part explains the possibility of logical truths such as ‘There is something wrong in doing what we ought not to do’ {Sorting Out Ethics: 50, 52; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: 177}.

532. What is the point at issue in the debate over deriving an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’?     [Top]
The point at issue in the debate over deriving an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’ is whether the meaning of moral terms is wholly descriptive or is descriptive and prescriptive. It is ultimately the prescriptivity of moral judgments that makes it impossible to get from an ‘is’ to an ‘ought’ {‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 105]; Freedom and Reason: 22}.

533. How are ‘right’ and ‘true’ similar?     [Top]
The predicates ‘right’ and ‘true’ are similar in several ways.

  • They can both be used of moral judgments as they can of non-moral judgments, though the uses may differ.
  • Statements containing them have their logical character determined by that-clauses indicating to what the predicates apply (e.g., ‘It is right that …’).

The second similarity about logical character has the consequence that, though the predicates can also be used of moral judgments, the predicates do not change a non-fact-stating judgment into a fact-stating judgment; in particular, the possibility of prepending ‘it is right that’ or ‘it is true that’ to a moral judgment does not show that the moral judgment is descriptive (fact-stating) rather than prescriptive (non-fact-stating). Moreover, that they can both be used of moral judgments as well as of non-moral judgments shows that the use of the predicates has little to contribute to discussions about objectivity {Moral Thinking: 213; ‘Some Confusions about Subjectivity’: 201-6}.

534. To what does one logically commit oneself when one attributes a descriptive predicate term to a subject?     [Top]
When one attributes a descriptive predicate term (e.g., ‘red’) to a subject, one is logically committed to the claim that anything like the subject in the relevant respects is also described by the descriptive term; for one would otherwise misuse the descriptive term. The relevant respects are those respects, whatever they were, which point out similarity of kind of subject and which warranted the original attribution {‘The Argument from Received Opinion’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 119]; Freedom and Reason: 11-3, 139-40}.

535. Why prefer ‘descriptive’ to ‘factual’?     [Top]
It is very difficult to get a fix on the meaning of ‘factual’, and this makes it extremely difficult to say whether factual sentences comprise a totally different class than moral sentences. So it is better to use ‘descriptive’, which has fewer layers of common meanings by which we may be confused, and thus can more easily be given a precising definition, as has been done in Freedom and Reason {Moral Thinking: 212; Freedom and Reason: 8, 10}.

536. What determines the kind of meaning a word has?     [Top]
It is the kind of rules that govern a word’s use that determines the kind of meaning that the word has; if the rules changed, the meaning would probably change, too. For example, if the rules are descriptive rules that tell us to what kind of objects a word may appropriately be applied, then the word has descriptive meaning {Sorting Out Ethics: 4; Freedom and Reason: 7}.

537. What is a rule?     [Top]
A rule is a universal imperative, though it need not be formulable in words. For example, the rules of inference used in logic are rules that tell us, given certain premises, in all cases what inferences we can validly make from those premises to some conclusion. More generally, in order to say something intelligible and be understood, we must obey the rules that govern our language; that is, we must consistently follow the practices of the community of language-users of the language in which we wish to express ourselves intelligibly and be understood. It is, in fact, the argument of universal prescriptivism that there are logical rules for talking ethically {Freedom and Reason: 7, 39-40; The Language of Morals: 32; ‘Imperative Sentences’: 23-4}.

538. What kinds of meaning are there?     [Top]
There are many different kinds of meaning – emotive meaning (e.g., expressive, evocative, evincing, causative meaning), referential meaning (i.e., ‘it’), descriptive meaning, evaluative meaning, dictive meaning – and there are many different senses that can be given to ‘meaning’. For example, ‘meaning’ might be given the following distinct senses:

  • narrow: words have meaning only if they have at least a sense or a reference;
  • wide: meaning includes the locutionary and illocutionary;
  • very wide (e.g., pragmatics): meaning includes the perlocutionary.

There are, however, two main kinds, descriptive and evaluative or prescriptive (which allows the illocutionary, but not perlocutionary, to affect) meaning, which are especially important for universal prescriptivism {Sorting Out Ethics: 112; Freedom and Reason: 9; The Language of Morals: 111, 118; ‘Austin’s Distinction between Locutionary and Illocutionary Acts’: [Practical Inferences: 109-10, 114]; ‘Imperative Sentences’: 38}.

539. How are evaluative meaning, descriptive meaning, and standards of evaluation tied together?     [Top]
Evaluative meaning tells us that certain qualities are commendable in things of certain kinds, but does not tell us what the qualities are. Descriptive meaning can tell us what the qualities are if it specifies the traits that have been put, by decisions of principle, into adopted standards of evaluation; this it does when the standards are sufficiently widespread and consistently used in practice. Take ‘good sunset’ as an example. The evaluative meaning of ‘good sunset’ tells us that if a given sunset has certain qualities then it is a commendable sunset because it has those qualities, but the evaluative meaning does not say what the qualities are. If standards for evaluating sunsets are widely accepted, then the descriptive meaning of ‘good sunset’ will tell us what the qualities are; but if the standards are not well-known, then the descriptive meaning of ‘good sunset’ will only tell us what we matter-of-factly see when the sun appears to sink below the western horizon. Note that in ‘good sunset’, most of the evaluative meaning is probably contributed by ‘good’, for ‘sunset’ is not a functional word and thus its descriptive meaning is probably primary {‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 637; ‘Geach: Good and Evil’: 108; The Language of Morals: 7, 146-7, 174}.

540. Does the actual current usage of words have any philosophical import?     [Top]
In general, the way in which a word is actually deployed in current usage does nothing to decide substantive philosophical issues one way or the other. What we do need to pay attention to, though, is that if we do decide to use words in certain ways then we must be prepared to accept the logical and practical consequences of doing so {‘Geach: Good and Evil’: 110}.

541. What two questions can always be asked in order better to understand a judgment containing ‘good’?     [Top]
To understand better a judgment that contains ‘good’, it can always be asked:

  • A good what? This question is a request for the class of comparison, the set of objects within which the good object mentioned in the judgment is being ranked, in comparison with the other objects in the set, according to merit as assessed by the standard being used to perform the comparison.
  • Why is it good? This question is a request for identification of the good-making characteristics the presence of which in the object lead us to rank, according to some standard that mentions those characteristics, the object as good.

These two questions are not independent of each other because the characteristics help to specify membership in the class {The Language of Morals: 133}.

542. What does ‘good’ mean?     [Top]
In typical usage, ‘good’ is an attributive adjective and means ‘the most general adjective of commendation’, and we typically commend in order to indicate that something is in general worthy of approval or acceptance. In other words, the common meaning of ‘good’ in all the word’s standard uses is to be found in the word’s evaluative, not descriptive, meaning. This common evaluative meaning is something like: ‘having the characteristic qualities (whatever they are) which are commendable in the kind of object in question’. So, for example, when we say that a strawberry is good, we are, through the descriptive meaning of ‘good’, attributing the property of goodness to it as well as attributing good-making properties such as sweetness to it; and through the evaluative meaning we are commending the strawberry for its having those good-making properties and thus are prescribing that strawberries of its kind be chosen for eating when one is choosing strawberries {Plato: 45, 65; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 53]; ‘Religion and Morals’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 52]; ‘Geach: Good and Evil’: 103, 106, 108; The Language of Morals: 79, 85, 91, 94, 111, 135}.

543. What is it that gives descriptive meaning to the moral words used in judgments?     [Top]
The descriptive meaning of the moral words used in judgments is tied to the principles that are involved in the judgments, and there are always principles involved in moral judgments {‘Universalisability’: 308; The Language of Morals: 132, 134}.

544. Are truth conditions basic to all kinds of meaning?     [Top]
No. Truth conditions are basic, at most, to the meanings of indicatives. But satisfaction conditions do apply to phrastics, though not to tropics (signs of mood) {‘Some Sub-Atomic Particles of Logic’: 36}.

545. Do moral words with descriptive meaning behave like descriptive words?     [Top]
Yes and no. Insofar as a moral word has descriptive meaning, it behaves much like other descriptive words. But to the extent that the moral word has evaluative or prescriptive meaning, too, it does not behave just like descriptive words; for it will then also be able to commend or prescribe {‘Universalisability’: 308}.

546. To what do truth values attach or apply?     [Top]
Different groups of truth values apply or attach to different combinations of sub-atomic particles of logic (i.e., neustic, tropic, clistic, phrastic), but truth values do not apply to phrastics alone. For example, given that what the phrastic conveys is the case and that the tropic is indicative, then the sentence is true; and if, in addition, the neustic is affirmative, then the speaker of the sentence cannot be charged with speaking falsely {‘Some Sub-Atomic Particles of Logic’: 35-6}.

547. How do descriptive force or meaning and evaluative force vary with respect to each other?     [Top]
Descriptive and evaluative force vary independently of each other; that is, one can change while the other remains the same. But there is a slight tendency for them to vary in inverse proportion to each other; for example, when standards are widely accepted, the descriptive force tends to dominate the prescriptive force, and when a new standard is being set up and so is not widely accepted yet, evaluative or prescriptive force tends to dominate {‘A Reductio Ad Absurdum of Descriptivism’: 126; Freedom and Reason: 24-5; The Language of Morals: 122, 159}.

548. What are ordinary people intending, as far as meaning goes, when they use the moral words?     [Top]
The moral words have both descriptive and prescriptive meaning.

  • Regarding descriptive meaning, when ordinary people use the moral words they intend to ascribe ordinary objective descriptive properties to actions or people.
  • Regarding prescriptive meaning, when ordinary people use the moral words they intend to commend actions or people and are ascribing no properties of any kind at all.

Some descriptivists, because they ignore the prescriptive meaning, wind up thinking that the properties ascribed in regard to descriptive meaning are non-ordinary, specifically moral, properties {Moral Thinking: 85-6}.

549. Is universal prescriptivism an error theory?     [Top]
No. Universal prescriptivism and an error theory such as J. L. Mackie’s differ in the following ways:

  • objective (i.e., factual) prescriptions are incoherent;
  • descriptivism is incorrect as an account of what the moral words mean;
  • ordinary people using moral language do not intend to ascribe objective prescriptive properties.

Universal prescriptivism affirms all three of the above statements; Mackie’s error theory denies them {Moral Thinking: 85-6}.

550. Why is usage generally a reliable guide to discovering the logical properties of words?     [Top]
The logical properties that ordinary people give to their words determine the way in which the words are used. Consequently, standard word usage will reflect the logical properties. This goes for non-moral usage of words like ‘all’ and ‘not’, upon which logicians have built systems of reasoning, as well as for moral words like ‘ought’ {Sorting Out Ethics: 71-2; Hare and Critics: 241; Moral Thinking: 80-1}.

551. Does meaning belong chiefly to subject and predicate terms?     [Top]
No. Though nouns and adjectives perhaps most obviously have meaning, other parts of speech such as verbs and prepositions have meaning, too {‘Austin’s Distinction between Locutionary and Illocutionary Acts’: [Practical Inferences: 106-7]}.

552. Are the descriptive and evaluative force or meaning of a word learned together?     [Top]
No. The descriptive and evaluative meaning of a word are learned in different ways and independently of each other {The Language of Morals: 89}.

553. What determines the way in which ordinary people use the moral words?     [Top]
Ordinary people use the moral words in conformity with the dictates of the logical properties that ordinary people give to the moral words {Moral Thinking: 80-1}.

554. Can statements change from synthetic to analytic?     [Top]
Yes. When a new word is coined or when an old word acquires a new meaning, statements that use the word can at first be synthetic and then later become analytic. This phenomenon has happened, for instance, with ‘ought’ or ‘should’ in their moral uses in that universalizability is now a part of their meaning. It has also happened with ‘water’ and ‘H2O’ {‘A New Kind of Ethical Naturalism?’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 81]; Sorting Out Ethics: 123; ‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 66]}.

555. Are definitions analytic or synthetic?     [Top]
Correct definitions are both analytic and synthetic, and one or the other depending on in what sense they are taken. If taken as sentences saying something about a word, they are synthetic. If taken as sentences about things, they are, with one possible exception, analytic; for example, ‘A kitten is a young cat’ is analytic and, appearances notwithstanding, asserts nothing about kittens. The exception is the case in which the sentences are used to inform us that, of the two kinds of things being related in the sentence, things of the first kind become things of the second kind {‘A New Kind of Ethical Naturalism?’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 78-9]; The Language of Morals: 87-8}.

556. When said of moral judgments, are ‘true’, ‘false’, ‘right’, and ‘wrong’ used in the same way?     [Top]
Probably not. When someone says ‘That’s true’ of some moral judgment, ‘true’ may refer only to the descriptive meaning in the moral judgment. This is probably not true when ‘That’s right’ is said instead; ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in this context seem to refer more to the evaluative meaning of the judgment, the meaning that expresses either agreement or disagreement with the standard being used, expresses either adherence to or departure from the standard, and expresses affirmation of the propriety of using a standard at all {‘Some Confusions About Subjectivity’: 203-5; ‘Nothing Matters’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 41-5]}.

557. Is use the same as meaning?     [Top]
No. But much depends on what is meant by ‘use’ and ‘meaning’. In the way that universal prescriptivism intends ‘meaning’, the moral words or concepts have meaning in the sense that they have a logic or rules that must be followed in order for them to be intelligible to people engaged in moral discourse. Similarly, universal prescriptivism intends ‘use’ not in all of its many senses. It is possible to distinguish between illocutionary use and perlocutionary use of language, and only the illocutionary has a logic. So it is with regard to ‘use’ in the illocutionary, not perlocutionary (which does not have a logic), sense that universal prescriptivism links ‘use’ with ‘meaning’ {Sorting Out Ethics: 13-7, 108-9, 113; ‘Imperatives, Prescriptions, and their Logic’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 44]; ‘A New Kind of Ethical Naturalism?’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 71]; ‘Why Moral Language?’: 72-3; Freedom and Reason: 7-8; ‘Austin’s Distinction between Locutionary and Illocutionary Acts’: [Practical Inferences: 110]}.

558. Are the peculiarities of the value-words such as ‘ought’ dependent on their moral uses?     [Top]
No. The peculiarities of the value-words do not derive from their moral uses to the exclusion of other uses. The peculiarities are more general and are common to non-moral uses, too {The Language of Morals: 80, 85}.

559. What are the different senses of ‘ought’ at play in the two levels of normative moral thinking?     [Top]
There is a sense of ‘ought’ which is more like ‘must’; the latter is not overridable so that ought-principles at the critical level of moral thinking, where no principles are overridable, will be non-overridable just like must-principles. At the intuitive level of moral thinking, ‘ought’ has a sense less like ‘must’ and so is overridable, as all intuitive-level principles are {Moral Thinking: 28, 31, 152-3}.

560. What elements of meaning are shared and not shared by descriptive and evaluative statements?     [Top]
Both descriptive and evaluative statements have these features:

  • syntax,
  • illocutionary force,
  • truth conditions,
  • particular truth conditions.

They differ in this way:

  • the type of illocutionary force (descriptive or evaluative statement).

Because of the different type of illocutionary force, evaluative statements have an additional element in their meaning, evaluative or prescriptive meaning, and this additional meaning can remain constant even while the descriptive meaning or truth conditions change {Sorting Out Ethics: 8, 59, 103}.

561. Are ‘ought’, ‘right’, and ‘good’ the only value-words?     [Top]
Not at all. Almost any word, depending on the context, can be used as a value-word. The focus on ‘ought’, ‘right’, and ‘good’ is due only to their being relatively simple, typical, and general {The Language of Morals: 79-80}.

562. How is describing different from evaluating?     [Top]
In descriptions, if the descriptive meanings or truth conditions of its words change, then the description changes. In evaluations, if the descriptive meanings or truth conditions of its words change, the evaluation may still be the same {Sorting Out Ethics: 59}.

563. What is the primary function of ‘good’?     [Top]
The primary function of ‘good’ is to commend, in particular, to commend people either directly or indirectly {‘Religion and Morals’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 52]; The Language of Morals: 127, 144}.

564. When moral standards change, are we appealing to different reasons?     [Top]
Yes. When moral standards change and we still use the same words to reflect those changed standards, the descriptive meaning of the words has changed along with the standard even though the prescriptive meaning has stayed the same. Because it is the descriptive meaning or standard that has changed, the criteria or truth conditions for the correct use of the words have changed and so our reasons will have changed, too. A limiting case occurs when standards are discarded and the moral words are secondarily evaluative; in this kind of case, the reasons are thrown out with the standards, leaving behind a word with practically no meaning and so no use {‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 22, 24]; Sorting Out Ethics: 54}.

565. Are there non-commendatory uses of ‘good’?     [Top]
Yes. There are at least three non-commendatory uses of ‘good’:

  • inverted-commas: alluding the value-judgments of others who have a rigid standard;
  • ironic: doing the opposite of commending, that is, condemning;
  • conventional: paying lip-service to a convention perhaps to show that one is a team-player.

Given the infinite subtlety of language, there are likely to be additional non-commendatory uses of ‘good’ than these three {The Language of Morals: 125-6, 147-50, 180, 183}.

566. Are truth conditions morally neutral?     [Top]
No. Whenever we give the truth conditions for a moral statement or judgment, we are bringing in substantial moral claims. The reason is that the standards we use in order to judge a moral statement true or false are the same standards we use in making the moral statement in the first place; in both cases, it is a matter of finding a common or shared rational approach to deciding which standards we ought to use {‘A Philosophical Autobiography’: 303; Sorting Out Ethics: 54, 57, 138; ‘Objective Prescriptions’: 30-31}.

567. Does ‘good’ have only either descriptive or evaluative meaning?     [Top]
Yes, pretty much. If ‘good’ has neither descriptive nor evaluative meaning, then it has very little meaning at all {The Language of Morals: 124}.

568. What is sentence meaning?     [Top]
The meaning (including sense and reference) of a particular token sentence is complex and seems to have at least the following aspects.

  • The semantics of a sentence are the part of the sentence’s meaning that its truth conditions determine either directly or indirectly by specifying that such and such properties belong or do not belong to such and such kinds of objects.
  • The syntactics of a sentence are the grammatical elements (e.g., subject-predicate distinction, mood sign indicating illocutionary force) in the sentence that can affect its meaning; they are also the formal properties of a sentence which determine, by specifying its internal structure (e.g., subject-predicate), the kind of sentence (e.g., statement ascribing properties to object).
  • The pragmatics may be an aspect.
  • The evaluative or prescriptive meaning of words in a sentence may contribute to the meaning of the sentence.

Descriptive, as opposed to evaluative or prescriptive, meaning aligns with the semantics. Since semantics is not the whole of meaning, this alignment helps to explain how it is possible for descriptive meaning to change even while the evaluative meaning stays the same. Finally, it is the last aspect, evaluative meaning, that the descriptivist denies but that the non-descriptivist affirms {Sorting Out Ethics: 48-55}.

569. In what ways is ‘good’ a loose word?     [Top]
There are several ways in which ‘good’ is a loose word. First, the comparative form, ‘better than’, is easier to define than ‘good’. Second, the descriptive meaning of ‘good’ can vary in tandem with the standard being used. Third, the universalizability of judgments using ‘good’ or ‘well’ is weaker than that of judgments using ‘ought’ in that people in similar situations need not do what it is good that one of them does (e.g., jogging versus reading) {Freedom and Reason: 153-4; The Language of Morals: 183-4}.

570. How can we tell when a standard has become conventional?     [Top]
If a word that had primary evaluative meaning comes to have primary descriptive meaning, that is an indication that the standard the word appeals to has become conventional {The Language of Morals: 121}.

571. What are truth conditions?     [Top]
Truth conditions are the conditions that have to obtain in order for a statement correctly to be said to be true. The truth conditions refer to descriptive properties that an object has, so much so that the descriptive meaning uniquely determines what the truth conditions are. We discover the descriptive meaning of moral judgments by investigating the linguistic usage of people engaged in moral discourse; this investigation reveals what is taken to be the correct application conditions or rules for the moral words actually in use. These correct application conditions (not just application conditions or conditions for use to express meaning) are the truth conditions for, the criteria for, the descriptive meaning of, the reasons for making, the moral judgments. Truth conditions are not the whole meaning of any utterance and belong to the semantics of statements {‘Philippa Foot on Subjectivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 89-90]; Sorting Out Ethics: 48-53, 66, 76}.

572. Is ordinary language too subtle, flexible, and complicated to attribute a logical feature such as prescriptivity to a whole subset of the language?     [Top]
No. Ordinary language is indeed subtle, flexible, changeable, and complicated – so much so that it would perhaps be an impossible task to create an artificial language that functions as well. But it is no part of universal prescriptivism to claim that moral language is rigid and always prescriptive. On the contrary, universal prescriptivism only claims that moral language is sometimes prescriptive, thus allowing for flexibility {Sorting Out Ethics: 18; ‘Platonism in Moral Education: Two Varieties’: 579; Freedom and Reason: 7, 14; The Language of Morals: 180, 183}.

573. What is the relation between evaluative force and descriptive force?     [Top]
Although the amount of information conveyed (the descriptive force) tends in general to be greater when the standard is firm and widely accepted, the relation between evaluative force and descriptive force is not predictably regular. It is possible, for instance, for a word to have both strong evaluative force and strong descriptive force at once {The Language of Morals: 122, 159}.

574. Can we do without ‘right’?     [Top]
Yes. It is possible to extend ‘ought’ so that it serves in the same capacity as ‘right’ used as an adjective. And by in effect redefining ‘right’, used as a noun, also in terms of ‘ought’ and ‘must’, the hope is that many of the problems of moral rights can be solved through the use of a general method of moral reasoning {Moral Thinking: 151-2; The Language of Morals: 155}.

575. Does ‘good’, when used evaluatively, lose its descriptive meaning?     [Top]
No. Although ‘good’ is very strongly evaluative, it does not completely lose its descriptive meaning when it is used for commending. In fact, the moral words like ‘good’, ‘ought’, and ‘right’ cannot do without some descriptive meaning {‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 177]; Freedom and Reason: 14; The Language of Morals: 122}.

576. What characteristics do ‘good’, ‘ought’, and ‘right’ share?     [Top]
There are several characteristics that ‘good’, ‘ought’, and ‘right’ share:

  • supervenience
  • universality
  • function
  • relations between descriptive and prescriptive force

The main function of all is to give advice, instruction, or to guide choices {The Language of Morals: 153-5, 159}.

577. How do words get into inverted-commas?     [Top]
A word gotten into inverted-commas is the result of one of the ways in which a word can lose its evaluative meaning. The inverted-commas can come about like this: a standard becomes too rigid and ossified and lacks any supporting reasons for being followed; the descriptive meaning of a word which appeals to that standard consequently comes to dominate the prescriptive meaning which eventually withers away; as a result, the word can going forward only be understood descriptively {‘Why Moral Language?’: 78-9; The Language of Morals: 147-8, 164-5}.

578. Is it correct to say that when we call someone a good person we are attributing certain descriptive characteristics to her?     [Top]
It is partly correct to say that when we call someone a good person we are attributing certain descriptive characteristics to her. It is only partly correct because in calling someone a good person we are doing more than just attributing descriptive characteristics; such attribution is merely to give the descriptive meaning, to make known the standard being used in judging the person. To be fully correct, we would also have to add that in calling someone good we are commending the person for possessing certain descriptive characteristics; to add this is to add the prescriptive meaning (which is typically primary when we say someone is a good person) to the descriptive meaning (which is typically secondary) {The Language of Morals: 146}.

579. Why think that ‘good’ in moral contexts functions as it does in non-moral contexts?     [Top]
There are several reasons for thinking that ‘good’ in moral contexts functions as it does in non-moral contexts:

  • The logic of ‘good’ is general enough to handle both instrumental and intrinsic good.
  • The distinction between descriptive and prescriptive meaning helps explain why we cite different reasons for using ‘good’ in moral contexts than in non-moral contexts.
  • The elevated status of moral good is independent of its logic; it is due to our practical involvement in moral matters.

{The Language of Morals: 140}.

580. What is word meaning?     [Top]
The meaning of a word is, or involves, the use of the word according to specific rules; these rules are linguistic conventions that enable the word to be intelligible to those who communicate with the word. For example, there are such rules governing to what kind of objects ‘red’ can be appropriately applied, and to give these rules – meaning-rules – is to give the meaning of ‘red’ {Sorting Out Ethics: 4; ‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 91, 95-6, 98]; Freedom and Reason: 7}.

581. What typically makes primary value-words more useful than secondary value-words?     [Top]
It is the looseness with which descriptive meaning tends to be attached to primary value-words than makes them more useful than secondary value-words. This looseness of attachment of the descriptive meaning facilitates moral discussion even when values have changed or when people do not share the same values, for the primary value-words can have a common evaluative meaning even while the values that determine descriptive meaning are changing {‘A Reductio Ad Absurdum of Descriptivism’: 128-9, 131}.

582. What determines descriptive meaning?     [Top]
Attitudes and values, when enough people have decided to accept them and thus establish a linguistic convention, determine descriptive meaning. In the case of primary value-words, this mechanism of extending the descriptive meaning can be very abrupt because the looseness with which descriptive meaning is typically attached to such words allows for more tolerance in what people are willing to accept with regard to modifications to the prevailing linguistic conventions {‘A Reductio Ad Absurdum of Descriptivism’: 128-31; Freedom and Reason: 190-1}.

583. Can descriptive and evaluative meaning be distinguished?     [Top]
Yes. Though in the primary value-words when used prescriptively descriptive and evaluative meaning are always found together, they can be distinguished by specifying the meanings separately. This can be done by finding two words (or inventing one if necessary) that share (or can be made to share) the same descriptive meaning but one of which lacks the other’s evaluative meaning. Examples include inventing words for those combinations of descriptive features that lead us to call something a good picture, a good wine, or a courageous person. Being purely descriptive, these invented words will be evaluatively neutral and so will lack the evaluative meaning of ‘good’; but they will have the different descriptive meanings that ‘good’ has in each of the given contexts. Variations on this strategy include pointing out that people who do not agree with the accepted evaluative meaning of a word might stop using the word or use it only in a purely descriptive way (e.g., as a way to refer to those who do subscribe to the evaluative meaning or as a way to predict how such subscribing people will respond in similar situations). It is even possible to use Moore’s open-question argument as a test to identify purely descriptive words {‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 24]; Sorting Out Ethics: 60-1, 71; ‘Moral Terms’: [Encyclopedia of Ethics: 868, 870]; ‘A Reductio Ad Absurdum of Descriptivism’: 126-8; Moral Thinking: 73-4; ‘Value Education in a Pluralist Society: A Philosophical Glance at the Humanities Curriculum Project’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 145-6]; ‘Descriptivism’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 55-61]; Freedom and Reason: 189}.

584. How can descriptive meaning change without a change in evaluative meaning?     [Top]
It is ultimately through decision-making that descriptive meaning can change without there also being a change in evaluative meaning. It can happen like this: our sensibilities change; then our attitudes accordingly change, followed by a change in evaluation; these new evaluations are expressed as prescriptions which we then decide either to accept or reject; depending on what we decide, the descriptive meaning or truth conditions adjust in response. This kind of process accounts for how words such as ‘cruel’ can acquire new descriptive meaning while retaining the same condemnatory evaluative meaning: if enough people decide to extend the meaning of ‘cruel’ in the way we decided, then the convention for using ‘cruel’ to apply to certain practices changes as a result of the decisions, and the reasons we have for condemning a practice as cruel will have changed {Sorting Out Ethics: 54; ‘A Reductio Ad Absurdum of Descriptivism’: 126-8; Freedom and Reason: 190-1}.

585. Is there a difference in strength between semantic meaning-rules and moral meaning-rules?     [Top]
Yes. Semantic meaning-rules, which are used in assigning descriptive predicates to subjects in factual statements, tie universal descriptive properties or predicates very tightly to their subjects. In the case of moral meaning-rules used in the making of moral statements, the meaning-rules do not tie the moral predicates so tightly to subjects by universal descriptive properties; though there is always a descriptive element, the ties are loose though still bound by consistency of use {‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: 177; ‘Relevance’: 87; The Language of Morals: 122}.

586. What is it to know a moral meaning-rule that is used in making a moral statement?     [Top]
Knowing a moral meaning-rule essentially involves knowing what it is about the subject (i.e., its universal properties, perhaps minutely specified) that makes it fitting or appropriate to apply a given moral predicate to the subject of the statement. In other words, to know a moral meaning-rule is to know a universal rule that expresses a relation which associates a moral predicate with a certain kind of subject (i.e., one whose referent has certain universal properties or features) {‘Relevance’: 87; Freedom and Reason: 20, 39-40}.

587. Does a conditional or hypothetical sentence have an assertion sign?     [Top]
Yes. Though the constituent sentences encaged in a conditional or hypothetical sentence do not themselves have assertion signs, the whole conditional or hypothetical sentence does have an assertion sign in front of it {‘Meaning and Speech Acts’: 20}.

588. What determines what we are stating when we make a statement?     [Top]
The meaning-rules that we are following in using our linguistic expressions as we do determine what we are stating when we make a statement. For example, when I state ‘The apple is red’, this statement states what it states only because the use of ‘red’ is governed by certain meaning-rules that limit its use to only describing certain kinds of objects; stating ‘The wind is red’ or ‘The sound is red’ would break these rules {‘Relevance’: 87}.

589. What is meant by saying that ‘good’ is a word used for commending?     [Top]
By saying that ‘good’ is a word used for commending, what is meant is that an analysis of the word will reveal that other tropics (i.e., the sign of mood) besides assertion are involved in its meaning {‘Meaning and Speech Acts’: 24}.

590. Can a descriptive word nevertheless be unclear?     [Top]
Yes. Even a word that is descriptive can be fuzzy in meaning and be ragged around the edges so that it is of no help in deciding borderline cases {‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 205}.

591. How are ‘inverted commas’ moral judgments possible?     [Top]
What makes ‘inverted commas’ moral judgments possible is that some people actually make genuine evaluative moral judgments {‘Philosophical Discoveries’: 157}.

592. How does writing one’s moral convictions into the meanings of the moral words make communication impossible?     [Top]
If one, as naturalists do, writes one’s moral convictions into the meanings of the moral words, then those who disagree with those convictions cannot use the same words in order to reason with the one whose convictions they are {‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: 182}.

593. What is necessary in order to explain fully the meaning of a verb used in a sentence?     [Top]
To explain fully the meaning of a verb used in a sentence, it is necessary at a minimum to explain the meaning of its mood, tense, person, and voice. In order to understand the full sentence, we must also know what inferences can be drawn from it alone or along with other sentences {‘Meaning and Speech Acts’: 7; The Language of Morals: 33}.

594. Is ‘ought’ ever used non-prescriptively or non-universalizably?     [Top]
Yes. Universal prescriptivism does not, nor does it need to, claim that ‘ought’ is always used prescriptively or universalizably. In fact, universal prescriptivism acknowledges that there are off-color uses of ‘ought’ which lack full universal prescriptive force. Universal prescriptivism only claims that ‘ought’ is sometimes used prescriptively and universalizably. But if one does not use ‘ought’ in these senses in those contexts when it usually does have these senses, then one is likely to be misunderstood and one will not be conversing about the moral questions which we typically discuss and for which we are seeking answers {‘Rights, Utility, and Universalization Reply to J. L. Mackie’: 112-4; Moral Thinking: 22; ‘Prediction and Moral Appraisal’: [Essays on Bioethics: 196]; Freedom and Reason: 52-3, 68}.

595. Is universal prescriptivism claiming that as a matter of linguistic fact the moral words are prescriptive and universalizable?     [Top]
Yes. It is, based on the empirical data of linguistic intuitions, a linguistic fact that the moral words have the logical properties of prescriptivity and universalizability {‘Rights, Utility, and Universalization Reply to J. L. Mackie’: 112}.

596. How do we discover meanings?     [Top]
We discover meanings of expressions by philosophical enquiry, which is to say, by conceptual or dialectical investigation. More specifically, we philosophically examine how people standardly use moral language in the sense of finding out what they take to be self-contradictory or to be implied by what they say. In conducting this investigation, we need to be careful to eliminate any linguistic and observational errors, so that we get hold of standard usage {Sorting Out Ethics: 5, 71-2; Hare and Critics: 208, 241; Moral Thinking: 80-1; ‘Platonism in Moral Education: Two Varieties’: 571; ‘Philosophical Discoveries’: 160-1}.

597. What are functional words?     [Top]
A word is a functional word if a full explanation of its meaning requires a specification of what the object the word refers to is supposed to do or is for. For example, ‘punishment’ is a functional word in that punishment is always for something; and we do not fully know the meaning of ‘carpenter’ unless we know what carpenters are supposed to do, what their purpose or function is. The important thing about functional words is that their meanings or definitions partly reveal to us the standard to be used in judging whether the object the functional word refers to is a good one of its kind. Thus functional words are not purely descriptive; evaluative standards are built in to their meanings when we classify the words. In moral contexts, it is uncommon for a functional word to follow ‘good’. Other examples of functional words include: ‘auger’, ‘hygrometer’, ‘soldier’, ‘servant’, ‘sports car’, ‘family car’, ‘taxi’, ‘knife’ {‘What Are Cities For? The Ethics of Urban Planning’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 201]; ‘Moral Terms’: [Encyclopedia of Ethics: 870]; ‘Punishment and Retributive Justice’: 215-6; ‘Geach: Good and Evil’: 107-9; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 53]; The Language of Morals: 100, 133}.

598. What are inverted commas?     [Top]
Literally, inverted commas are inner quotation marks. For example, in the sentence “Someone has said ‘Do A’”, the imperative is in inverted commas. In contexts such as these, the imperative is not used evaluatively and has only descriptive meaning. The same goes for inverted commas uses of ‘good’; in these, too, ‘good’ has no evaluative or commendatory meaning because there is, on the part of the speaker, only an allusion to others’ evaluative use of ‘good’. In general, the use of inverted commas indicates non-subscription to what is enclosed by the inverted commas because what is enclosed is only being mentioned and not used. It should be noted, however, that quotation marks do not have literally to be in a sentence in order for the sentence to be in inverted commas, for a sentence might merely be used to state conformance to a standard held by some members of society {Sorting Out Ethics: 60-1; ‘Some Sub-Atomic Particles of Logic’: 26; ‘The Lawful Government’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 97]; ‘Geach: Good and Evil’: 104; The Language of Morals: 18-9, 119-20, 147-50, 173}.

599. What is a ‘So what?’ moralist?     [Top]
Literally, a ‘So what?’ moralist is someone who can genuinely say ‘Yes, I ought; but so what?’. More informatively, a ‘So what?’ moralist is someone for whom the descriptive meaning of the moral words either exhausts their meaning or dominates their meaning to such an extent that the moral words have lost their prescriptivity and moral principles have become mere rules without any supporting reasons for following them. This loss of action-guidingness can happen when moral standards have ossified {‘How did Morality Get a Bad Name?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 92-3]; ‘Why Moral Language?’: 78-9, 87; Moral Thinking: 58, 71; ‘Appendix: Rejoinder to G. J. Warnock’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 175]; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 188; ‘Language and Moral Education’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 160]; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 113]; The Language of Morals: 118-25, 147}.

600. In a moral judgment, what specifies a moral principle?     [Top]
All moral judgments involve moral principles, and what in the judgment specifies the principle is the descriptive meaning of the moral words in the judgment. The level of specification of the principle depends on the descriptive meaning. Thus, if the descriptive meaning is minimal or vague or lacking in content in some other way, the principle may be left relatively unspecified. For example, if the moral judgment were ‘Action A is dishonest’, the principle might be ‘One ought not to do dishonest actions’; but if the moral judgment were ‘Action A is dishonest in that it exhibits characteristics X, Y, Z’, the moral principle might be ‘One ought not to do actions exhibiting characteristics X, Y, Z’, which is more precisely specified. The prescriptive meaning in the judgment does not specify a principle; the prescriptive meaning only refers to some unspecified principle, leaving it to the descriptive meaning to nail down which principle. Thus, ‘You ought not do action A’ is a moral judgment and so refers to some moral principle (for it is always legitimate to ask for the reason why the action ought not be done), but which principle in particular is left unspecified {‘Universalisability’: 307, 309}.

601. What is the difference between learning how to use a word and learning the meaning of the word?     [Top]
There is no difference: to learn how to use a word is to learn the meaning of the word (and not necessarily to learn to what things to apply the word). But there is a difference between knowing how to use words, and use them correctly in a language, and being able to say how to use them or what the logical rules are that govern their use in the language {Plato: 34; Moral Thinking: 9; ‘Platonism in Moral Education: Two Varieties’: 578; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 43]}.

602. If there is a dispute about whether an action is, say, dishonest, how can we sort out whether the dispute is about the descriptive meaning of ‘dishonest’ or its prescriptive meaning, or both?     [Top]
There are several things disputes or disagreements may be about:

  • whether an act or person possesses certain characteristics;
  • what characteristics constitute the standard being used;
  • whether to accept or endorse the standard.

The first is a factual question. The second question has to do with the descriptive meaning. The third refers to prescriptive meaning. So by getting clear as to which of these three the dispute is really about, we will be able to sort out whether the dispute is about descriptive meaning or prescriptive meaning or both, or whether it is only a dispute about what the facts are {‘Some Confusions About Subjectivity’: 203; ‘Universalisability’: 309}.

603. How are the moral words such as ‘ought’ different from and similar to other words such as quantifiers like ‘all’ and color words like ‘blue’ or ‘red’?     [Top]
All words are alike in that they get at least some of their meaning from their logical properties. Quantifiers like ‘all’ get all of their meaning from their logical properties. Color words like ‘blue’ and ‘red’, on the other hand, do not get all or even most of their meaning from their logical properties. The general moral words like ‘ought’ fall in between, though are more like ‘all’ than ‘blue’ with regard to their meaning as tied to their logical properties {Sorting Out Ethics: 6, 67, 71-3; ‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 65]; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 177]; ‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 98]; Moral Thinking: 3; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 41-2]}.

604. What are the logical properties of words?     [Top]
The logical properties of words are the properties that determine what functional role a word can play in a sentence, such as whether it can be a subject or predicate or both. The logical properties also contribute to the determination of what inferences can be made from a sentence which contains the word, what the sentence implies or what its utterance commits us to. For example, the chief logical properties of ‘ought’, universalizability and prescriptivity, are determined by the meaning of ‘ought’ and dictate the form which moral reasoning using ‘ought’ must have. In short, the logical properties of words are the rules that competent speakers of the language have for using the words consistently, have for what they can say without abusing or misusing their language {‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 65]; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 175]; Moral Thinking: 3; ‘Language and Moral Education’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 170]; Freedom and Reason: 89, 97; The Language of Morals: 33}.

605. Why does universal prescriptivism draw so heavily on the meanings of the moral words?     [Top]
In order to do our moral thinking rationally, we must understand the questions that are being asked. And in order to understand the questions, we must know the meanings and senses of the words used to formulate those questions. And knowing the meanings of the words involves knowing what inferences can be made with sentences containing those words, and this dials us in to the logical properties of the moral words so that our moral thinking and reasoning will abide by the rules of that logic and thus be rationally done when also informed with the relevant non-moral facts. A bit more concisely, the logic of the moral words, given by the meanings and senses that we have adopted for those words by using moral language as we conventionally do, is at the very basis of moral argument and so must be understood if moral argument is to be done well {Sorting Out Ethics: 4-6, 38; ‘Philosophy and Conflict’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 57]; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 177]; ‘How to Decide Moral Questions Rationally’: 72; ‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 95-6, 98]; ‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 20]; Plato: 34, 39, 68; Moral Thinking: 2, 216-7; ‘On Terrorism’: [Essays on Political Morality: 35]; ‘Medical Ethics: Can the Moral Philosopher Help?’: [Essays on Bioethics: 1-2]; ‘Peace’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 73]; The Language of Morals: 24-7, 33}.

606. Where do the moral words get their meaning?     [Top]
As with all words, the moral words get their meaning – either all of it but at least some of it – from their logical properties. This link between meaning and logical properties, between words and what they imply, helps explain why understanding the meaning of words brings with it understanding of the words’ logical properties and of the rules for employing those words {‘Philosophy and Conflict’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 59]; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 175]; ‘How to Decide Moral Questions Rationally’: 72; ‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 95-6, 98]; ‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 20]; Plato: 65-6; Moral Thinking: 4; ‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 627}.

607. What exactly does it mean to say that an element of a word’s meaning is primary or secondary?     [Top]
The terms ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’, as applied to the descriptive and evaluative meaning of a word, are relative to each other and indicate that one meaning is more firmly attached to the word than is the other meaning. In a secondarily evaluative word, the evaluative meaning of the word is less firmly tied to it than is its descriptive meaning; examples of such words are ‘courageous’, ‘kind’, ‘generous’, ‘cheat’, ‘tidy’, ‘neighborly’, ‘industrious’, and ‘cruel’. On the other hand, if the word is primarily evaluative so that its descriptive meaning is secondary, then the descriptive meaning is less firmly attached to the word than is the prescriptive or evaluative meaning; with these kinds of words, ‘good’ being an example, the descriptive meaning is more likely to change and follow social attitudes that change in some way salient to the word’s meaning {Sorting Out Ethics: 53-4, 61; Hare and Critics: 279; ‘A Reductio Ad Absurdum of Descriptivism’: 126, 128; Freedom and Reason: 24-5, 189; The Language of Morals: 121}.

608. What is ‘nodding’ a sentence?     [Top]
The neustic of a sentence captures the element of meaning conveyed by ‘nodding’ a sentence. This nodding refers to the relation of a speaker to the sentence, which need not be in the indicative mood, uttered when the speaker uses the sentence in earnest, subscribing to it or affirming it, and when the speaker does not just mention the sentence, or merely suppose or entertain it {‘Some Sub-Atomic Particles of Logic’: 25; ‘Meaning and Speech Acts’: 11, 20-1; The Language of Morals: 18-9, 196}.

609. In value-words, is descriptive meaning always secondary to evaluative meaning?     [Top]
No. Although ‘good’ in moral contexts has primary evaluative meaning, there are some value-words, ‘tidy’ and ‘industrious’ are examples, which have an evaluative meaning that is secondary to the descriptive meaning, which is primary. And ‘honest’, ‘dishonest’, and ‘courageous’ are value-words in which the descriptive meaning is at least as prominent as their evaluative meaning {‘Universalisability’: 309; Freedom and Reason: 24; The Language of Morals: 121, 146, 148-9}.

610. How do value-expressions acquire descriptive force or meaning?     [Top]
Sometimes value expressions gain descriptive force or meaning because the society in which the value expressions are used has firm and regularly used standards for the consistent application of the expressions. The value-expressions thus come to mean in part to the members of the society the criteria for the application of the standards, and these criteria just are the descriptive meaning of the expressions {‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 637; The Language of Morals: 7, 146-7, 174}.

611. Why is the descriptive meaning of ‘good’ secondary to the evaluative or commendatory meaning?     [Top]
There are two reasons backing up the claim that the descriptive meaning of ‘good’ is secondary. First, the descriptive meaning of ‘good’ can change while the commendatory meaning remains the same. Second, the evaluative force of ‘good’ can be used to change the descriptive meaning and so alter the standard used for the application of ‘good’ {The Language of Morals: 118-9, 146}.

612. How do we know that naturalist definitions of value-words such as ‘good’ cannot be used to commend?     [Top]
It is by consulting usage that we know that naturalist definitions of value-words such as ‘good’ cannot be used to commend. If usage shows that these definitions cannot perform the job of commending, then the matter is settled insofar as what we are after is the way in which ‘good’ is actually used {The Language of Morals: 91-2}.

613. What is descriptive meaning?     [Top]
In its fullest sense, when the descriptive meaning predominates or is primary, descriptive meaning is the information content that a word or sentence carries or conveys by passing on specific data or by giving orders. With regard to value-words, this content is the standard or criteria used to apply the word in order to judge or rank the merit of something; the descriptive meaning is then the extension of the word. In general, the more settled the standard the more information is conveyed. But when the descriptive meaning does not dominate, when it is secondary, descriptive meaning might convey little or no information and only serve to help prepare the way for a new standard. For a moral judgment or statement, the descriptive meaning is its truth conditions along with its having to have some truth conditions because of its illocutionary force as a statement. In short, the descriptive meaning is the material semantics or truth conditions, the standard or criteria, reason or principle, lying behind the making of a statement {‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 22]; ‘Philippa Foot on Subjectivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 88]; Sorting Out Ethics: 52-4; ‘Moral Terms’: [Encyclopedia of Ethics: 869]; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 176-7]; ‘Some Confusions About Subjectivity’: 203; The Language of Morals: 54, 117-8, 122, 146-7, 159; ‘Imperative Sentences’: 29}.

614. What are the two ways in which we know what it means to call something a good member of its class?     [Top]
In calling something good, we may be commending it or describing it, or we may be doing both, though each can be done independently of the other. This is the point of the ‘doog’ example in The Language of Morals. ‘Doog’ is a made-up word which initially has no meaning of any kind. But people can be taught a descriptive meaning for ‘doog’ and thus learn the criteria for its application, all without its having a commendatory or evaluative meaning. Meanwhile, ‘good’ has both descriptive and evaluative meaning so that calling something a good member of its class means either commending it or giving criterial information about it {The Language of Morals: 112, 117}.

615. On what do all questions of meaning depend?     [Top]
All questions of meaning depend on how a particular speaker takes what is said {The Language of Morals: 112}.

616. How does evaluative meaning differ from criteria?     [Top]
A person can know the criteria for the application of a word without knowing what the word means evaluatively. There are many examples of this difference between meaning and criteria: separating good from bad augers without knowing what ‘good’ means; being able to choose the best shmakums from an assortment of shmakums without knowing what ‘best’ and thus ‘good’ means; knowing that ‘good drink’ and its Russian equivalent have the same evaluative meaning even though Coca-Cola is a good drink in America while vodka is a good drink in Russia; knowing what ‘good’ means in ‘good circle’ but not knowing what makes a circle a good circle. In typical moral contexts, the criteria, the descriptive meanings, refer to the moral standards in general use in a culture; the evaluative meaning is used to commend or condemn, to guide choices {‘A New Kind of Ethical Naturalism?’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 85]; Plato: 45, 65; ‘Plato and the Mathematicians’: 37; The Language of Morals: 102-3, 105-6, 109}.

617. Why is ‘good’ not the name of something as ‘red’ is the name of something?     [Top]
In the case of words like ‘red’, the meaning of the word and the criteria for the word’s application coincide. The criteria for its correct application is the possession by some object of the quality redness; thus ‘red’ ends up meaning something like ‘having the quality redness’. In the case of words like ‘good’, the meaning and criteria do not have to coincide; someone (e.g., a moral reformer) can, without misusing the word, say that something (e.g., slavery) is not good while keeping to the same (prescriptive) meaning of ‘good’ but not the same criteria (the descriptive meaning of ‘good’ no longer allowing in the features characteristic of slavery) {‘The Argument from Received Opinion’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 119-21]; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 41-2]; The Language of Morals: 106}.

618. If an expression has no possible use, is it therefore meaningless?     [Top]
Yes, in a sense. An example is any past imperative {The Language of Morals: 188}.

619. How does a right act differ from a good act?     [Top]
Perhaps the most frequently cited way in which a right act differs from a good act concerns motive. An act can be right regardless of the motive for which the act is done; what matters is whether the act conforms to a principle of right. But a good act is only good if done from a good motive {The Language of Morals: 185}.

Metaphysics

620. What is a law of nature?     [Top]
A law of nature is a true synthetic necessary universal proposition. For example, for followers of Aquinas, it is a law of nature that everything seeks good and eschews evil. The kind of necessity involved is usually interpreted as some kind of metaphysical natural necessity. But because of the obscurity of this kind of necessity, it is better to speak of logical necessity so that to the extent that this law of nature is true it is true due to the meanings of ‘good’ and ‘seek’ {Freedom and Reason: 69-70}.

621. Is the principle of the identity of discernables compatible with universal prescriptivism?     [Top]
A weak form of the principle of the identity of discernables which allows two numerically distinct things to have the same universal properties is compatible with universal prescriptivism, for universal prescriptivism only needs, for the role-reversal procedure, that it be possible to imagine two distinct individuals who yet have the same universal properties {Hare and Critics: 284}.

622. How many levels of inquiry are there?     [Top]
There are at least three levels or orders of inquiry.

  • First-order questions (e.g., ‘What particular things are good?’; ‘What particular actions are right?’)
  • Second-order questions (e.g., ‘What is goodness?’; ‘What is rightness?’)
  • Third-order questions (e.g., ‘What is it to be?’; ‘What is it to be anything?’; ‘What is being?’)

The second-order metaphysical questions are better phrased linguistically, for example: ‘How and for what purpose is ’good’ used? {Plato: 43, 65; ‘Platonism in Moral Education: Two Varieties’: 568; ‘The Argument from Received Opinion’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 118-9]; ‘Philosophical Discoveries’: 160; ‘A School for Philosophers’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 48]}.

623. Is any metaphysical mumbo-jumbo going on in the role-reversal procedure?     [Top]
No. Putting oneself into the other’s place involves no commitments to a transcendental self or other metaphysically speculative entities. The procedure is only an exercise in imagination, which we can, for instance, meaningfully express linguistically by saying things like ‘If I were …’. This limited procedure is possible because we have the imaginative and representational capabilities and because ‘I’ has no essence and no descriptive content and is not claimed to be a thing that can occupy space (unlike named individuals). What is required is really just imagining ‘I’ with the other’s universal properties {Hare and Critics: 281-3, 285-6}.

624. Do humans have a specific good that can be identified directly by reference to human capacities?     [Top]
No. There is no direct line from human capacities or abilities, from what they can typically do, to what it is specifically good for humans to do, to what they ought to do. In other words, finding out what a human is does not also tell us what a good human is {‘Philippa Foot on Subjectivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 92]; Hare and Critics: 214-5; ‘Plato and the Mathematicians’: 36; Freedom and Reason: 222; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 53]; ‘Geach: Good and Evil’: 110}.

625. What is the basic mistake that moral realists make?     [Top]
The basic mistake in moral realism is that it is a descriptivist doctrine that confuses meaning and criteria {‘A New Kind of Ethical Naturalism?’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 81-2, 85]; ‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 102]}.

626. Does property identity require synonymy?     [Top]
Yes. If there is a property identity, then different descriptions of the property must be synonymous {‘A New Kind of Ethical Naturalism?’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 71-4, 82]}.

627. If we can predict a person’s actions, is it unjust to blame her?     [Top]
No. Predictability of actions is compatible with moral appraisal. Moreover, so many actions are in fact already predictable that, if making people answerable for their actions were not allowed, the systems of legal and moral justice that help make societies possible would collapse, causing enormous harm for many who live in these societies {‘Prediction and Moral Appraisal’: [Essays on Bioethics: 201-3, 206-7]}.

628. What is needed for moral appraisal to be possible?     [Top]
In order for moral appraisal of someone (e.g., judging that someone is brave or cowardly) to be possible, the person must act voluntarily. Voluntariness requires that there be a desire, originating in the agent, that motivates the agent to do what she does. So the action she does comes directly from within herself rather than from some external source. The condition of voluntariness, then, is satisfied if the agent could have acted otherwise if she had so desired. It is not, however, required that the desire be unpredictable or that the person could not have desired something else {‘Prediction and Moral Appraisal’: [Essays on Bioethics: 201-3]}.

629. What is the condition that reconciles prediction and moral appraisal?     [Top]
Although the predictability of human actions and the moral appraisal of those actions are often thought to be incompatible, they can be reconciled. The condition that effects the reconciliation is this: the person can act if she wants. This condition allows us to predict what someone will do and yet leaves it open for us to appraise her action morally insofar as, if she had wanted, she could have done something else {‘Prediction and Moral Appraisal’: [Essays on Bioethics: 198]}.

630. Is there a difference between asking what goodness is and what ‘good’ means?     [Top]
There is a superficial difference between asking what goodness (or rightness) is and what ‘good’ (or ‘right’) means. The former is a second-order metaphysical or ontological question, the latter a linguistic question; and they both need to be distinguished from the first-order question of what things are good. As another example, one could make the same sort of distinction between questions about states of mind and senses of ‘ought’; the former is a metaphysical question while the latter is linguistic. But, as a conceptual inquiry, making something of the difference between goodness and ‘good’ leads to methodological troubles it is best to avoid, especially if it is the case (as it is) that our objectives can be better achieved by other means. So the question ‘What is goodness?’ is better put by asking instead ‘How and for what purpose is ’good’ used?‘{’Platonism in Moral Education: Two Varieties’: 568; ‘Language and Moral Education’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 154]; ‘The Argument from Received Opinion’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 118-9]; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 101]; Freedom and Reason: 75; ‘Philosophical Discoveries’: 160; ‘A School for Philosophers’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 48]; ‘Nothing Matters’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 33]}.

631. Does potentiality lie in the soul?     [Top]
No. The potentiality of human embryos, fetuses, and so on, lies in a plain fact about human development. That fact is that if a human embryo grows in the way that most of us grew, the result will be a typical adult human person who is glad to be alive, enjoying the benefits to be had in this life. This fact – a fact about what is possible – like all relevant facts about others who may be affected by our actions, is one of the facts that must be considered in our moral thinking {‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 68]; ‘When does Potentiality Count?’: [Essays on Bioethics: 85, 96-7]; ‘Embryo Experimentation: Public Policy in a Pluralist Society’: [Essays on Bioethics: 128-130]; Moral Thinking: 89}.

632. Is there any point in trying to determine what the natural law really is?     [Top]
No. The attempt to determine what the natural law really is, or what natural rights there really are, leads nowhere; for the people engaged in the search find only their own moral intuitions. A more fruitful approach is to translate talk of natural law and natural rights into more general moral language so that we can then use universal prescriptivism’s method of moral reasoning in order to answer the question of what laws legislatures and courts morally should make and enforce, which is the real question behind misleading appeals to natural law and rights {‘Embryo Experimentation: Public Policy in a Pluralist Society’: [Essays on Bioethics: 120]; ‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 11; Moral Thinking: 151}.

633. Can any distinction be made between an action and its consequences?     [Top]
Not really. Actions are whatever someone causes to happen in the world. So if what is caused to happen is directly (i.e., desired), or perhaps even if only obliquely (i.e., merely foreseen), intended, the action is intentional and hence subject to moral assessment. And so, since what is caused to happen are the consequences, if the consequences are intended, then bringing about those consequences is an intentional act and thus similarly evaluable. So no distinction between act and consequence can be drawn that makes it morally possible to ignore the consequences; in other words, the distinction between act and consequence cannot be used to draw a distinction between the morally relevant and irrelevant {‘A Utilitarian Approach to Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 152-4]; Sorting Out Ethics: 164; ‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 67]; ‘Embryo Experimentation: Public Policy in a Pluralist Society’: [Essays on Bioethics: 121-4]; ‘Rebellion’: [Essays on Political Morality: 24-5]; ‘Reasons of State’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 15]}.

634. Will causal explanations of human behavior render moral language pointless?     [Top]
No, causal explanations of human behavior still, at least in some cases, leave room for moral freedom. Even if mental states do, as seems probable, match up with physical brain states, so long as we have to act in some way and thus find ourselves having to answer the question ‘What shall I do?’, there will be logical space for moral freedom, and we will be moral agents who find that we need to have a prescriptive language with an ‘ought’ in order to formulate an answer to the question. So the naive determinist, who argues that prescriptive language and moral judgment in particular is inappropriate because everything, including every human action, is predictable, is mistaken {‘Prediction and Moral Appraisal’: [Essays on Bioethics: 205-6]; ‘Moral Problems about the Control of Behaviour’: [Essays on Bioethics: 59]; Freedom and Reason: 5-6, 61, 63, 65; ‘Freedom of the Will’: 215}.

635. What is the difference between moral properties and ordinary properties?     [Top]
There are moral properties like goodness and wrongness, and there are ordinary, non-moral properties like redness or rectangularity. The difference between these kinds of properties is not to be found in how we come to have or recognize them. The difference, instead, is to be found in the linguistic conventions that govern when we may legitimately ascribe those properties to objects. The conventions governing the moral properties, unlike those governing the non-moral properties, allow us to have different opinions regarding ascription to a given object; for what the facts are and what we may – by the conventions – do with our words do not by themselves (in the absence of doing some moral thinking using an acceptable method of moral reasoning) compel us to reach moral unanimity {Sorting Out Ethics: 48; ‘How to Decide Moral Questions Rationally’: 70-1; ‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 91]}.

636. What is the difference between logic and metaphysics?     [Top]
There really is no difference between logic and metaphysics that is worth discussing. As long as logic is not thought of only in a very narrow, formal sense but rather as the development of concepts or the laying bare of the logical structure of concepts, then there is no real difference between logic and metaphysics. In other words, to study language is to study the world the language talks about; the ontological is the conceptual. This lack of difference explains why the study of the logical properties of the moral concepts which underlies universal prescriptivism is the same sort of endeavor as Kant’s in his attempt to provide a groundwork for the metaphysics of morals and explains why the linguistic approach to philosophy is the way to master metaphysics {Sorting Out Ethics: 2, 27, 159-60; ‘Foundationalism and Coherentism in Ethics’: 196; ‘How did Morality Get a Bad Name?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 89]; ‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 85]; ‘Punishment and Retributive Justice’: 218; Plato: 28-9, 42, 70; Moral Thinking: 4, 82; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 101]; ‘Plato and the Mathematicians’: 32; Freedom and Reason: 75; ‘A School for Philosophers’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 48]; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 39]}.

637. Why is the debate between realists who say moral qualities are like Lockean secondary qualities and anti-realists who deny this similarity confused?     [Top]
The debate between those moral realists who want to say that moral qualities are similar to ordinary properties like redness and those anti-realists who want to say that so-called moral qualities are special by merely being attitudinal reactions in observers is confused in at least two ways. First, both the realist and anti-realist in this debate are taking descriptivism for granted and ignoring the possibility that a non-descriptivism is correct. Second, both have failed to notice that, while the perception of properties like redness is not subject to rational adoption, the adoption of attitudes is so subject {‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 89-91]}.

638. Why is it a conceptual error, not a factual error, to think that objective prescriptive properties exist?     [Top]
There are two reasons why it is a conceptual error to think that objective prescriptive properties exist.

  • People are confused about how moral language is used.
  • The arguments surrounding the error theory of moral judgment are conceptual.

So it will take conceptual clarification, not empirical investigation, to eliminate the confusion and to assess the conceptual arguments for the error theory {‘Satanism and Nihilism’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 103-4]; Moral Thinking: 86}.

639. What are actions and consequences?     [Top]
An action has consequences if the action makes a difference to what happens in the world. Even the action of doing nothing can have consequences if doing nothing makes a difference to what happens. It is in this sense of ‘consequence’ that morality is about consequences; it is about what we are doing in the sense of what we bring about in the world. In other words, moral judgments, insofar as they are in part about actions, depend on assessments of consequences {Sorting Out Ethics: 164; ‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 67]; ‘A Utilitarian Approach’: 85; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 181]; ‘Embryo Experimentation: Public Policy in a Pluralist Society’: [Essays on Bioethics: 121, 123]; ‘Rebellion’: [Essays on Political Morality: 24-5]; ‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 15; Moral Thinking: 216; ‘On Terrorism’: [Essays on Political Morality: 40]; ‘Relevance’: 86; ‘Justice and Equality’: 126; ‘Language and Moral Education’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 167]; ‘Reasons of State’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 15]}.

640. Why is the debate about whether moral facts exist really a conceptual, not metaphysical, debate?     [Top]
The moral realist can plausibly claim in only two senses that moral facts exist, and both senses are tied to the question of whether moral statements can be true or false. But this question about truth is a conceptual or logical question about the way we use moral language, not a metaphysical question. So when the moral realist and anti-realist debate is couched in terms of moral facts, the debate really turns out to be conceptual rather than metaphysical {Sorting Out Ethics: 44-5; ‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 88]}.

641. What might intending be?     [Top]
A person who has formed an intention to do something might be someone who makes a decision to do it, who subscribes to a command to do it {‘Wanting: Some Pitfalls’: [Practical Inferences: 52, 54]}.

642. Are there moral facts?     [Top]
No. The world consists of things, not of ‘facts’ construed as instances of some kind of solidly existing entity inhabiting the world. So, because there are no facts of any spatially-locatable kind, there are no moral facts. Talk of ‘facts’ as entities is not needed; it is better to take a linguistic corrective and investigate what people actually say and how they use language and then formulate meaning-rules on the basis of that investigation {Sorting Out Ethics: 48; ‘Objective Prescriptions’: 18; ‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 88]; ‘Philosophical Discoveries’: 159}.

643. Why is the metaphysical debate between the ethical realist and anti-realist unhelpful at best?     [Top]
When it is made clear what the terms used in the metaphysical debate might mean, the ethical realist and anti-realist debate can be seen to mark out no clear difference between ethical theories. When the realist says that moral properties exist, she might mean four different things:

  • the moral properties exist tangibly and spatially;
  • the moral properties can be meaningfully attributed of something;
  • the moral properties can be truly attributed of something;
  • the moral properties can be referred to, whether truly or falsely.

But the realist does not in fact use the first, material sense; so there is no dispute with the anti-realist on that point. As for the remaining three formal and weaker senses, the anti-realist can agree with any of them. And if the anti-realist does object to one of the weaker senses on grounds of the sense’s reliance on the concept of truth, then the debate is no longer metaphysical but rather conceptual and should be recast in terms of descriptivism and non-descriptivism. So the realist and anti-realist metaphysical debate is unhelpful by being superficial and obscurantist {‘A New Kind of Ethical Naturalism?’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 70]; ‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 83-7]; ‘Austin’s Distinction between Locutionary and Illocutionary Acts’: [Practical Inferences: 106]}.

644. What distinction does the question ‘What is the good?’ suppress?     [Top]
The Platonic question ‘What is the good?’ is ambiguous between asking for what things are good and what goodness is. The former interpretation seeks to identify those objects (e.g., people, experiences, etc.) that are good. The latter interpretation seeks an account of the concept of good or of the meaning of ‘good’, though older philosophers would probably prefer to cloak it in metaphysical (e.g., ‘an account of the nature of good’) rather than linguistic dress. Failure to appreciate this suppressed distinction can often result in additional failures to make other distinctions (e.g., between the current use of moral words and current moral opinions), leading some philosophers into the mistake of thinking that the logical behavior of moral predicates is just like that of descriptive predicates. It should be noted, too, that the question can be given yet another reading; it might be asking for the properties owing to which we call something a good thing of its kind {Plato: 43, 65; ‘The Argument from Received Opinion’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 118-21]; ‘Broad’s Approach to Moral Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 3]}.

Method

645. What is obscured by arguments inspired by the expression ‘What if everyone did that?’?     [Top]
The expression ‘What if everyone did that?’ and golden-rule moral reasoning are related in that both involve universalization. But one must be careful. Golden-rule reasoning requires asking whether one is willing that everyone, if they were in one’s position with one’s preferences, should do what one is proposing to do. This requirement makes it clear that one’s position includes one’s desires and wants, so that the question would better be put: ‘What if everyone with these desires and wants (i.e., my preferences) did that?’ This qualification can make a difference to what happens because there can be variations regarding how many people have the same desires and wants as the person proposing the action; if many people share the same desires and wants, then many people would do the act and the consequences of their so acting may be severe (e.g., exhaust resources) {‘Drugs and the Role of the Doctor’: 88-9}.

646. How is the golden-rule method of moral reasoning related to the expression ‘What if everyone did that?’?     [Top]
Arguments based on or inspired by ‘What if everyone did that?’ can be given a formulation that accords with golden-rule moral reasoning. Such a formulation, framed in the context of someone proposing to do action X while we object (‘What if everyone did X?’) to her doing X, looks like this:

  • she is unwilling to prescribe that everyone do X;
  • the possible moral judgment ‘Everyone ought to do X’ entails the prescription;
  • so, due to the entailment and that her preferences are as they are, she cannot accept the possible moral judgment;
  • so, if she cannot point to a relevant moral difference (between the situations of everyone else and someone), she also cannot accept a moral judgment that someone ought to do X;
  • so, if she cannot point to a relevant moral difference (between the situations of everyone else and herself), she also cannot accept the moral judgment that she ought to do X.

That this kind of formulation can be given should in no way be taken to imply that all arguments based on the ‘What if everyone did that?’ expression can be reformulated so as to have the cogency which golden-rule moral arguments exhibit {Freedom and Reason: 108-11, 137-8}.

647. What exactly is the inconsistency or contradiction on which golden-rule type arguments turn?     [Top]
The inconsistency or contradiction on which golden-rule type arguments turn is the contradiction between the opinion that someone currently holds regarding a hypothetical case and that persons’ current opinion regarding an actual case. More precisely, if a universal prescription UP entails a singular prescription SP, and someone sincerely assents to UP given the facts (including facts about her own preferences) and refuses to assent to SP, then an inconsistency arises because that entailment relation has been breached {Freedom and Reason: 108-9, 116, 134, 193}.

648. What can the universal prescriptivist say to someone who uses moral language differently?     [Top]
If someone S tries to escape the role-reversal method by using the moral words in a way different from that in which the universal prescriptivist uses them, the latter can respond to S in several ways.

  • If the moral words are not being used universalizably, then S has left the moral realm for perhaps the merely prudential realm.
  • If the moral words are not being used prescriptively, then S’s putative moral judgments are morally irrelevant because they have no impact on action.

In general, the response to S is that S is no longer using the moral words, though they may still be spelled and sound the same, to mean what the universal prescriptivist means; so S and the universal prescriptivist are not really having a moral disagreement – only a verbal one – and are not trying to answer the same questions {‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 66-7]; Hare and Critics: 219; Moral Thinking: 18-20; Freedom and Reason: 95-100}.

649. In what ways might someone try to escape from golden-rule moral arguments?     [Top]
There are several ways in which someone might try to escape from a golden-rule moral argument:

  • by using ‘ought’ either not universalizably or not prescriptively;
  • by adopting amoralism generally: indifference or by making no judgment at all;
  • by adopting amoralism only for herself;
  • by adopting amoralism only sometimes;
  • by adopting fanaticism (i.e., by sticking to her principles or ideals and so accepting the negative impact on even her own interests);
  • by claiming that in actual cases there is always a relevant difference.

All of these ways, and there might be more, can be successful escape routes, but there will be a price to pay: in the first kind of way, the price is the rejection of moral discourse and moral thinking; for the amoralist kinds, the price is the loss of protection offered by morality; in the fanatic case, the price is the negative impact on her own interests (e.g., the fanatical racist would have to be prepared to live as one of the savagely oppressed in a police state); in the way that appeals to relevance and actual cases, the price is inconsistency {Freedom and Reason: 95-111, 162, 219-20}.

650. What are the prerequisites of moral argument?     [Top]
There are three necessary (but not always sufficient) ingredients for golden-rule moral arguments:

  • facts which describe the case the argument is about;
  • logical framework provided by universalizability and prescriptivity;
  • inclinations which can be used to reject singular prescriptions.

These ingredients or factors together supply the components for a procedure by which proposed moral judgments can be rejected. But they are not always sufficient to get golden-rule moral arguments going; for example, some cases may additionally require a cultivated imagination. These ingredients or conditions together determine our moral decisions to do or not do certain actions {‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 67]; ‘Universalizability’: [Encyclopedia of Ethics: 1260-1]; Freedom and Reason: 92-4, 97-8; ‘Broad’s Approach to Moral Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 16-7]}.

651. Since the method of moral reasoning is purely formal, how can it be morally relevant?     [Top]
Ethics, or the study of the formal or logical properties of the moral concepts, is morally relevant even though it only imposes a content-neutral method of moral reasoning on us. Ethics is still relevant to morals because moral reasoning could not exist without some kind of methodological framework within which the reasoning is to take place, and ethics provides this framework. In particular and by analogy, universal prescriptivism is an ethical theory that in universalizability and prescriptivity provides an exploratory framework of rules for moral reasoning in the same way that the rules of a game provide a framework within which the game can only be played or in the same way that mathematics, which is also content-neutral, provides a framework for the inquiries of science {Freedom and Reason: 88-9, 97, 193}.

652. Does moral thinking call for empathy or for sympathy?     [Top]
Moral thinking requires both empathy and sympathy with others. First of all, sympathy is a virtue and critical thinking will recommend its cultivation for the intuitive level of moral thinking. But, furthermore, the method of moral thinking recommended by universal prescriptivism for the critical level requires that we put ourselves in the place of the other. So this critical-level thinking requires that we intellectually or vicariously identify with the other; that is empathy: understanding the other’s plight. The thinking, however, also requires that we do more, for we must also put ourselves in the place of the other with the other’s preferences by fully representing to ourselves the facts of the other’s situation. Accordingly, we must additionally use all the resources (e.g., knowledge, imagination, and so on) at our disposal so as to make this full representation occur and so to be affected as the other is affected and thus come to share at the same level of intensity the other’s sufferings and feelings; that is sympathy: experiencing the other’s plight {‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 145, 147, 149]; ‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 70]; Hare and Critics: 230-1, 282; ‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 7; ‘Relevance’: 81; ‘Language and Moral Education’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 168, 170]}.

653. How does the method of universal prescriptivism differ from the method of naturalism?     [Top]
The method of naturalism is deductively linear and starts with definitions of moral concepts in terms of natural, factual, or descriptive properties. Combining these definitions, which are not morally neutral, in argument with factual premises, naturalism’s method derives moral judgments. In contrast, universal prescriptivism’s method of moral reasoning, though deductive, is not linear or anchored; it is more like the exploratory hypothetico-deductive model used in science, but with prescriptions rather than observation-statements. Simply put, universal prescriptivism’s method is this: we put forth a moral judgment as an hypothesis; we test, within the neutral framework provided by universalizability and prescriptivity, the hypothesis by asking whether we can accept the prescriptions entailed by the hypothesis; if we cannot (non-logically, that is, because of what the preferences are) accept the prescriptions, then the hypothesis (i.e., the proposed moral judgment) fails the test {Hare and Critics: 213; Freedom and Reason: 86-92, 97, 193}.

654. What mistakes are being made in the claim that there could be someone who, because she knows she will never actually be in the victim’s place, says that she wants to be treated as she plans to treat the victim who very much does not want to be so treated?     [Top]
One of two mistakes are being made in the following scenario, where P is the perpetrator, S is some action, and V is the victim:

  • P knows that P will never actually be in V’s place;
  • P plans to do S to V which V very much does not want done;
  • P says P wants S done to P;
  • it is because of what P knows that P says what P says.

Someone who advances this scenario in order to defeat Golden Rule moral reasoning is making one of two mistakes. First, what P says is said insincerely; P does not really want S done to P. Second, P has not fully represented to herself the situation of V, has thus not acquired replicas, at the same intensity, of V’s preferences, and consequently does not really know what it is like to be V {‘Relevance’: 79-81}.

655. Why is the equal weight given to equal interests or preferences a positive weight?     [Top]
The impartiality that universal prescriptivism requires because of the universalizability of moral judgments gives equal positive weight to the equal preferences of all parties affected by an action. The weight is positive because universal prescriptivism’s method of moral reasoning calls for putting oneself in the place of all the affected parties, with their preferences, such that one might be any of the affected parties and thus the preferences might be one’s own, and we give positive weight to our own preferences. Another way to look at it is this: I give positive weight to my own interests; but universalizability requires giving equal weight to equal interests; so, if others have equal interests equal to my own in intensity, then their interests must also be given positive weight {Hare and Critics: 250; ‘How to Decide Moral Questions Rationally’: 74; ‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 3; ‘Arguing about Rights’: [Essays on Political Morality: 111]; ‘Liberty and Equality’: [Essays on Political Morality: 129]; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 116}.

656. What is being asked in asking what we are prepared to prescribe in all logically possible situations?     [Top]
In asking what we are prepared to prescribe in all logically possible situations we are asking what we want to happen in all the situations. Put somewhat differently, to want something to happen is (if the wanting were, or could be, verbalized) to accept the prescription that it happen {‘Relevance’: 77-8}.

657. What is involved in judging rationally?     [Top]
Judging rationally (in a prudential sense) involves, at a minimum:

  • being clear and unconfused about what one says in one’s judgment,
  • being clear and unconfused about the consequences, for everyone, of acting on one’s prescription,
  • being sure to consider all and only desires that would persist after full and unconfused exposure to information.

Thus judging rationally when making moral judgments boils down to universalizing prudence, and the method of moral reasoning advocated by universal prescriptivism can help us make such rational moral judgments {‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 119; ‘Contrasting Methods of Environmental Planning’: [Essays on Political Morality: 235]; ‘Wrongness and Harm’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 103]}.

658. What determines our final moral judgment about a case?     [Top]
Our final moral judgment about a case is determined by what we prefer all in all, and this is determined by our total system of preferences; and in this system some preferences may be outweighed by other preferences {Moral Thinking: 225}.

659. What is involved in identifying with another person?     [Top]
When you identify with another person, you realize that the other person would be yourself; and since you typically have greater concern for the satisfaction of your own preferences than you do for the satisfaction of preferences of other people who are similarly situated, in identifying with another person you will have the concerns of the other person and will be prescribing that the preferences and prescriptions of the other person be satisfied {Hare and Critics: 286-7; Moral Thinking: 221-2}.

660. What is the end-product of moral reasoning that is genuinely evaluative?     [Top]
An imperative (‘Do such-and-such’) deduced from moral principles is the end-product of genuinely evaluative moral reasoning {The Language of Morals: 39}.

661. What is the ground rule for the negotiations that take place in critical moral thinking?     [Top]
The ground rule that makes disciplined negotiations possible during critical moral thinking is the right to equal concern and respect. The negotiators give each other this entitlement right at the critical level, and it in turn generates prima facie entitlement rights for use at the intuitive level of moral thinking {‘Rights, Utility, and Universalization Reply to J. L. Mackie’: 119}.

662. Why is the method of moral reasoning imposed on us by universal prescriptivism superior to other methods?     [Top]
The method of moral reasoning imposed on us by universal prescriptivism is superior to other methods because the method’s foundation in the logic of the moral words is purely formal and normatively neutral. This formal and neutral account of morality opens the method up to everyone who is rationally seeking answers to moral questions. It is open to everyone in the sense that the method does not require that those who use it already have any substantial moral commitments or beliefs. Thus the method is a tool that we can use to give us our best chance of resolving moral disagreements and making moral progress {‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 633; Freedom and Reason: 47, 97}.

663. Is there any room in critical moral thinking for discussion and negotiation?     [Top]
Yes. The moral thinking done at the critical level has room for discussion and negotiation regarding other people’s interests, ideals, claims, views, and so on. After the discussion, the right to equal concern and respect disciplines the negotiations {‘Rights, Utility, and Universalization Reply to J. L. Mackie’: 119}.

664. In what sense do the facts and logic constrain what prescriptions we can accept?     [Top]
Facts and logic alone do not determine our choices regarding what prescriptions to accept. We ourselves, exercising our freedom, have to make the choice. What facts and logic do is determine what alternatives are open to us to choose; they determine between what we are to choose. So, even though moral judgments are made because the facts are what they are and the judgments are thus universalizable, there is in universal prescriptivism no claim that moral judgments can be logically derived from the facts alone {Sorting Out Ethics: 12-3; Moral Thinking: 5-7, 16-7; ‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 633; Freedom and Reason: 110-1}.

665. In the role-reversal part of the method of moral reasoning, do preferences go with roles or with the individuals occupying those roles?     [Top]
In the role-reversal part of the method of moral reasoning, preferences go with roles or positions, not with the individuals occupying those roles or positions. You might, as an analogy, imagine a modified game of musical chairs. When the music plays and you get up from a chair, you leave your preferences with the chair (i.e., the chairs are analogous to the roles). Then, when the music stops and you sit down in a chair, you acquire the preferences of the last person who sat in that chair, provided they are not the preferences of a person whose preferences you have already acquired (which would involve double-counting that person’s preferences, which would violate counting everyone as one and no one for more than one) {‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 68]; ‘Rights, Utility, and Universalization Reply to J. L. Mackie’: 111}.

666. How does the method of moral reasoning imposed on us by the logic of the moral words ensure unanimity on issues concerning interests?     [Top]
The method of moral reasoning imposed on us by universal prescriptivism ensures unanimity by the device of complete role-reversal. By requiring that the situation of the other be fully represented to oneself, so that one acquires replicas of the other’s preferences and motivational states, universal prescriptivism’s method of moral reasoning makes the actual roles of the parties immaterial to the moral problem. In other words, no matter who one is, one has to represent all the others fully to oneself, so that everyone involved will fully represent everyone else (as well as oneself) to herself; consequently, since all these representations, if done correctly, will be the same, the resulting impartial preferences will be the same for all and will be expressed as prescriptions that all can accept for universal application {‘Rights, Utility, and Universalization Reply to J. L. Mackie’: 119; Moral Thinking: 111, 127-8, 227-8; ‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 636; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 107-8]}.

667. Why is critical moral thinking so difficult for humans to do?     [Top]
There are several reasons why humans find it so difficult to do critical moral thinking.

  • One of the reasons why critical moral thinking is so difficult for humans to do is that the method of moral reasoning that critical moral thinking uses requires that we think ourselves into the shoes of others, fully representing to ourselves the situation of each of the others affected by an action, and we lack the factual information and imaginative skills necessary to do well this identification with the others.
  • We humans do not have sufficient time to obtain and process the factual information needed.
  • Humans have a lot of trouble thinking clearly.

These are the disabilities humans have which cause them to fall so far short of what the archangel can and does routinely do {Hare and Critics: 217; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 188]; ‘Rights, Utility, and Universalization Reply to J. L. Mackie’: 109-10, 117}.

668. In role-reversal situations, why is it important that the reversal take place now?     [Top]
In putting oneself into the place of others with their preferences, it is important to imagine the reversal taking place now in order to avoid complications arising from the discounting of future preferences (i.e., giving them less weight in considerations because they are in the future) {Moral Thinking: 101}.

669. What requires us to have equal regard for the preference-satisfaction of others?     [Top]
It is the method of moral reasoning, imposed on us by the logic of the moral concepts, that requires us to pay attention equally to the preference-satisfaction of others. In particular, by prescriptivity we are required to pay attention to preference-satisfaction; and by universalizability we are required to pay attention equally, for it is logically impossible for everyone to be favored over everyone else {Moral Thinking: 91; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 115]}.

670. Why, when answering moral questions, is it necessary to ascertain what the facts of the case are?     [Top]
There are at least a couple of reasons why rational moral thinking requires cognizance of the facts. First, the moral judgments which are the answers to the moral questions are about something; they commend (or condemn) actions or people. This commending is commendation for the possession of certain properties that make the actions right or the people good. So if the commendation – the moral judgment – is to be correct, the actions or people had better in fact possess the properties. Second, facts are relevant because moral judgments are universalizable; so we must be aware of, and represent truely to ourselves, the properties, such as the preferences, attitudes, and reactions, that others in fact have and into whose places we are to imagine ourselves {Sorting Out Ethics: 11-3; ‘Universalizability’: [Encyclopedia of Ethics: 1260]; Moral Thinking: 88-9, 108, 159, 167-8; Freedom and Reason: 182-3, 214}.

671. What kind of argument is used in order to establish the method of moral reasoning that is based on the logic of the moral concepts?     [Top]
It is a meta-ethical argument that is used in order to establish the method of moral reasoning pointed to by study of the logic of the moral concepts. Universal prescriptivism gives such a meta-ethical argument for a theory of moral reasoning {Moral Thinking: 87; ‘Principles’: 15}.

672. Does the method of moral reasoning lead to unique and determinate answers to substantive moral questions?     [Top]
Yes and no. Practically speaking, uniquely determinate answers will be forthcoming if we keep at it long enough and get all the facts right. Theoretically speaking, the possibility of amoralists and fanatics make it impossible to derive from facts and logic uniquely determinate substantive moral conclusions. {‘Value Education in a Pluralist Society: A Philosophical Glance at the Humanities Curriculum Project’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 149-50]}.

673. What is the weakness of the method of moral reasoning that emerges from universal prescriptivism?     [Top]
The weakness of the method of moral reasoning that emerges from universal prescriptivism is the method’s reliance on ordinary – not moral – facts in arriving at singular prescriptions for action; for ordinary, non-moral facts are often hard to come by and their epistemology is fraught with difficulty. At the same time, however, it should be remembered that a reliance on the facts is also a strength of a moral theory; for this reliance ensures that the theory makes contact with the real world which generates the moral questions to which we want answers {‘Foundationalism and Coherentism in Ethics’: 192; Hare and Critics: 243; Moral Thinking: 87-90, 108, 167; ‘What Is Wrong with Slavery?’: 118}.

674. Since the method of moral reasoning identified by universal prescriptivism gives results identical to those arrived at by utilitarians, what’s the advantage of universal prescriptivism?     [Top]
The main advantage of universal prescriptivism is that it is more securely established than other theories. Universal prescriptivism is based on the logical properties of the moral words and is therefore a conceptual development of the concepts used in moral discourse and practice. Other theories, in contrast, are typically linearly derived from a foundational principle of utility that is implausibly claimed to be indubitable {‘Foundationalism and Coherentism in Ethics’: 197-8; Hare and Critics: 213; ‘Utility and Rights: Comment on David Lyons’s Essay’: 151; Moral Thinking: 4, 7}.

675. How are we to decide which received moral opinions we should continue to cultivate?     [Top]
There are three components to justifying received moral opinions:

  • a correct account of actually-used moral language that reveals its logical features of universality and prescriptivity,
  • a correct account of what desires humans generally have,
  • reasoning that puts the two accounts together so as to arrive at universal prescriptions which people are actually prepared to live by

This method can be used to show which received moral opinions we should teach to our children and which we should stop teaching {‘The Argument from Received Opinion’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 135]}.

676. Does the reliance on the moral words chain us to our current conceptual and moral outlook?     [Top]
Although linguistic intuitions regarding secondarily evaluative words can lock us in to a particular conceptual and moral outlook because such words are already informed with fixed values, linguistic intuitions regarding primarily evaluative words such as ‘ought’ and ‘wrong’ do not embed a particular conceptual scheme and its moral intuitions and so are not question-begging and do not lock us in; these linguistic intuitions and the logical properties they point to are neutral as regards substantive normative commitments. Moreover, even with secondarily evaluative words, there is no requirement that we use the words or that we use anything beyond their descriptive meaning. Finally, it is possible coin new words and to experiment with language so that one need not be chained to the conceptual structure of one’s own language {Hare and Critics: 279; ‘Rights, Utility, and Universalization Reply to J. L. Mackie’: 112-4; Moral Thinking: 17-8; Freedom and Reason: 89, 97; ‘A School for Philosophers’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 52]}.

677. Are there any formal constraints on what can be morally relevant in a situation?     [Top]
Yes. The logical properties of prescriptivity and universalizability impose some constraints on what can be morally relevant. Prescriptivity rules out demands to do things that are impossible to do. And universalizability rules out individual references or identities. Such impossible demands and individual references cannot be morally relevant because what is morally relevant is specified by moral principles and moral principles are universalized prescriptions {Hare and Critics: 218; Moral Thinking: 63; ‘Relevance’: 75}.

678. So is the method of moral reasoning basically a matter of counting the votes of all the affected parties?     [Top]
No. Voting is a poor analogue of the method of moral reasoning envisioned by universal prescriptivism. There are at least two ways in which the voting analogy is misleading and inadequate. First, only existing people (in fair elections) can vote; but universal prescriptivism’s method of moral reasoning, because it takes hypothetical situations into consideration, also considers the interests of people who do not yet but will exist in the future. Second, votes are one-dimensional; they do not reflect the strength of conviction with which the votes are cast. The method of moral reasoning, however, does take the strengths or intensities of preferences into account; it counts not only the preferences themselves but also their intensities and the degrees to which the preferences are affected {‘What Are Cities For? The Ethics of Urban Planning’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 208-9]; ‘Moral Reasoning about the Environment’: [Essays on Political Morality: 247, 249]}.

679. Why should we not rely on our conscience?     [Top]
We should not rely on what our conscience tells us to do because it is not always a reliable guide to our moral duties. It is not reliable for at least a couple of reasons. First, conscience is the result of our upbringing, which may not have been sound or complete. Second, the deliverances of conscience are designed for the ordinary and typical cases; the deliverances may thus be incorrect regarding unusual or atypical cases. That said, it would be advisable to follow our consciences provided that they were the result of an upbringing informed by sound critical moral thinking {‘The ethics of medical involvement in torture: commentary’: 139; ‘What Is Wrong with Slavery?’: 111; ‘Principles’: 11, 13}.

680. Why is it a mistake to try to identify the morally relevant features of a situation prior to deciding on moral principles?     [Top]
It is a mistake to try to identify the morally relevant features of a situation prior to deciding on moral principles because it is the moral principles themselves that determine what is morally relevant. The moral principles must therefore be chosen first by a sound method of moral reasoning. The reason why principles are the determiners of moral relevance has to do with moral relevance itself: to treat a feature of a situation as morally relevant just is to apply to the situation a moral principle that specifies the feature {Sorting Out Ethics: 164; ‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 68]; ‘Liberty and Equality’: [Essays on Political Morality: 128]; Moral Thinking: 63; ‘Relevance’: 75; Freedom and Reason: 222; ‘Reasons of State’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 16, 21]}.

681. Are imaginary cases useful?     [Top]
Yes. Imaginary cases can be useful and are even necessary for our moral thinking. They can be useful in that, if chosen carefully, they can highlight those aspects of a situation that are especially important to consider in our moral reasoning. They can do this by being relatively simple, making it easier to pick out what is important but which would more likely be hidden from view amid the complexities of a case taken from real life. And imaginary cases are indeed necessary because universal prescriptivism’s method of moral reasoning calls upon us to put ourselves in the places of other people, and this we can only do imaginatively {‘Peace’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 74-5]}.

682. Why should we define disputed terms only after the pertinent moral principles have been selected?     [Top]
We should define disputed terms, such as what ‘torture’, or a ‘person’, or a ‘disease’ is, only after the relevant moral principles have been identified. That is to say, we should first classify acts by their features, conditions, and circumstances and put off naming or labeling the acts; then we should, using critical moral thinking, decide which of these acts, so classified but so far unnamed, should be morally required, allowed, etc. After deciding, we will have moral principles governing those acts. It is only at this stage of our moral thinking that we should, if at all, name or define the acts (as, for instance, an act of torture or of murder). There are several reasons that argue for this postponement in defining disputed terms.

  • First, we should make an effort not to beg any substantial moral questions about the issue at hand.
  • Second, by first making distinctions among unnamed acts we are less likely to start with inadequate, because too general, definitions and less likely to be stuck with inadequate, because impractical to implement or enforce, laws based on those definitions.
  • Third, by deciding on the moral principles before the naming of the acts, we are less likely to get mired in battles over words, over whether, for instance, this or that act is really torture.
  • Fourth, if we do not follow this method of postponement, we are less likely to get things right and so less likely to stop the performance of those acts we which morally do want to have stopped.

The basic point is that it is an act, whatever we may eventually call it, that we want to evaluate morally; and this evaluation can only be done by doing some dialectical moral thinking, not simply by adopting this or that definition of a word {‘The ethics of medical involvement in torture: commentary’: 138-9; ‘A Kantian Approach to Abortion’: [Essays on Bioethics: 171]; ‘In Vitro Fertilization and the Warnock Report’: [Essays on Bioethics: 102-3]; ‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 28-9]; ‘What is Life?’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 69-70]}.

683. What are some explanations of why golden-rule moral reasoning is sometimes ineffective?     [Top]
There are many explanations of why golden-rule moral reasoning sometimes does not work and so why there is still immoral behavior. First, some people may fail to see resemblances between themselves and the other and so are insensitive or lack the imagination to put themselves into the other’s shoes with the other’s set of desires. Second, some people may not be doing moral thinking in the sense of universalizing prescriptions {Freedom and Reason: 223-4}.

684. Should we devote time to answer verbal questions about the definition of acts?     [Top]
Yes. We do need to concern ourselves with the definitions of acts; for moral conclusions are stated in words, and those conclusions will only be clearly expressed if the words they contain have been clearly defined. But this business of definition of terms should come after the pertinent moral principles have been identified {‘The ethics of medical involvement in torture: commentary’: 138}.

685. What is mistaken about a method that starts by making a list of morally relevant features?     [Top]
A method that starts by making a list of morally relevant features or differences and then uses that list for definitional purposes is mistaken in several ways. First, the list may be culturally relative, so that we would get different lists depending on where or by what people the list was made. Second, such a list does not help us understand why the features are on the list. Third, it is moral principles themselves that specify what the morally relevant features are. A better way to do our moral thinking is instead to use the method recommended by universal prescriptivism, which is an exploratory method rather than definitional. Any list that universal prescriptivism’s method compiled upfront would not be used to define terms in advance of moral thinking; the list would be used only to give us ideas about what prescriptions we might be able to accept as universal prescriptions. Only at the end of this process of moral thinking, after we have arrived at some moral principles we can accept, might we have a list that could be used for definitional purposes {‘The ethics of medical involvement in torture: commentary’: 138-9; Moral Thinking: 63, 89-90; ‘Relevance’: 75; ‘What is Life?’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 69-70]; Freedom and Reason: 88-9, 107, 193, 217-8; ‘Reasons of State’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 16]}.

686. What is the foundation of moral thinking?     [Top]
The foundation of moral thinking is essentially Kantian or quasi-Kantian in character. This foundation starts with the requirement that we will universally when we make moral judgments; this kind of willing constrains our moral thinking to be impartial or fair in that rational preferences of the same strength count equally; this amounts to a formal principle of justice between the wills of rational beings {‘Punishment and Retributive Justice’: 221; ‘Rights, Utility, and Universalization Reply to J. L. Mackie’: 109; ‘Adolescents into Adults’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 61]}.

687. What is the logical consequence of combining universalizability and prescriptivity?     [Top]
The logical consequence of combining universalizability and prescriptivity is that we must, as long as we are not fanatics, permit our choices about what to do to be limited by the desires of others {Freedom and Reason: 195}.

688. What roles do utilitarian and Kantian approaches play in universal prescriptivism?     [Top]
There are two things involved here. First, there is a method of moral reasoning that is to be used at the critical level of moral thinking. Second, there is an argument to show that the method used at the critical level has a particular character. With those two things distinguished, it is now possible to say, with a better chance of being understood, that the method used at the critical level is utilitarian in character while the argument used to show that that method is utilitarian is a Kantian argument. But trying to separate the roles is misleading, for the method used at the critical level can be phrased, not only in utilitarian terms as in Moral Thinking, but also in Kantian terms, thus revealing that “Kantian elements appear at both levels” {‘Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity in South Africa?’: [Essays on Political Morality: 168]; ‘Punishment and Retributive Justice’: 218-20}.

689. What prevents our accepting a proposed moral judgment?     [Top]
It is desires or preferences, either our own or those we acquire by imaginatively identifying with others, that prevents us from accepting certain singular prescriptions that are logical consequences of certain moral judgments. Since we cannot, because of the desires we have or acquire, accept the singular prescriptions, we are prevented from accepting the moral judgments which entail those singular prescriptions. So it is both logic (because of the entailment relation between moral judgments and singular prescriptions) and desires or preferences (which non-logically influence which singular prescriptions we will accept) that prevent our accepting a proposed moral judgment. It is in this way that substance gets into the purely formal, logical machinery of universal prescriptivism {Sorting Out Ethics: 24-5; ‘Liberty and Equality’: [Essays on Political Morality: 133]; Moral Thinking: 16-7; Freedom and Reason: 193, 195}.

690. Is the method of moral reasoning identified by universal prescriptivism a holistic method?     [Top]
Yes. The universalizability requirement in moral reasoning ensures that any conclusions we reach will have to apply to all other exactly similar situations; so the method is inherently holistic {‘Foundationalism and Coherentism in Ethics’: 194}.

691. What theoretical methods are at the disposal of the moral philosopher?     [Top]
There are two main theoretical methods that the moral philosopher can use to do her job. One is to draw on the results of philosophical logic rather than to make appeals to substantial moral intuitions or convictions. The other available method is to engage in conceptual analysis of the moral concepts as they are actually used by ordinary people {‘Why Do Applied Ethics?’: 230-1; Moral Thinking: 7-10}.

692. Is the method of moral reasoning identified by universal prescriptivism analogous to the scientific method?     [Top]
Yes, the two methods are analogous in some ways. In the philosophy of science, Karl Popper argues that the scientific method proceeds by testing hypotheses against actual particular items of data; there are no linear inferences from observation data to the truth of an hypothesis. Similarly, the method of moral reasoning proposed by universal prescriptivism is also exploratory and proceeds by testing candidate moral principles against prescriptions we are willing to accept in actual (or supposed) particular cases; and again, there are no linear inferences. A different, but related, point is that the theory that is universal prescriptivism is itself subject to scientific testing in that its predictions about what moral opinions people hold can be compared to the moral opinions that people do in fact hold. The methods are similar, too, in that the methods of both science and universal prescriptivism can stand apart to some extent from the the content of their investigations; so, just as the scientific method can be taught separately from any particular scientific theory about some natural phenonmenon, universal prescriptivism’s method can be learned without relying on any particular substantive moral outlook {‘Foundationalism and Coherentism in Ethics’: 194; Hare and Critics: 213, 291; ‘Why Do Applied Ethics?’: 231; ‘The Argument from Received Opinion’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 125-7]; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 105]; ‘Adolescents into Adults’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 60]; Freedom and Reason: 86-93, 193}.

693. What is the nature of the substantial premises used in the method of moral reasoning identified by universal prescriptivism?     [Top]
Substantial premises are used in reasoning to specific moral conclusions; that is why Hume’s Law, taken as forbidding deductions from purely factual premises to moral conclusions, is not violated. These substantial premises come in to the argument through other people’s prescriptions which the logic of the moral words compels us through universalizability to treat as equal to our own {Moral Thinking: 16-7, 187; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 106-7]; Freedom and Reason: 108, 118, 195; The Language of Morals: 29, 173}.

694. What is included in another’s situation or position?     [Top]
Another’s situation, in the context of putting oneself into the other’s shoes, includes not only the external circumstances in which the other finds herself but also all of the other’s internal circumstances such as her desires, likings and dislikes, preferences, willing, what she cares about or minds happens to her, and so on; moreover, the other’s situation excludes one’s own desires, likings, preferences, and so on. But though the requirement to put oneself into the other’s situation ignores one’s own desires, the method of moral reasoning advocated by universal prescriptivism also has the requirement that one put oneself into one’s own situation, so that all the preferences of everyone affected will be considered {Sorting Out Ethics: 25; ‘A Kantian Approach to Abortion’: [Essays on Bioethics: 174]; Hare and Critics: 238-9; ‘Medical Ethics: Can the Moral Philosopher Help?’: [Essays on Bioethics: 10]; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 119-20; ‘Language and Moral Education’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 166]; ‘Wrongness and Harm’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 101]; Freedom and Reason: 113, 196}.

695. What is the essential part of moral thinking?     [Top]
The essential part of moral thinking is the process of forming universal principles that guide one’s own conduct and the conduct of others in such a way that for similar situations interests are similarly fully regarded no matter whose they are. Universal prescriptivism provides this essential part in the method of golden-rule moral reasoning done at the critical level of moral thinking. This method is, at a minimum, what it is to think morally {Freedom and Reason: 65, 157, 177}.

696. Do we actually use moral principles in our thinking?     [Top]
Yes. We actually use universal and prescriptive moral judgments in our moral thinking, and these logical features enable the powerful moral reasoning deployed in golden-rule type moral arguments {Freedom and Reason: 47; ‘Reasons of State’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 22]}.

697. Can we know everything about another’s situation?     [Top]
No. We cannot know everything about another person’s actual situation, and we cannot fully know what it is like to have another’s experiences. There are, that is, limits to stepping into another’s shoes in that we cannot fully step out of our own. What we can do is fully represent the other’s situation to ourselves, including their preferences, and in this way acquire replicas of their preferences {Hare and Critics: 282; Moral Thinking: 95, 128; Freedom and Reason: 49, 128}.

698. What is it to give an account of moral reasoning?     [Top]
In giving an account of moral reasoning, we show, using our understanding of the logical properties of the moral concepts, that it is due to the properties of these concepts that moral arguments have their distinctive shape or logical behavior {Freedom and Reason: 4}.

699. Since the method of critical moral thinking must take empirical facts about societies into consideration and these facts may differ from society to society, isn’t the method relativistic?     [Top]
It is true that the method of critical moral thinking endorsed by universal prescriptivism takes empirical facts about societies and their members into consideration. But this reliance on the empirical facts makes neither the method nor universal prescriptivism relativistic in any strong or objectionable sense according to which moral judgments are true or correct just because people accept them or are made true just by what people happen to think. The method is relativistic only in the weak sense that facts about people’s preferences, thoughts, dispositions, and so on, are relevant to making moral judgments and to deciding what moral principles ought to be inculcated. Any method or theory that did not take such facts into consideration, and thus was not relative in even this weak sense, could be faulted for losing touch with reality {‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 21]; Moral Thinking: 88-9, 108, 159, 167-8; ‘Justice and Equality’: 129-30; ‘Some Confusions About Subjectivity’: 191-2}.

700. What allows us to distinguish moral thinking from prudential thinking?     [Top]
It is especially in the transition from the first stage of critical moral thinking to the second stage of critical moral thinking that we find the mechanism that allows us to distinguish moral thinking, which is impartial, from prudential thinking, which is partial to self. At both stages, cases are considered, though those considered at the second stage have also been assigned a probability of occurrence; but the descriptions of the cases are otherwise the same, and those descriptions have no individual references as would be required for prudential thinking. These ineliminable references help to explain why the universalizability of prudence ranges only over agents and not also over recipients {Sorting Out Ethics: 98; Hare and Critics: 214, 257; ‘Do Agents Have to be Moralists?’: 55; ‘Relevance’: 85}.

701. Might our moral convictions be inculcated so strongly in us that we cannot suspend belief in them and so will not be able to do critical thinking?     [Top]
If our moral convictions have been inculcated so strongly in us that we cannot suspend belief in them in order to do critical thinking, then our moral education has failed us. Only when very young – before we are old enough to understand reasons – should we be instructed exclusively in intuitive moral thinking; at this early stage, the reasons why the moral rules are what they are should come later. As soon as we are old enough to understand the reasons, we should start to receive instruction in how and when to do critical moral thinking. Also, the moral sentiments or feelings that accompany inculcated moral principles should not be taught so as to generate convictions that are stronger than are needed in order to bring about compliance with the principles in ordinary cases; we should not, that is, aim to make the feelings neurotically strong, but rather just strong or firm enough to get the job done {‘Why Moral Language?’: 77-8; ‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 314-6; Moral Thinking: 181, 198; ‘Utilitarianism and the Vicarious Affects’: 149; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 124; ‘Adolescents into Adults’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 61-6]}.

702. How does critical moral thinking avoid special pleading by the thinkers?     [Top]
Critical moral thinking has two stages and at neither stage can special pleading by the thinkers enter into the process. At the first stage, when any logically possible case is considered, special pleading cannot enter because the universalizability required of any moral principles reached through a consideration of the cases prevents its entrance by disallowing individual references. At the second stage, as well, special pleading cannot enter; for the second stage modifies the input (i.e., the cases and principles) it receives from the first stage only by assigning probabilities of occurrence to the cases and by adjusting the generality of the principles, and neither of these modifications introduces individual references {‘Relevance’: 83-5}.

703. On what is the method used in critical moral thinking built?     [Top]
The Golden Rule method used in critical moral thinking is built on the logical properties of the moral words or concepts, that is, on prescriptivity and universalizability. The method is thus based in part on the falsity of descriptivism, which holds that the only meaning that the moral words have is descriptive meaning, leaving out prescriptive meaning entirely {Moral Thinking: 91, 178-9}.

704. What prevents someone from morally prescribing only for those possible situations in which she does not occupy the role of her victims?     [Top]
If a person is prescribing morally, then she is prescribing universally because universalizability is one of the logical properties of the moral words. But universalizability requires the consideration of all logically possible situations, which includes those non-actual situations in which the individuals occupying the roles of perpetrator and victim are reversed. So it is not logically possible for someone who is prescribing morally to leave out of account those situations which are non-actual and in which she plays the victim rather than the perpetrator {‘Relevance’: 83-4}.

705. In the role-reversal procedure, after all roles have been successively reversed, what happens to all the preferences that one has acquired?     [Top]
In putting oneself into all the others’ shoes, one will, if one fully represents their situations to oneself, acquire all the others’ preferences and motivational states. Their equal (in intensity) preferences will be given equal positive weight in the ensuing deliberation process, thus ensuring fairness. For those preferences that are in conflict or inconsistent, there will be a kind of competition – a setting of preferences against each other – so as to bring about consistency. So the result of the competition will be that some of the preferences will either be discarded or modified. This is the same process we use to resolve conflicts between preferences that are original within ourselves; thus the interpersonal comparison of preferences is reduced by the role-reversal procedure to the familiar intrapersonal comparison of preferences which we can put in an ordering {Hare and Critics: 212, 216, 235-6, 239-40, 288; ‘Rights, Utility, and Universalization Reply to J. L. Mackie’: 110; ‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 312; Moral Thinking: 110, 124, 127-8, 178; ‘Relevance’: 89}.

706. Why is universal prescriptivism’s method of critical moral thinking superior to Rawls’s device of the veil of ignorance?     [Top]
Rawls apparently used the veil of ignorance, which hides personal information (e.g., their social roles) from the people in the original position who are choosing principles of justice, in order to make sure that the process of choosing principles is impartial. Thus the device of the veil of ignorance requires that people make choices without being fully informed. The method of critical moral thinking generated by universal prescriptivism, on the other hand, requires that people do their critical moral thinking with all the information that is available. Despite this informational requirement of full access, universal prescriptivism’s method still secures impartiality because the method also requires adherence to the logic of the moral words and universalizability is part of that logic {‘Relevance’: 83-5; ‘Rawls’ Theory of Justice–I’: 154}.

707. In putting oneself into the other’s shoes (i.e., in the role-reversal procedure), is one becoming the other person?     [Top]
No. In putting oneself into the other’s shoes, one is not becoming the other person. There is nothing so metaphysical going on; one remains oneself, in one’s own persona, throughout the role-reversal procedure. One is deliberating with one’s own preferences, though some of these preferences are, if one has fully represented the other’s situation to oneself, one’s actual preferences now with regard to a hypothetical or imaginary, not actual, situation in which one is in the other’s place {Hare and Critics: 280-2; ‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 311; Moral Thinking: 96-8, 119-21}.

708. How does the method of moral reasoning lead to utilitarianism?     [Top]
The method of moral reasoning identified by universal prescriptivism incorporates a role-reversal procedure. The incorporation of this role-reversal procedure into the method is required by the logical properties of the moral words: prescriptivity and universalizability. The role-reversal procedure involves putting oneself imaginatively into the position of all others whose preferences are affected by the action under consideration. If we carry out the procedure correctly, fully representing the position of the others to ourselves, then, by the conceptual truth captured in the Conditional Reflection Principle, the preferences or interests of all affected will be considered in the moral decision-making process, and each individual’s preferences will count equally (i.e., be given equal positive weight) with the equal (in intensity) preferences of all the others. Since each will want her preferences maximized, this procedure will seek to maximize the preference satisfaction of all, and this is utilitarianism {Hare and Critics: 250; ‘How to Decide Moral Questions Rationally’: 74; Moral Thinking: 96, 129; ‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 635}.

709. Is the role-reversal procedure to take place in any particular order?     [Top]
In bilateral cases, which involve only two people, there is no question of ordering because there is only one other person with whom to change places imaginatively. In multilateral cases of three or more people, the question of ordering does arise. But universal prescriptivism itself imposes no requirements on the order in which one is to imagine oneself in the others’ places. So there are many different ways in which to dramatize the role-reversal procedure, including but not limited to the following.

  • We might perform the role-reversals in a random series, one after the other.
  • We might imagine ourselves in the others’ roles all at the same time.
  • We might first take on roles that are most like our own role, saving the most dissimilar roles for last.
  • We might preliminarily put ourselves randomly in each of the roles, in each asking which position in the role-reversal procedure is preferred, and then proceed with the full procedure according to the noted preferences.
  • We might, in a particularly complex situation, only put ourselves in a representative sample of roles.

Conducting the role-reversals simultaneously is probably too difficult for humans {Hare and Critics: 219-20; Moral Thinking: 128-9; ‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 635; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 117; ‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 213; ‘Contrasting Methods of Environmental Planning’: [Essays on Political Morality: 229]; Freedom and Reason: 123}.

710. Although universalization itself does not have stages, does the method of moral reasoning used in critical thinking have stages?     [Top]
Yes. The method of moral reasoning used at the critical level of moral thinking to select prima facie principles has at least two stages. At the first stage, and using all conceivable sources of knowledge, hypothetical cases are considered, even cases that are merely logically possible; for each of these cases, it is decided what ought ideally to be done. At the second stage of critical moral thinking, all the cases (considered in the first stage) are assigned probabilities of occurrence, an assignment that will require superhuman knowledge; but mere humans can estimate these probabilities and thus select prima facie principles for the intuitive level that will be most likely to produce the best outcomes in those cases that are most likely to occur in the real world {‘Universalizability’: [Encyclopedia of Ethics: 1259]; Hare and Critics: 268; Moral Thinking: 108, 122; ‘Relevance’: 82-3; ‘Medical Ethics: Can the Moral Philosopher Help?’: [Essays on Bioethics: 13-4]}.

711. Can purely formal moves lead to conclusions of moral substance?     [Top]
No. Purely formal moves alone, by themselves or even in conjunction with analytic statements, cannot lead to conclusions of substance that have practical implications for doing this as opposed to that action; this would violate Hume’s Law. It is only possible validly to get to conclusions of substance if the substance is allowed to get into the arguments somewhere before the conclusions appear. Where the substance gets in is the interesting question. Universal prescriptivism claims that the substance or content does not need to get in by building it into the definition of ‘moral’ or into the definitions of the moral words; these definitions can remain purely formal. The substance or content gets in through empirical facts, including factual beliefs about preferences, willing, inclinations and interests, that people actually have regarding actual or hypothetical situations; it is important to be clear on this subtle point: the claim is not that the substance gets in through factual statements about people or their beliefs or their preferences but rather the claim is that it gets in through the facts that they are people with certain beliefs and preferences {Sorting Out Ethics: 24-5, 161; Hare and Critics: 250; ‘Liberty and Equality’: [Essays on Political Morality: 133]; Moral Thinking: 16, 62, 187; ‘What Is Wrong with Slavery?’: 118; ‘Utilitarianism and the Vicarious Affects’: 144; ‘Wanting: Some Pitfalls’: [Practical Inferences: 48, 50, 57-8]; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 103, 106]; Freedom and Reason: 2, 33, 108, 118, 186-7; ‘Broad’s Approach to Moral Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 15-7]; The Language of Morals: 29, 173}.

712. Does the method of moral reasoning, in the role-reversal procedure, require that we perform calculations of utility that involve interpersonal comparisons of utilities or preferences?     [Top]
Yes. At the level of critical thinking, where the method of moral reasoning is used, calculations of utility are needed. We will have to do these calculations – which, however, do not call for summing up units of pleasure or happiness but only for cardinal or ordinal comparisons – as best we can given that we are not superhuman like archangels. These calculations, however, all take place at the critical level of moral thinking. At the intuitive level, we can rely on intuitive general predictive principles (there being levels for factual thinking, too) that adequately inform us about possible harms and benefits so that we can make moral decisions {Moral Thinking: 121-4, 126}.

713. Why can the golden-rule method of moral reasoning not be extended to cover reasoning about aesthetic issues or about moral issues not involving others’ interests?     [Top]
Prescriptivity and universalizability only suffice to offer a theoretical account of the reasoning governing moral cases involving others’ interests. It is for this reason that the golden-rule or utilitarian method of moral reasoning that is based on prescriptivity and universalizability cannot be extended to cover cases about aesthetic issues, for such issues do not involve others’ interests. The same reason for not using utilitarian arguments holds as well for moral issues that do not involve other’s interests {‘Arguing about Rights’: [Essays on Political Morality: 119]; Moral Thinking: 54; Freedom and Reason: 145, 167}.

714. Does the method of moral reasoning, in the role-reversal procedure, require that we conceive of ourselves as acquiring incompatible sets of properties?     [Top]
No. The method of moral reasoning only requires that we be able to think of ourselves as acquiring one set and losing another set of properties {Moral Thinking: 119-21}.

715. Why does the argument for the method of moral reasoning only depend on the properties of prescriptivity and universalizability and not also on overridingness?     [Top]
Prescriptivity and universalizability, which are two formal properties of moral judgments, are sufficient to give a complete account of moral reasoning. Although overridingness is also a formal feature of moral judgments, it is just not needed in order to develop a theory of reasoning about the most common moral uses of ‘ought’ and ‘must’, namely their use in cases that involve others’ interests {‘Why Moral Language?’: 83; Moral Thinking: 54}.

716. What kind of comparison between preferences does the method of moral reasoning require?     [Top]
The method of moral reasoning only requires comparison between the strengths or degrees of preferences, and these strengths or degrees do not need to be summed. These kinds of comparisons can be accomplished by fully representing the others’ situations to oneself, thereby acquiring replicas of their preferences and preferences’ strengths, so that one only has to compare strengths of preferences that one now possesses {Moral Thinking: 117, 124, 128}.

717. Why must a universal prescriber have knowledge of consequences and of the other facts?     [Top]
Because the universal prescriber is, in prescribing, telling herself (and others in exactly similar situations) what to do, the universal prescriber must have factual knowledge of the situation; for she otherwise would not know what she is prescribing. This factual knowledge includes knowing the ordinary properties of actions and involves knowing what can be done by someone in such a situation and knowing what are the probable consequences (e.g., whether pain will be caused) of the possible actions that can be performed {Moral Thinking: 87-90, 108, 216; ‘Appendix: Rejoinder to G. J. Warnock’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 176]; ‘Rules of War and Moral Reasoning’: 171; Freedom and Reason: 182-3, 214}.

718. What can philosophy contribute to practical questions?     [Top]
Philosophy can contribute a method of moral reasoning that will help peacefully answer the practical questions which we ask ourselves. If this method is sound and brings clarity to the issues, then we can hope that the trajectory of the discussion from questions to answers will be rational and cogent because based on the logic of the moral concepts {Sorting Out Ethics: 39; ‘Philosophy and Conflict’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 56-7]; ‘In Vitro Fertilization and the Warnock Report’: [Essays on Bioethics: 98]; ‘Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity in South Africa?’: [Essays on Political Morality: 167]; ‘A Reductio Ad Absurdum of Descriptivism’: 125-6; ‘Rawls’ Theory of Justice–II’: 241; ‘Rules of War and Moral Reasoning’: 166; ‘Peace’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 71-2]; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 116]; ‘Broad’s Approach to Moral Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 15]}.

719. Why does a method of moral thinking that is constrained by the logic of the moral words provide a rigorous and secure procedure?     [Top]
Universal prescriptivism’s method of moral thinking, which imposes constraints dictated by the logic of the moral words, provides a rigorous and secure procedure because it exploits the rigorous and secure notion of contradiction: if we sincerely say such-and-such in using the moral words, if we mean such-and-such by the moral words, then the logic of those words constrains what we can accept if we are not to contradict ourselves {‘Rawls’ Theory of Justice–I’: 150}.

720. At what point does subjectivism become problematic or a theoretical liability?     [Top]
Subjectivism becomes a theoretical error when it is introduced as data against which theoretical results are to be checked, as if moral intuitions were to be given the status of reliable data in the empirical sciences {‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 103]; ‘Some Confusions About Subjectivity’: 191-5; ‘Rawls’ Theory of Justice–I’: 145-6}.

721. Are substantial conclusions being drawn only from premises about the use of words?     [Top]
No. Premises that are only about the use of words are indeed employed, but they are not the only premises being employed; it is from the total set of premises, not just the linguistic premises, that the substantive conclusions are drawn {Moral Thinking: 16}.

722. The deontic ‘must’ most transparently and regularly exhibits the logical properties of prescriptivity and universalizability; so why does universal prescriptivism focus so much on ‘ought’ rather than ‘must’?     [Top]
Although the deontic ‘must’ most transparently and regularly exhibits the logical properties of prescriptivity and universalizability, universal prescriptivism does not focus on it because it is not as common as ‘ought’, which is also a deontic modality, in ordinary moral discourse. The deontic ‘must’ occurs less frequently in ordinary moral discourse because it is not as flexible as ‘ought’ in allowing for the possibility of backsliding. Furthermore, ‘ought’ is preferable as an object of study and example because it is the simplest moral word {Sorting Out Ethics: 4-5, 136; ‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 65]; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 179]; Hare and Critics: 278-9; Moral Thinking: 22-4’; Some Alleged Differences Between Imperatives and Indicatives’: 317}.

723. Why do linguistic intuitions have probative value or force while moral intuitions do not?     [Top]
In part, the difference in probative value is due to the uses to which the different kinds of intuition are put. Linguistic or logical intuitions are used to establish either empirical or logical theses, and in these areas of inquiry the linguistic behavior of the users of the language is authoritative. By contrast, moral intuitions are frequently used in an attempt to establish substantive moral views, but such views can be established only by moral reasoning and never by appeal to popular opinion {‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 20]; Moral Thinking: 11-12, 80-1; ‘Rawls’ Theory of Justice–I’: 148; ‘The Argument from Received Opinion’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 122]}.

724. Since what moral words we use is a contingent matter, doesn’t basing the method of moral reasoning on the moral words open up the possibility of relativism: that other societies that use different words will end up with a different method and then different moral conclusions?     [Top]
It is true that the moral words we find ourselves using is a contingent matter; it is not necessary that we use the moral words that we in fact do use or that we use them in the same way that we in fact use them. We could, in short, be using different moral words now, and our conceptual scheme might therefore be different than it is now. But it is also a fact that we are now asking certain moral questions using certain moral words. The logical properties of these words we use give conceptual shape to our understanding of the moral questions we are asking. So, to get answers to these questions, it is appropriate to use a method of moral reasoning based on the logical properties of the moral words that we do in fact use. There may be other ways and methods of getting at the answers to these same questions we are asking, but it is doubtful that any cogent alternative approach will yield final results that differ substantially from those delivered by universal prescriptivism; and if, on the other hand, the alternative approaches do not provide answers to these same questions, then the moral questions we are in fact asking do not get answered {Sorting Out Ethics: 3-4; ‘Rights, Utility, and Universalization Reply to J. L. Mackie’: 112-4; Moral Thinking: 18-20, 156, 159}.

725. What are some legitimate uses of linguistic intuitions?     [Top]
Linguistic intuitions may legitimately be used in several instances of the hypothetico-deductive method employed in scientific inquiry.

  • Hypotheses about linguistic behavior (such as what a word means) can be tested against other linguistic data in an effort to find out what people mean by a moral word.
  • From linguistic hypotheses about the meaning of some words, together with other factual information, we derive further hypotheses about what moral beliefs people have; we then test these latter hypotheses against the moral beliefs that people do have; in this way we can find out if the original hypotheses about meaning were correct.
  • Moral intuitions can be used as hypotheses to be tested against linguistic behavior so as to determine what people’s moral beliefs really are.

Just to be clear, the hypothetico-deductive method may be illegitimately or unsatisfactorily used, too: the method of reflective equilibrium, for instance, takes normative moral principles as hypotheses and tests them against the “data” of moral intuitions or opinions in an attempt to justify the substantive principles. This illegitimate use of moral opinions is to be contrasted with the legitimate use of them to test universal prescriptivism, which is a meta-ethical, not normative, theory about the meaning or use of words; the legitimate testing does not require that one even provisionally accept the moral opinions expressed in the linguistic data used in the testing {Hare and Critics: 291; ‘Why Do Applied Ethics?’: 226, 231; ‘Little Human Guinea-Pigs?’: 77; Plato: 65-6; Moral Thinking: 12-15, 65; ‘Rawls’ Theory of Justice–I’: 148; ‘The Argument from Received Opinion’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 125-7]}.

726. What is the logic that allows us to arrive at singular prescriptions for action from moral principles and some factual information?     [Top]
The logic that allows us to start (at the top) with moral principles, add in some factual information relevant to the case at hand, and then conclude (at the bottom) with a singular prescription for action, is the logic of the moral words: prescriptivity and universality {‘Foundationalism and Coherentism in Ethics’: 192-3}.

727. For the archangel, is there a universal prescription that is acceptable to her in any role she plays in a given situation?     [Top]
Yes. In the role-playing step of the Golden Rule method used at the critical level of moral thinking, the archangel will be able to formulate a universal principle or prescription which she can accept in any role. This must not be misunderstood. It should not be taken to imply that all parties affected by a contemplated action prescribed by the principle which the archangel accepts have their preferences satisfied. It should be taken to imply that the archangel gives due weight to all admitted (for there are some restrictions) preferences of the affected parties and on that basis makes an overall decision. In other words, if the archangel finds that she, in one of the roles, cannot accept the proposed prescription, this non-acceptance does not necessarily require overall rejection of the prescription; for other preferences of other affected parties may override (either jointly if of lesser strength or singly if of greater strength) the preference which led to non-acceptance in the one role. In short, no one role necessarily has veto power {Hare and Critics: 216; ‘Some Reasoning about Preferences’: 83-4; Moral Thinking: 44; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 182}.

728. Does the style of argument in support of universal prescriptivism make use of moral intuitions?     [Top]
No. The argument for universal prescriptivism, and for the Kantian-utilitarianism it leads to, does not rely on moral intuitions. The reason for not relying on moral intuitions, as so many contemporary moral philosophers do, and relying instead on ordinary procedures of philosophical logic is to make the argument more secure. Because of this reliance on the ordinary procedures of philosophical logic, the method of argument does appeal to linguistic intuitions {‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 64]; ‘Abortion: Reply to Brandt’: 28; Moral Thinking: 7-10}.

Miscellaneous

729. What is rational?     [Top]
It is rational to act in full light of the relevant facts and outcomes {Moral Thinking: 87; ‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 627, 633, 635; ‘Contrasting Methods of Environmental Planning’: [Essays on Political Morality: 234-5]}.

730. Is universal prescriptivism an empirical theory?     [Top]
Universal prescriptivism is a meta-ethical theory; it gives accounts of the meaning of the moral words and also of moral reasoning or argument. It has an empirical basis in the way in which ordinary people actually use the moral words, a use which is determined by the logical properties of the words they employ in their thinking. It can thus be used not only to describe but also to explain and predict the linguistic behavior of ordinary people {Moral Thinking: 81-2, 87; ‘Principles’: 15}.

731. What is a necessary condition for being a moral agent?     [Top]
A moral agent is someone who finds herself having to answer the question ‘What shall I do?’. It is at least in part in virtue of being faced with having to answer this question, which can only be answered by a command, that moral judgments apply to someone {The Language of Morals: 46; ‘Freedom of the Will’: 215}.

732. What is a moral rule?     [Top]
A moral rule is a kind of rule for answering questions such as ‘What shall I do?’ That is, such rules are sometimes implied or referred to in giving an answer to that kind of question, which can only be answered by a command {The Language of Morals: 46; ‘Freedom of the Will’: 215}.

733. How do we learn ought-rules or ought-principles?     [Top]
We learn ought-rules, or are instructed in the use of ought-rules, by generalizing from instances. Thus, an instructor gives her pupils a number of examples, and the pupils thereby learn what to do under certain kinds of circumstances; this can also be called learning to instantiate the rule {The Language of Morals: 157; ‘Freedom of the Will’: 204-5}.

734. How do moral conventions differ from linguistic conventions?     [Top]
Moral conventions or, that is, the currently accepted standards or criteria for applying the moral words, are very similar to linguistic conventions but differ in that only the moral conventions carry substantive moral content {Moral Thinking: 70}.

735. What is the meaning of ‘moral’?     [Top]
The word ‘moral’ is ambiguous and vague. Prescriptivity and universalizability are necessary but not sufficient features of the moral. Despite this insufficiency, universal prescriptivism’s working definition of ‘moral’ zeros in on those two necessary features, leaving out the further feature of overridingness as superfluous to the argument to establish a method of moral reasoning. Some philosophers choose to tie ‘moral’ to kinds of content such as specifc goods or virtues. Although this content-based approach is manageable as long as these philosophers make clear with what definition of ‘moral’ they are working, universal prescriptivism’s content-neutral approach is to be preferred because less likely to cause confusion and does not rule out of court unusual moralities such as Nietzsche’s {‘Moral Terms’: [Encyclopedia of Ethics: 870-1]; Moral Thinking: 53-5}.

736. What objections to universal prescriptivism have most widely missed their target?     [Top]
One of the biggest misfiring objections is the one that confuses non-descriptivism, of which universal prescriptivism is a sub-species, with (narrow or old-fashioned) subjectivism, which falls under the descriptivism genus. The confusion of non-descriptivism with subjectivism arises because the objectors do not distinguish between wide and narrow (old-fashioned) subjectivism. While universal prescriptivism is a subjectivism taken in the wide sense, it is not a subjectivism in the narrow sense; and so arguments successful against narrow subjectivism miss their target when directed toward universal prescriptivism. To avoid these confusions, it is best to abandon talk of subjectivism and instead to speak of descriptivism and non-descriptivism {‘A Philosophical Autobiography’: 297-8; ‘Philippa Foot on Subjectivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 89-90]; ‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 107]; Hare and Critics: 256; ‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 90]; Moral Thinking: 208-9; ‘Some Confusions about Subjectivity’: 201; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 48-9]}.

737. Is universal prescriptivism a subjectivist or objectivist theory?     [Top]
Universal prescriptivism is neither a subjectivist nor objectivist theory, in the most common meanings of those misleading terms. It is neither because universal prescriptivism is a non-descriptivist theory (i.e., a theory which denies that moral judgments state facts or are purely descriptive), and subjectivist and objectivist theories are both kinds of descriptivist theory {‘How did Morality Get a Bad Name?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 92]; ‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 309; Moral Thinking: 206; ‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 624; ‘Some Confusions About Subjectivity’: 207}.

738. What are some passages that have caused much confusion?     [Top]
There are a number of passages that have, for a variety of reasons, caused much confusion:

  • Some pages (especially around p. 68) in the ‘Decisions of Principle’ chapter in The Language of Morals have caused some people to accuse universal prescriptivism of being an irrationalist doctrine.
  • Universality and generality are not distinguished sufficiently in The Language of Morals around p. 155.
  • Supervenience and universalizability have been confused, although their relation was explained well in The Language of Morals on pages 80, 145, and 153.
  • People are still confusing descriptive and prescriptive meaning even though they are well distinguished in The Language of Morals.

{‘A Philosophical Autobiography’: 290-1; Hare and Critics: 202, 210; ‘Some Confusions About Subjectivity’: 191-2; Freedom and Reason: 200-1}.

739. Why is imperativism an absurd theory?     [Top]
Imperativism is an absurd theory because it has the absurd implication that just by speaking a moral judgment one can make it impossible for someone to dissent from the judgment {‘Some Confusions About Subjectivity’: 198-201; ‘The Argument from Received Opinion’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 124]}.

740. Is universal prescriptivism, with its reliance on decisions of principle, a kind of irrationalism or subjectivism?     [Top]
No, quite the opposite. Universal prescriptivism is a very strong kind of rationalism and is not a subjectivism. This rationalism, for instance, can be seen in universal prescriptivism’s development of a method of moral thinking that emphasizes self-consistency and that is built on the logical properties of the moral words; this method’s operation and foundations are thus not at all made true or made justified by the fact that people have certain attitudes or beliefs, as in subjectivism {‘A Philosophical Autobiography’: 289-90; ‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 21]; ‘A New Kind of Ethical Naturalism?’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 69]; ‘Philippa Foot on Subjectivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 87]; ‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 105, 107]; Sorting Out Ethics: 90; Hare and Critics: 202, 210; ‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 311; ‘Geach on Murder and Sodomy’: 472; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 114-5; ‘Some Confusions About Subjectivity’: 191-2; ‘The Lawful Government’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 102]; Freedom and Reason: 200-1}.

741. Why is universal prescriptivism sometimes (mistakenly) criticized as a form of subjectivism?     [Top]
Moral judgments are ultimately based on decisions of principle, and how – by what method of moral reasoning – these decisions are arrived at determines whether or not the decisions are well-justified or poorly justified. If the method is sound, then the decisions are more likely to be well-justified. So the method, the ‘how’ or process, of making decisions of principle is what counts in justifying moral judgments. Some philosophers, however, have confused this method or process of arriving at a decision of principle (i.e., of arriving at a moral judgment) with the fact of making a decision of principle. It is this confusion that has led to the charge of subjectivism. The confused philosophers have taken the fact of having made a decision of principle to be what justifies a moral judgment, have taken the fact of acceptance to be what justifies (or even what makes true) a moral judgment. But universal prescriptivism does not claim that substantive moral conclusions can be drawn from facts about what someone has decided or accepted; to draw such conclusions from such subjective facts would violate Hume’s Law, a law by which universal prescriptivism abides. This confusion on the part of some philosophers shows up again when they confuse the expression of an attitude that has been adopted as a result of a decision of principle with the fact of having the attitude {‘Philippa Foot on Subjectivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 87]; Sorting Out Ethics: 90; Moral Thinking: 16, 187; ‘Some Confusions About Subjectivity’: 191-4; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 106]; Freedom and Reason: 108, 186-7; The Language of Morals: 29, 68-70, 173}.

742. What have been the most telling objections to universal prescriptivism?     [Top]
There are three problems that have been most troubling: the acratic (someone who suffers from akrasia or weakness of will); the fanatic; and the amoralist. While Freedom and Reason disposed of the acratic troublemaker, and Moral Thinking disposed of the fanatic, the amoralist is still with us. There seems to be no way to dispose of the amoralist once and for all; for ordinary humans there are good reasons to accept morality, but the reasons are not good enough to demonstrate to the amoralist that it is rational to accept morality {‘A Philosophical Autobiography’: 291-2; Moral Thinking: 52}.

743. Under what conditions can a society possess a stable and objective morality?     [Top]
A society can have a stable and objective morality only when

  • the people in the society who influence the society’s mores choose prescriptive principles in a rational manner and
  • the chosen prescriptive principles determine the truth conditions for moral norms in the society.

{‘Imperatives, Prescriptions, and their Logic’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 54]}.

744. Could a morality die out?     [Top]
Yes. If a society’s moral standards or norms become so fixed, stable, entrenched, widely accepted and understood, that members of the society start to regard normative statements as purely descriptive statements, then the normative statement could lose their prescriptivity. And if they lost their prescriptivity, the members of society might begin to ignore the normative statements as guides to conduct {‘Imperatives, Prescriptions, and their Logic’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 54]}.

745. Why do cultures vary so little in their moralities?     [Top]
Although there is some variation in the moralities of different cultures, the moralities tend to be quite similar (e.g., having a prohibition on gratuitously killing people) because societies, in order to last and be stable, have to meet certain common requirements such as what human beings tend to prefer. In addition, moral discourse has a universal grammar or logic that is culturally invariant; it is this logic of the moral concepts that universal prescriptivism picks up on {Sorting Out Ethics: 87, 129; ‘Imperatives, Prescriptions, and their Logic’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 53]; ‘The Argument from Received Opinion’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 126]}.

746. What are some of the common features shared by moral and non-moral uses of the moral words?     [Top]
There are several common features shared by moral and non-moral uses of the moral words.

  • universalizability
  • prescriptivity
  • supervenience
  • descriptive and evaluative meaning

The central non-moral and moral uses of ‘good’, for instance, have these features {‘Moral Terms’: [Encyclopedia of Ethics: 868-9]; The Language of Morals: 3, 80, 140, 145-6}.

747. What is the best way to characterize the controversy between universal prescriptivism and intuitionism?     [Top]
The controversy between prescriptivism and intuitionism or descriptivism is most accurately characterized as a controversy between a complete moral system (three-level universal prescriptivism) and an incomplete moral system (one-level intuitionism). It is not so much that prescriptivism is correct while intuitionism is wrong as that, while prescriptivism correctly tells the whole story, intuitionism only correctly tells part (the intuitive level) of the story {‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 105]; Hare and Critics: 223; ‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 313; Moral Thinking: 81-2; ‘Utilitarianism and the Vicarious Affects’: 146-7; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 192}.

748. What are some similarities between universal prescriptivism and Kant’s moral philosophy?     [Top]
There are many similarities. Here are some of them:

  • They are both rationalist {‘A Philosophical Autobiography’: 289; Hare and Critics: 210; ‘Geach on Murder and Sodomy’: 472; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 114-5; ‘Some Confusions About Subjectivity’: 192}.
  • The logic of the moral words corresponds to the groundwork of the metaphysics of morals: both are attempts to work out or develop the moral concepts {Sorting Out Ethics: 159-60; ‘Foundationalism and Coherentism in Ethics’: 196; ‘Punishment and Retributive Justice’: 218}.
  • In both there can be contradiction in the will {Sorting Out Ethics: 133; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: 187}.
  • Kant also subscribes to Hume’s Law (no ‘ought’ from ‘is’) in regarding heteronomous principles as spurious {The Language of Morals: 29-30; Groundwork: 440-1}.
  • Neither is subjectivist in an objectionable sense {‘Some Confusions About Subjectivity’: 192}.
  • They both have the same epistemology: neither fully foundationalist nor fully coherentist {‘Foundationalism and Coherentism in Ethics’: 197; Hare and Critics: 291-2}.
  • Prescriptions are analogous to maxims {‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 21]; ‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 105]; Sorting Out Ethics: 102; ‘Imperatives, Prescriptions, and their Logic’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 54]; ‘Objective Prescriptions’: 27; Freedom and Reason: 72}.
  • In both, ends are to be shared: treating others’ ends as our own is like treating others’ preference-satisfactions as our own {‘A Kantian Utilitarian Approach’: 185}.
  • Treating each person as an end is analogous to counting each person for one and only one {Sorting Out Ethics: 145, 151}.
  • The interests of all those affected are what Kant might call rational ends {‘The Abnormal Child: Moral Dilemmas of Doctors and Parents’: [Essays on Bioethics: 185]}.
  • Serving the interests of people or satisfying their preferences is analogous to furthering people’s ends {‘Moral Problems about the Control of Behaviour’: [Essays on Bioethics: 61]}.
  • Just as in Kant a maxim must be universalized to become a categorical imperative, so a prescription must be universalized in order to become a moral judgment {‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 310}.
  • They both make heavy use of universalizability.
  • Imperatives figure prominently in both, and in neither are imperatives classed with emotive utterances {‘Imperative Sentences’: 23}.
  • To be morally mature is to make decisions of principle just as to be enlightened is to be free of one’s self-incurred tutelage or minority {The Language of Morals: 77-8, 196; ‘Adolescents into Adults’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 65-6]; ‘Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?’: 481=8:35}.
  • Rational preferences are analogous to wills, which are prescriptive faculties {Sorting Out Ethics: 129-30, 153, 162-3; ‘Punishment and Retributive Justice’: 221; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 106]}.
  • Moral principles are based on decisions of principle as the categorical imperative is based on autonomy of the will {The Language of Morals: 75, 78}.
  • Willing one’s maxim as a universal law is analogous to assenting to an imperative or to prescribing universally {Sorting Out Ethics: 133; Freedom and Reason: 34, 219}.
  • The thinking that Kantian legislators in the kingdom of ends do is analogous to the critical-level thinking that archangels do {Moral Thinking: 162}
  • In both the causality compatible with moral freedom is of a special kind {‘Prediction and Moral Appraisal’: [Essays on Bioethics: 201]; Groundwork: 446-7}.
  • The antinomy between freedom and reason gets resolved in that the prescribing will can rationally universalize its maxims {‘Foundationalism and Coherentism in Ethics’: 195}.

749. What is correct about situational ethics and some extreme forms of existentialism?     [Top]
The situational ethicists are correct in recognizing that no two situations are ever exactly alike in all their properties. So they are also correct in thinking that we cannot always rely on simple moral principles that are general enough to cover a wide array of cases; sometimes critical thinking on a case-by-case basis will be required. In this critical thinking, we will have to ask whether we can accept certain principles, and this acceptance will not be a matter of deducing principles from other, higher principles or indeed from anything else; it is thinking that calls for a decision {‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 134-5, 141, 148]; Moral Thinking: 39; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 177; ‘Principles’: 7; Freedom and Reason: 38; ‘Universalisability’: 303}.

750. What is it to teach a standard?     [Top]
To teach a standard is to teach a principle for choosing. That is, if the standard is used for ordering objects within a class by their characteristics, then to teach that standard is to teach a principle for selecting those objects {The Language of Morals: 134}.

751. What is mistaken about situational ethics and some extreme forms of existentialism?     [Top]
The mistakes situational ethics makes are both theoretical and practical. The theoretical mistake is in thinking that judging individual cases or situations can be done without appealing to reasons; for judging requires giving reasons for the judgment, and this giving of reasons can only be done by bringing in principles, probably very specific principles. The practical mistake arises because for us to function ably in the world as it is, we must be able to learn from our past experiences and to form on the basis of these past experiences reaction-patterns or dispositions. This learning which gives rise to these dispositions is essential if we are to be prepared to cope with novel circumstances which constantly confront us in our daily lives; without these learned dispositions we would face the impossible task of having to start from scratch upon encountering each new set of circumstances no matter how little the new differed from the old set. So we will, for practical reasons, have to rely to some extent on relatively simple prima facie principles, and the situational ethicists’ rejection of this reliance is thus a mistake. Another way to see their mistake is to note that extreme existentialists in effect reject the universalizability of moral judgments by concluding that, because moral judgments are in some ways like imperatives, they are in all ways like imperatives, thus – like imperatives – not universalizable, not made because of something about an action, not necessarily made for reasons. The result of these mistakes is that the existentialist or situational ethicist will be less likely to do what is morally right {‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 134-5, 141-2, 148]; Sorting Out Ethics: 11-3; ‘Is medical ethics lost? Response from Professor Hare’: 238; Moral Thinking: 36; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 176; ‘Principles’: 10; Freedom and Reason: 41; The Language of Morals: 61, 158; ‘Universalisability’: 305, 310-1; ‘Reasons of State’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 21-2]}.

752. In the case of functional words, what distinguishes classes of comparison?     [Top]
For functional words (e.g., ‘auger’, ‘hygrometer’, ‘soldier’, ‘servant’, ‘sports car’, ‘family car’, ‘taxi’), classes of comparison are distinguished by the virtues – the good-making characteristics – of the objects that are members of the classes. Thus, in the very act of classifying functional words, standards of evaluation are used; this explains why functional words are not purely descriptive {‘Geach: Good and Evil’: 108-9; The Language of Morals: 100, 133}.

753. Why do we have standards?     [Top]
We have standards for a class of objects in order to help someone actually or conceivably choose one member of the class over another member of the class. Even when standards are applied to past actions or events, choice is implicated because the point may be to help someone learn the standards and so guide conceivable future choices {‘How did Morality Get a Bad Name?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 88]; The Language of Morals: 128-9}.

754. Why do we commend?     [Top]
We commend (and condemn) in order to guide choices, if not directly, then indirectly. These choices may be our own or someone else’s, and they may be present choices or future choices, or actual or possible {‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 51-2]; The Language of Morals: 127}.

755. How can a change in language trigger a change in standard?     [Top]
There are two main ways in which a change in language can bring about a change in standard. First, evaluative force can be used to change the descriptive meaning (i.e., truth conditions or material semantics) which then changes the standard. Second, a word can lose its evaluative meaning, thereby becoming purely descriptive; this is the conventional or inverted-commas use {Sorting Out Ethics: 54; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 176-7]; The Language of Morals: 119-20, 147-50}.

756. How does universal prescriptivism account for the authoritativeness of morality?     [Top]
The descriptive meaning of the moral words and the upbringing we have had explain why we take moral judgments to have an authority – an objectivity – beyond ourselves. Especially at the intuitive level of moral thinking, our moral judgments or principles appear to us as true and almost have the status of facts {‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 104]; The Language of Morals: 178-9, 195}.

757. Is ‘man’ in ‘good man’ a functional word?     [Top]
No. In most cases, those ordinary ones in which ‘man’ means ‘member of the human species’, ‘man’ in ‘good man’ is not a functional word. In such cases, ‘good man’ is not descriptive but evaluative, and the meaning of neither ‘good’ nor ‘man’ supplies the standard which specifies the traits of a good man; the standard must instead come from a decision as to which traits to put into the standard. But if ‘man’ were turned into a functional word, then ‘good man’ would acquire a fixed descriptive meaning which would supply the standard. The same is the case with ‘action’ in ‘good action’ or ‘human action’; ‘action’ is here usually not a functional word. In general, when the context is a moral context, the word following ‘good’ is not functional {‘Moral Terms’: [Encyclopedia of Ethics: 870]; ‘Plato and the Mathematicians’: 37; ‘Geach: Good and Evil’: 108-11; The Language of Morals: 145}.

758. When we say that an action is good, what is being commended?     [Top]
Whenever we use ‘good’ to commend morally, we are indirectly commending people. Language reflects this indirection by more commonly using ‘right action’ rather than ‘good action’ {The Language of Morals: 144}.

759. Is Kohlberg’s highest level of moral development the same as universal prescriptivism’s critical level of moral thinking?     [Top]
No. Although Kohlberg calls the highest level of moral development universalism, he confuses universality with generality. His most morally mature people are therefore actually not yet doing critical moral thinking. They are not yet doing critical moral thinking because such thinking mostly involves thinking with universal specific, not universal general, principles in order to decide which universal general principles should be adopted at the lower intuitive level of moral thinking {‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 138]}.

760. What is the mark of a good philosopher?     [Top]
The mark of a good philosopher is the ability to recognize what is true and what is false in others’ theories and to incorporate only the truths into one’s own theory {‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 132]; Sorting Out Ethics: 126; ‘What Are Cities For? The Ethics of Urban Planning’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 205]}.

761. What is philosophy?     [Top]
Philosophy is the study of arguments so that we may be able to tell the good ones from the bad ones; so it is a kind of logic, very broadly construed. This study requires that we understand the sentences making up the arguments, and understanding those sentences requires that we get clear on the meaning or logical properties of the words and concepts used in those sentences. So the core of philosophy is the study and elucidation of concepts. As such a study, which began with Socrates’ insistence on the importance of getting clear on the concepts involved before trying to answer questions of substance framed in terms of those concepts, philosophy is both good in itself, because it can be enjoyable, and useful because it can clarify both the moral issues and the need for individuals to make moral decisions {‘Philosophy and Conflict’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 57]; ‘What Are Cities For? The Ethics of Urban Planning’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 204-5]; Plato: 40; ‘The Simple Believer’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 24]; ‘Language and Moral Education’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 154, 156]; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 99, 101-2]; ‘Broad’s Approach to Moral Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 13-5]}.

762. What are mores?     [Top]
Mores are the moral principles that are generally accepted in a society {Sorting Out Ethics: 122}.

763. In what ways can an ethical theory go wrong?     [Top]
There are two main ways in which an ethical theory can go wrong.

  • The ethical theory can make the possible impossible: leaving out some moral claims which can be agreed upon through moral reasoning.
  • The ethical theory can seem to make the impossible possible: including some moral claims which cannot be established by moral reasoning.

  • More particularly, any adequate ethical theory must meed all of the following requirements: neutrality, practicality, incompatibility, logicality, arguability, and conciliation {Sorting Out Ethics: 118-25}.

    764. Besides universal prescriptivism, are there other rationalist non-descriptivist ethical theories?     [Top]
    Gibbard’s norm-expressivism seems also to be a kind of rationalist non-descriptivism, but it might instead be an emotivism, which, though non-descriptivist, tend to be less rationalist {Sorting Out Ethics: 103-4, 117; Hare and Critics: 210}.

    765. How does universal prescriptivism, unlike descriptivism, avoid relativism?     [Top]
    Universal prescriptivism avoids collapsing into relativism because, first, it is a kind of non-descriptivism and therefore allows moral terms to have prescriptive meaning which can be constant across cultures even though descriptive meaning might differ. Second, universal prescriptivism is built on the logical properties of the moral words and concepts, and these logical properties are formal features of moral discourse that also cut across cultures {‘A New Kind of Ethical Naturalism?’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 85]; ‘Philippa Foot on Subjectivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 89]; Sorting Out Ethics: 87, 102, 137-8}.

    766. Are there things that are evil in themselves?     [Top]
    Yes. Envy is an evil in itself. It is also evil in itself to do to someone what contravenes her will, for no one can want this {‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 29]; ‘Opportunity for What?’: 215}.

    767. Why is moral particularism mistaken?     [Top]
    Moral particularism, the view that moral judgments have to be made completely anew on each occasion, is mistaken for two main reasons. The first reason is theoretical. Moral particularism, perhaps due to confusion over the difference between ‘universal’ and ‘general’, denies the thesis of universalizability. A clear consequence of this denial is that the moral particularist cannot make moral judgments about fictional characters; for universal terms must be used in describing such characters, as indeed they must be used in order to describe any person or action. The second reason is practical. Because of human limitations, we have to rely at least to some extent on intuitive-level general principles in order to help us cope with the complexity of the world {Sorting Out Ethics: 97; ‘What is Life?’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 68]; Freedom and Reason: 41; The Language of Morals: 61, 158}.

    768. Is existence itself a benefit?     [Top]
    No. Existence is only beneficial as a necessary means to the benefits to be had in an enjoyable life {‘Possible People’: [Essays on Bioethics: 71]; ‘When does Potentiality Count?’: [Essays on Bioethics: 87]}.

    769. Why is the reality of moral disagreement so important theoretically?     [Top]
    That when two or more people are having a moral disagreement only one of them is correct is of great theoretical important because it can be used to reject a number of ethical theories. In particular, the reality of moral disagreement shows that naturalism and intuitionism have to be rejected. In the case of naturalism, moral disagreement ensures that there will have to be different sets of truth conditions for moral judgments; or, if it is claimed that different senses are being used, then the naturalist is stuck with claiming that there is no real moral disagreement. In the case of intuitionism, while conformity to intuition provides a single set of truth conditions, intuitions themselves will conflict, thus leading to relativism again {Sorting Out Ethics: 91-2}.

    770. How does politics masquerade as philosophy?     [Top]
    Some people have a certain political outlook because they have certain moral intuitions. Then, because they use these moral intuitions and more emotion than reason in their philosophizing, instead of using a reliable method, their philosophies simply wind up being dressed-up expressions of their politics. To the uncritical, it looks like they are doing sound philosophy, but the real driving force is their politics informed by their moral intuitions and so to that extent is unsound philosophy {‘The Role of Philosophers in the Legislative Process’: [Essays on Political Morality: 2, 4]; ‘Liberty and Equality’: [Essays on Political Morality: 126-7, 131]}.

    771. What is the difference between incorrect use and application of a word?     [Top]
    Incorrect use of a word is using a word in such a way that it does not carry its standard meaning. Incorrect application of a word involves applying the word in its standard meaning to objects to which it is not standardly applied. Both of these kinds of errors need to be eliminated when we investigate standard usage in order to discover truth conditions for moral judgments or statements {Sorting Out Ethics: 71-2}.

    772. Why should definitions lack content?     [Top]
    Definitions should lack content so that questions are not begged. An example of a definition lacking content is the definition of formal liberty: individuals themselves are typically the best judges of what they now and for themselves prefer. This definition lacks content because it does not say what the individuals prefer, only that they prefer something and that it is up to them as to what that something might be {Plato: 64, 67; ‘Liberty and Equality’: [Essays on Political Morality: 124, 131-2]; Freedom and Reason: 27}.

    773. How is morality passed down from one generation to another?     [Top]
    Both rational and non-rational techniques are and must be used in order to get our children to become moral beings. When they are very young, only non-rational methods of instruction can be used; when they are older, both techniques can be used to good effect. The goal in either case is to produce adults who can do moral thinking on their own. The non-rational methods include:

    • placing children in group environments in which they can experience first-hand the effects of the moral failings of others and in which there are good traditions of dealing with such failings;
    • setting good moral examples for children by being morally good while also being the kinds of people children want to imitate (e.g., sports stars, musicians, actors, and so on).

    From these methods of non-rational instruction, children of all ages will absorb essential components of a moral life: realizing that they are similar to others, acquiring a sympathetic imagination, learning to follow rules that all participants have freely accepted. All the while this learning to universalize is going on without their noticing it, we should also be using, when appropriate, rational techniques of reason-giving so that the children will one day be able to do critical moral thinking on their own and be able to pass this thinking on down to their own children {‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 314-6; ‘Adolescents into Adults’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 61-6]}.

    774. Is morality innate?     [Top]
    No. Morality is neither innate nor natural; it is an invention. Morality has to be passed down like a tradition from one generation to another. But what is passed down is more a way of thinking rather than a set of principles or rules to be followed unthinkingly; that is to say, what is passed down is more the form of morality than the content of a particular morality {‘How did Morality Get a Bad Name?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 97]; ‘Language and Moral Education’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 156-7]; ‘Adolescents into Adults’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 59-60]}.

    775. Are there any ends in themselves?     [Top]
    No. All ends presuppose desires {Hare and Critics: 215}.

    776. Does anything in morals turn on the actual use of words?     [Top]
    No. Neither the words we use nor their definitions can decide moral questions for us. But it is important to be clear about what is meant by saying that nothing in morals turns on the actual use of words. What is meant is that the particular words or sounds used to express certain concepts are of no significance for morals; the concepts behind the words and sounds, however, are significant. So while universal prescriptivism is built on the logic of the moral words and on the way people actually use those words and hence is an empirical theory subject to scientific testing, what is really meant is that universal prescriptivism is built on the logic of the moral concepts and how people actually make use of those concepts in their moral thinking, regardless of the particular words they use to express those concepts. In short, to study the words is to study the concepts (e.g., prescriptivity and universalizability) on which moral reasoning is grounded {Sorting Out Ethics: 5-7; ‘Foundationalism and Coherentism in Ethics’: 194; Hare and Critics: 291; ‘Why Do Applied Ethics?’: 231; ‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 97-8]; Plato: 65-6; Moral Thinking: 81-2, 87; ‘The Argument from Received Opinion’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 125-7]; ‘What is Life?’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 69]; Freedom and Reason: 86-93, 164-5, 201-2; ‘Broad’s Approach to Moral Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 5]}.

    777. Can needs be the basis for an ethical theory?     [Top]
    No. Talk of needs always must be supplemented with an account of what the needs are for; that is, an end must be specified which the need serves. But even after specifying the end, the justification is not complete; for ends are goods we achieve through actions we do in order to satisfy desires, and so the question of which ends to pursue calls for a moral decision and thus moral thinking {Hare and Critics: 214-5; ‘Descriptivism’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 72-3]}.

    778. Are there spheres of morality?     [Top]
    Yes. There is a social sphere of morality involving moral rules governing conduct that affects others’ interests. There is also another more individual sphere which concerns the pursuit of personal ideals {‘Principles’: 13; ‘Adolescents into Adults’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 64-5]; Freedom and Reason: 151-2, 157}.

    779. Why do ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ not mark out a real distinction between values?     [Top]
    When people speak of objective and subjective values, they are just using different words to characterize the same experience. Also, that ‘wrong’ can be used to contradict moral judgments or to show that one party in a moral dispute must be mistaken does not establish a real difference between objective and subjective values {‘Nothing Matters’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 39-45]; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 48-9]}.

    780. On what grounds can actions be morally assessed?     [Top]
    There are at least two logically distinct, but still possibly related, grounds on which actions may be morally assessed.

    • Actions may be morally assessed on utilitarian grounds which take other people’s interests into consideration.
    • Actions may be morally assessed on idealist grounds. The moral ideals used to ground the assessment resemble aesthetic ideals and concern what kind of person one should be.

    The moral judgments based on these differing grounds owe their difference to whether they do or do not regard the interests of others {Freedom and Reason: 147-9, 153, 176-7; ‘Reasons of State’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 12-3]}.

    781. Can values be totally annihilated?     [Top]
    No. Because we humans are valuing beings, everyone has concern for something. We may have concern for different things, or some of us may have very little to no concern for many things, but there is always something for which an individual has concern {‘Nothing Matters’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 38-9]}.

    782. Are there moral questions not involving interests?     [Top]
    Yes. Besides moral questions involving only interests, there are moral questions involving only ideals. Some examples of moral questions concerning only ideals include the morality of well-paid pretty girls undressing at strip clubs, the morality of choosing to become a stockbroker rather than an army officer, the morality of foregoing an additional accolade so that another may instead receive acclaim, the morality of choosing to live a spartan or luxurious life. In all these examples, it is possible either that interests are not affected or that, if they are, they are affected equally, so that interests can be ignored and the issue is only about competing ideals of human excellence {Freedom and Reason: 147-8}.

    783. Has there been any moral progress?     [Top]
    Yes. A case in point is the moral progress made in abandoning the belligerent patriotism or nationalism that led to the two world wars in the last century. Due to some critical moral thinking done, perhaps without really realizing it, by citizens of the Western democracies, people are now brought up to acquire moral convictions more in line with a non-aggressive patriotism. A more trivial but no less real example from the last century was the transition in attitudes regarding the acceptability of mixed bathing; in this case, critical-level moral thinking by utilitarians led to a change in public attitudes away from the Victorian morality of the nineteenth century {‘Why Do Applied Ethics?’: 234; ‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 11-2; ‘The Argument from Received Opinion’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 127]}.

    784. What, in outline, is the solution to the problem of what moral principles we should accept?     [Top]
    The solution to the problem of what moral principles we should accept has the following general form:

    • verify that the candidate propositions meet the formal requirements of universalizability and prescriptivity;
    • determine which proposition will do best for all those who would be affected by the general adoption of each candidate proposition;
    • approve of the proposition that does do best;
    • accept for general adoption the approved proposition.

    The above is a kind of critical moral thinking algorithm for deciding which propositions should be accepted as moral principles at the intuitive level of moral thinking {‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 8}.

    785. Why is a rational non-descriptivism such as universal prescriptivism hard for many people to accept?     [Top]
    Morally well brought-up people come to think of their moral convictions or intuitions as having the status of facts. Consequently, they come to think that moral judgments must be fact-stating or purely descriptive. So a rational non-descriptivism is hard for some to accept because they have not seen that a two-level utilitarianism such as that supported by universal prescriptivism argues that people should be brought up to have such firm moral convictions, along with the moral sensibilities that are offended when such moral convictions are violated, because having them is the best way to maximize overall expected utility. They have not seen, that is, how a non-descriptivism could yet be compatible with having firm moral convictions; they are compatible because moral statements, though non-descriptive or prescriptive, are still subject to logical rules which can provide a framework for moral reasoning which in turn argues for the need for the intuitive level of moral thinking {Sorting Out Ethics: 114-5; ‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 5-6; ‘Do Agents Have to be Moralists?’: 57}.

    786. Are prudential judgments universalizable?     [Top]
    Prudential judgments are not universalizable in the same sense in which moral judgments are universalizable. So, although prudential judgments are universalizable after a fashion, there is a crucial difference between their universalizability and the universalizability to which moral judgments are subject. The crucial difference is that only the prudential judgments retain a reference to self after universalization; they remain partial to self whereas moral thinking leads typically to judgments that are impartial. In other words, even after universalizing the prudential judgment ‘I (prudentially) ought to do action A in situation S in order to satisfy my preferences’, the result which applies to any similar person also in a situation similar to S is ‘Person P (prudentially) ought to do action A in situation S in order to satisfy P’s preferences’ and not ‘Anyone (morally) ought to do action A in situation S in order to satisfy P’s preferences’. In short, morality does not typically require that anyone do what is in some specific individual’s interest {Sorting Out Ethics: 98; Hare and Critics: 214, 257; ‘Do Agents Have to be Moralists?’: 55; ‘Relevance’: 85}.

    787. Who is the good person?     [Top]
    The good person is the person who has firmly implanted prima facie moral principles as determined by critical moral thinking; following these implanted principles will almost always lead the good person, the person with a will good without qualification, to do what is morally right {Sorting Out Ethics: 164; ‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 142, 145]; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 129}.

    788. How has universal prescriptivism evolved since its beginnings in the 1950s?     [Top]
    One way universal prescriptivism has evolved is in its relation to utilitarianism. In the early days, the connection to utilitarianism was rather tentative. Later, universal prescriptivism became much more closely associated with utilitarianism, though still retaining its original more Kantian flavor or spirit by never abandoning its formal foundation in the logic of the moral words. In fact, in the normative ethical theory to which universal prescriptivism leads, the utilitarian and Kantian elements are so tightly integrated that the overall theory (metaethical and normative) is a kind of non-descriptivist Kantian utilitarianism. Along the way there have been refinements and new arguments added, but beyond the move toward utilitarianism little has changed in the central features of universal prescriptivism. Universal prescriptivism remains, as it was from the start, rationalist rather than irrationalist; prescriptivity and universalizability (though not called that at the start) have always been the central features of its account of moral reasoning; and it has been consistent throughout in its responding to the fanatic by pointing out that fanaticism is theoretically possible but practically insignificant {Hare and Critics: 201-4; ‘How to Decide Moral Questions Rationally’: 73; ‘Why Do Applied Ethics?’: 227; ‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 3-4; Moral Thinking: 4; ‘The Simple Believer’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 30]; ‘The Argument from Received Opinion’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 126]; Freedom and Reason: 122-3}.

    789. How are the form and content of morality related?     [Top]
    The content of morality follows the form of morality. The ‘follows’ is not deductive or strict logical entailment. But if the formal features of moral language, principally universalizability and prescriptivity, are recognized and incorporated into one’s life, the path to the content of morality is so severely constrained that it is very, very unlikely, given the way people and the world are, that the content will be defective in some serious way. This following relation helps explain why, if parents consistently and frequently model the formal features of moral language in their relationship to each other, their children will almost always develop a morality the content of which is one of love rather than hate {‘Language and Moral Education’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 171]}.

    790. Why might someone of good character do an act that is not morally right?     [Top]
    There are at least a couple of ways in which someone of good character (i.e., someone who is disposed always to do what one ought to do) might do an act – and do it in part precisely because she has good character – that is not morally right.

    • The morally good person might stick to her intuitive-level principles because she is not fully informed and also doubts (knowing her own limitations) that she can figure out on her own what would be the morally right action. She is here morally good and does the morally rational action.
    • The morally good person might stick to her intuitive-level principles because she, while knowing or at least suspecting that her intuitive-level principles do not in this particular case identify the morally rational action, is psychologically unable to bring herself to act against her longstanding moral convictions or intuitions. She is here again morally good but does not do the morally rational action.

    These are very probably just two possibilities among many of being morally good and yet acting in a manner that is not morally right {‘A Utilitarian Approach to Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 155]; ‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 142]; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 127; “Freedom and Reason*: 133}.

    791. Why is the deontology and teleology distinction a false distinction?     [Top]
    The distinction between teleological and deontological theories is spurious because no distinction can be made between the effect of an action and the character of an action itself that could be the basis for a distinction between moral judgments; the only distinction that would help distinguish moral judgments is one between intended effects {Freedom and Reason: 124}.

    792. Why is having parents who love each other the most important element in moral education?     [Top]
    Having parents who love each other is the most important element in moral education because such parents model, consistently and frequently, for the children what love, the foundation of morality, is {‘Language and Moral Education’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 170]}.

    793. Should an agent be blamed for doing a morally rational action that turns out to be morally wrong?     [Top]
    No. Because the morally rational action is the action that is most likely to be morally right and because we ideally want people always to do what is morally right, we should not blame someone for doing a morally rational action that turns out, judging by the final outcome, to be morally wrong. Blaming such a person might lead to more frequent departures from morally rational action and thus to a greater incidence of actions that are less likely to be morally right {‘A Utilitarian Approach to Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 155]; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 126}.

    794. Why does universal prescriptivism not use the concept of happiness very much?     [Top]
    Universal prescriptivism eschews the concept of happiness because it is an indeterminate and problematic concept. Its troubles perhaps arise most from its complexity, for when we claim that someone is happy our attribution, which is not a statement of fact, involves at least:

    • imagination,
    • assessments from various standpoints,
    • determinations of whether specific desires are satisfied,
    • judging whether entire desire-sets are acceptable.

    So the concept of happiness is not an empirical concept and not so easy to work with as the empirically-minded utilitarians had hoped {Freedom and Reason: 125-9}.

    795. What is it to be morally educated?     [Top]
    To be morally educated consists of the following:

    • learning to do moral thinking, to use the moral concepts, which is learning shaped in large part by the moral language we learn to speak as children;
    • adopting a set of moral principles;
    • choosing a way of life;
    • being an autonomous decision-maker;
    • recognizing consequences or the effects of actions;
    • understanding the feelings of others;
    • sensing the feelings of others.

    All of these, even the last one regarding sympathetic feeling, are implicit in the formal features of moral thinking. Also, it should not be assumed that any of these is ever fully accomplished, for one might adopt a set of moral principles but later modify some of those principles. Moral education is a life-long, ongoing process {‘Language and Moral Education’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 157, 159, 163, 167, 170]}.

    796. What are the relations between morally good, morally right, and morally rational actions?     [Top]
    By distinguishing between morally good, morally right, and morally rational actions, the relations between them can be discerned.

    • The morally rational action is the action that is most likely or probably to be morally right; it could, however, not be morally right.
    • The morally right action is the action that accords with perfectly-executed critical moral thinking; it may be neither the morally rational nor the morally good action (as those are characterized here).
    • The morally good action is the action that a morally good or well-educated person would do; this action might not be morally right, but it is typically (but not always) morally rational.

    Intuitive-level moral principles typically (but not always) prescribe morally rational actions and morally good actions and approximate the morally right action {‘A Utilitarian Approach to Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 155]; ‘On Terrorism’: [Essays on Political Morality: 41]; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 125-8; Freedom and Reason: 152; The Language of Morals: 186}.

    797. Can moral education be done in a morally neutral manner?     [Top]
    Yes. Because the logic of the moral words is purely formal, neither containing nor entailing by itself any substantial moral opinions, moral education can be conducted in a morally neutral manner. If the education is focused on teaching the logic of the moral words, on the how – the procedures or methodology – of moral thinking, then the teaching can still be morally neutral even if the teachers themselves have substantial moral opinions on moral issues. The key is not to aim at indoctrinating students so that they hold certain substantive moral beliefs; rather, the aim should be to produce autonomous thinkers who can arrive at answers to moral questions by doing their own moral thinking because they have been taught how, not what, to think morally {‘Value Education in a Pluralist Society: A Philosophical Glance at the Humanities Curriculum Project’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 142-3, 148-9]; ‘Autonomy as an Educational Ideal’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 135-6]}.

    798. What is the real veil of ignorance?     [Top]
    The real veil of ignorance, as opposed to the artificial veil imposed by Rawls’ theory, is the veil of ordinary human life: being relatively ignorant of information relevant to our actions, being incapable of much self-mastery and so prone, through self-interest, to self-deception; and being under time-constraints which do not allow us to do our best thinking. It is because of the presence of this real veil that we need intuitive-level prima facie moral principles; the veil would otherwise cause us to make too many mistakes in our moral thinking {‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 124}.

    799. What is morality?     [Top]
    Morality is the earnest search by beings, who have both freedom and reason, for overriding universally-binding prescriptive principles. It is thus a search for a kind of language to help them decide how to live with other beings {‘How did Morality Get a Bad Name?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 94]; ‘Satanism and Nihilism’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 102, 110]; ‘Appendix: Rejoinder to G. J. Warnock’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 176-7]; ‘Language and Moral Education’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 161]; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 114]}.

    800. When should philosophers become professionally interested in a discussion?     [Top]
    Philosophers should be prepared to apply their craft to something that is said only when what is said would be false, incomprehensible, or inconsistent {Freedom and Reason: 58}.

    801. What are some necessary conditions for virtue?     [Top]
    There are at least three conditions necessary for a person to have virtue:

    • right actions
    • good dispositions
    • understanding and knowledge of why they are right and good.

    If one satisfies the first two conditions, then one can do intuitive moral thinking; if one also satisfies the third, then one is also capable of critical moral thinking {‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 145]}.

    802. Why is moral philosophy so difficult but also fascinating?     [Top]
    Moral philosophy is difficult and yet fascinating because of the need to keep the following matrix of relations in mind at all times.

    Features ‘ought’ decisions and imperatives descriptive judgments
    imply ‘can’ yes yes no
    universalizable yes no yes

    The ‘ought’ here is the full force ‘ought’ of universal prescriptivity {Freedom and Reason: 56}.

    803. Is an ethics of caring incompatible with universal prescriptivism?     [Top]
    No. Caring, which has not been neglected by previous philosophers and is only one part of morality (another part being, for instance, impartiality or justice), plays a prominent role in the Kantian utilitarianism supported by universal prescriptivism {‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 138-9, 142-3, 145]}.

    804. How does ethical theory benefit from being applied in moral discussion about real-life practical issues?     [Top]
    Ethical theory can benefit from being applied in moral discussion about real-life practical issues because such discussion, if done well, can eliminate from contention theories that do not survive the discussion. A discussion conducted without factual or logical error and without special pleading or confusion is thus a kind of test of an ethical theory {‘Why Do Applied Ethics?’: 234-6; ‘Little Human Guinea-Pigs?’: 76-7; ‘Principles’: 18}.

    805. What is a crucial question with regard to moral education?     [Top]
    A crucial question for moral educators is what moral intuitions, dispositions, convictions, and so on, we ought to raise our children to have. Answering this question, and even asking it, puts us into the critical level of moral thinking {‘Utilitarianism and the Vicarious Affects’: 148; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 124}.

    806. Is virtue ethics incompatible with an ethics of duties or of principles such as universal prescriptivism?     [Top]
    No. Virtue ethics and universal prescriptivism are compatible. This can be seen, as even Aristotle saw, by noting that specifying the virtues requires specifying what feelings or dispositions we are to cultivate in ourselves and what actions we are habitually to do; in short, it is to specify what moral character we ought to have. But specifying such things, which is also to lay out what our duties are, requires that we state our moral principles such as that anyone with a certain set of universal properties in a situation with a certain set of universal properties ought to act in such and such a way {‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 135-7, 141-2]; Hare and Critics: 279-80}.

    807. What does an ethical theory tell us?     [Top]
    An ethical (or, that is, metaethical) theory tells us how to distinguish good moral arguments from bad moral arguments, and it does this by offering a theoretical account that, through a prior account of the meanings of the moral concepts, identifies the rules that people use in their moral thinking when it is done well. The end result of the account is a method of moral reasoning that we can use as a rational means to adjudicate between the interests or preferences of people when they differ (e.g., without factual or logical errors and without special pleading or confusion) {‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 133]; Sorting Out Ethics: 43-5, 118; ‘The Role of Philosophers in the Legislative Process’: [Essays on Political Morality: 2]; ‘Why Do Applied Ethics?’: 226, 233; ‘Little Human Guinea-Pigs?’: 76-7; ‘Contrasting Methods of Environmental Planning’: [Essays on Political Morality: 235]}.

    808. What are some characteristics of a wise person?     [Top]
    Wise people are the people we turn to for advice about, among other things, moral matters and whose advice we still accept even after absorbing the consequences of either heeding or not heeding that advice. Such people tend to have these characteristics:

    • experience in the matter for which we are seeking advice;
    • good judgment about probable consequences;
    • uses moral principles, and thus universal principles, in her reasoning;
    • recognizes the separation of levels in moral thinking;
    • attends to details in her thinking;
    • adopts a sympathetic point of view.

    If a person has these characteristics, then we can generally expect that when all is said and done we will accept the person’s advice as having been the advice of a wise person {‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 190]; ‘Rights, Utility, and Universalization Reply to J. L. Mackie’: 109; ‘Utility and Rights: Comment on David Lyons’s Essay’: 156; Freedom and Reason: 47-8}.

    809. Do all languages have equivalent primary value-words?     [Top]
    Probably not. There might be some languages that do not have words which are equivalent to primary value-words such as ‘ought’ and ‘wrong’. In those rare cases, the users of those unusual languages could learn such primary value-words and do so without having to unlearn any of their own language; and they would have to learn such primary value-words if they wanted to think rationally about those topics which can only be thought about through the mediation of those words {‘A Reductio Ad Absurdum of Descriptivism’: 126, 133}.

    810. What are some necessary conditions for adhering to a rule or for governing one’s conduct in accordance with a rule?     [Top]
    There are at least two conditions required for adhering to a rule or for governing one’s conduct in accordance with a rule.

    • One must have at least occasionally considered or intermittently entertained the rule.
    • A desire to conform to the rule must have been part of one’s motivation in acting.

    These conditions would not be met by someone blindly acting on a whim {Freedom and Reason: 31-2}.

    811. What are some weaknesses of the missionary-converting-cannibals example in The Language of Morals?     [Top]
    Used as an example to show how moral disputes can be resolved without violence, the missionary-converting-cannibals example has some drawbacks. First, there are side-issues regarding the legitimacy of conversion. Second, force was probably used in many historical cases to effect the conversion. Third, the conversions probably did not occur through rational discussion. But it must be remembered that the main purpose of the example was to illustrate that the evaluative, not descriptive, meaning of ‘good’ is primary {‘A Reductio Ad Absurdum of Descriptivism’: 119-20; The Language of Morals: 148-9}.

    812. What is the general philosophical approach of universal prescriptivism?     [Top]
    The general philosophical approach of universal prescriptivism is that approach which has been called analytic. Within the analytic tradition, universal prescriptivism’s approach is more specifically in line with ordinary-language or linguistic philosophy according to which the use of words is philosophy’s specific object of interest. Universal prescriptivism takes this approach in the belief that the source of philosophical problems lies in the abandonment of everyday language in favor of technical jargon or uses, for a loss of meaning or sense often accompanies the abandonment and this loss may cause us to be deceived. For example, according to this ordinary-language approach, the conceptual difficulties that beset us and which it is the job of philosophers to sort out, turn out to be symptomatic of a failure to understand the meaning of the words we are using when we say what we say; that is why universal prescriptivism puts so much emphasis on the meanings of the moral words. This generally linguistic approach also explains why universal prescriptivism finds it important to put things linguistically rather than ontologically or psychologically; for example, the psychological notion of wanting should be cast linguistically in terms of prescriptions {Sorting Out Ethics: 2; ‘Philosophy and Conflict’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 57]; Hare and Critics: 205, 288-9; ‘Health’: [Essays on Bioethics: 32]; ‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 205; ‘Wrongness and Harm’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 98]; ‘Wanting: Some Pitfalls’: [Practical Inferences: 47, 51, 57-8]; ‘Adolescents into Adults’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 57]; ‘A School for Philosophers’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 45, 50]; ‘Can I Be Blamed for Obeying Orders?’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 3]}.

    813. Is there anything unique about universal prescriptivism?     [Top]
    The feature of universal prescriptivism that perhaps sets it apart from – and ultimately makes it better and stronger than – all other contemporary ethical theories is what it takes to be the foundation of ethics. Universal prescriptivism sees ethics as a branch of logic, in particular as the study of moral argument, and accordingly takes the foundation to be the logic of the moral words. This foundation, which – like logic generally – has its source in how we use language, is more secure than that provided by other theories; for this foundation is purely formal and makes no appeal to substantial moral convictions {‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: 177-8; ‘Broad’s Approach to Moral Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 13]}.

    814. What is the significance of ‘shall’ in ‘What shall I do?’?     [Top]
    The use of ‘shall’ in ‘What shall I do?’ or in ‘What attitude shall I adopt?’ or in ‘What principle shall I accept?’ is intended to make it clear that a decision of principle is involved and that the answer to such questions is not a statement or prediction (as could be the case if the questions used ‘do’ or ‘will’ instead of ‘shall’) but rather a command or prescription arrived at through critical moral thinking {‘Some Confusions About Subjectivity’: 192}.

    815. Why is the is/ought debate not trivial?     [Top]
    It might be thought (e.g., by Singer) that the is/ought debate is trivial, in the following way. Both prescriptivists and descriptivists are agreed that there is a logical gap between factual statements and dispositions to action; logic alone cannot get from one to the other. But prescriptivists and descriptivists disagree about exactly where to put the gap: prescriptivists argue that the gap goes between factual statements and moral judgments, for there is no gap between moral judgments and dispositions to action; descriptivists argue that the gap goes between moral judgments and dispositions to action, for there is no gap between factual statements and moral judgments. Since, then, the gap cannot be removed by either set of theorists, the location of the gap matters little, and so the debate is trivial. But it is not trivial, for both theoretical and practical reasons. The theoretical reason is that if moral ought-judgments were derivable from is-statements, then they would not be prescriptive and thus golden-rule type arguments, which require prescriptivity, would not work. The practical reason is that the loss of prescriptivity would result in the erosion of moral convictions and of the dispositions to act on those convictions {‘Why Moral Language?’: 87; Moral Thinking: 189}.

    816. Can we know how to use a term without also being able to say how to use the term?     [Top]
    Yes. Knowing how is not the same as being able to say how. For example, it is possible for a child, who does not understand ‘mean’, to use a term such as ‘mother’ and yet not be able to say how to use the term {‘Philosophical Discoveries’: 154, 160}.

    817. What is the most important part of moral education?     [Top]
    The most important part of moral education is learning to do critical moral thinking well and learning when to do it {‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 315}.

    818. Are all distinctions empirical distinctions?     [Top]
    No. Evaluative distinctions, for example, are not empirical {‘Philosophical Discoveries’: 149}.

    819. Can a Machiavellian prince who does not subscribe to promise-keeping still use ‘promise’ in order to make promises?     [Top]
    Yes. If a sufficiently large percentage of the population accepts the moral constitutive rule that ‘promise’ is used for making promises and the prince is successful in keeping his true views about promise-keeping secret, the prince can, without contradiction, go on making and then breaking promises as he sees fit; for he knows that he was only pretending {‘The Promising Game’: 409-10}.

    820. Is morality invented or discovered?     [Top]
    Morality is more invented than discovered. Morality is at bottom a kind of language, and language is an institution of human origin. The concepts used in this human institution which is morality were either invented by humans or were developed along with humans. The content of morality, similarly, has to be reached through rational human decision-making; the content cannot be looked up in an external authoritative source {Sorting Out Ethics: 122; ‘How did Morality Get a Bad Name?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 94, 97]; ‘Rights, Utility, and Universalization Reply to J. L. Mackie’: 118; ‘Appendix: Rejoinder to G. J. Warnock’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 176-7]; ‘Language and Moral Education’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 156-7]; Freedom and Reason: 73}.

    821. What would happen if everyone rejected the moral principle that one ought to keep one’s promises?     [Top]
    If nobody believed that one ought to keep one’s promises, then it would become impossible to make a promise because ‘promise’ would become meaningless, mere noise, or would acquire a new meaning unattached to promising. This, however, is not what makes breaking promises prima facie morally wrong, for it is possible to universalize a promise-breaking prescription for circumstances in which the promise-breaking remains hidden and so would not undermine the institution of promising. What does make promise-breaking wrong is that we cannot accept the promise-breaker’s end that involves our own deception {Sorting Out Ethics: 154; ‘The Promising Game’: 409, 411-2}.

    822. What does universal prescriptivism teach us?     [Top]
    The fundamental teaching of universal prescriptivism is that our moral language has only two rules for how we are to use the moral vocabulary it gives us: the moral words are to be used prescriptively and universalizably. The two rules, in other words, point out that genuinely thinking or sincerely asserting that one ought to do something is to be, or become, disposed to do it and to prescribe that others do it in exactly similar situations {‘Platonism in Moral Education: Two Varieties’: 577}.

    823. Why is much of The Language of Morals devoted to elucidation of the non-moral uses of the moral words?     [Top]
    By illustrating the logical properties of the moral words when they are used in non-moral contexts, it is possible to make it clear that the logical properties of the moral words do not derive specifically from morals itself or from ‘moral’. The advantage of this contextual commonality is that the non-moral uses, though not always perfectly identical to the moral uses, are often simpler, and can then be used to help us better understand the moral uses, thus helping to achieve the ultimate goal of showing that morals can be a rational activity {‘Moral Terms’: [Encyclopedia of Ethics: 868]; ‘Appendix: Rejoinder to G. J. Warnock’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 173-4]; Freedom and Reason: 37; The Language of Morals: 2-3, 45, 80, 85}.

    824. To what are ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ properly applied?     [Top]
    Both ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ are properly applied to kinds of facts. In particular, ‘objective’ applies to facts which obtain independently of the mental states of perceivers or those making moral judgments; ‘subjective’ applies to facts about a perceiver’s mental state or about the relation between that mental state and other objects (such as those that play a role in causing that mental state) {‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 623}.

    825. What does it mean to be impartial?     [Top]
    Impartiality requires that in our moral thinking we take no account of individuals as those individuals. There are other ways to put this, too: formal justice; giving equal positive weight to the equal interests of all affected parties; counting everybody for one and no one for more than one; who plays what role in the situation under review is not considered relevant {‘Moral Problems about the Control of Behaviour’: [Essays on Bioethics: 54]; ‘Rights, Utility, and Universalization Reply to J. L. Mackie’: 110; Moral Thinking: 162, 211; ‘Rules of War and Moral Reasoning’: 169}.

    826. Are the levels in two-level utilitarianism related to the levels in the two levels of moral thinking?     [Top]
    Yes. The levels in two-level utilitarianism are related, but not the same as, the levels in the two levels of moral thinking. Utilitarianism can be split into two levels in the sense that rule-utilitarianism can be divided into specific rule-utilitarianism (which is equivalent to act-utilitarianism) and general rule-utilitarianism and still be compatible with each other as long as their epistemological statuses and roles in moral thinking are kept distinct. The two kinds of rule-utilitarianism are used at different levels of moral thinking, specific rule-utilitarianism at the critical level, general rule-utilitarianism at the intuitive, and the former level is epistemologically prior. By this mapping relation from kinds of rule-utilitarianism to levels of moral thinking, then, it makes sense as well to speak of a two-level utilitarianism {‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 146]; ‘Abortion: Reply to Brandt’: 28; Hare and Critics: 242-3; ‘Rights, Utility, and Universalization Reply to J. L. Mackie’: 115-6; Moral Thinking: 43; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 181; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 125, 128; ‘Rules of War and Moral Reasoning’: 170; ‘Principles’: 13, 17-8}.

    827. What is mistaken about absolutism?     [Top]
    The mistake absolutism makes has to do with how it conceives of principles. If absolutism takes some principles to be absolute in the sense of ‘absolutely general’, then the principles wind up with no content. If it takes – using a different sense of ‘absolute’ – some principles to hold without exception, then it does nothing to distinguish itself from other normative ethical theories that claim that such-and-such ought to be done in all cases having a specified set of circumstances. Absolutism is also mistaken in being a one-level theory; at the intuitive level of moral thinking, absolutism is indeed appropriate, but because the world is so complicated there also needs to be a critical level at which the absolute principles are selected and at which conflicts between absolute principles can be resolved in part by formulating principles of greater specificity {‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 17, 22]; ‘Principles’: 6; ‘Rules of War and Moral Reasoning’: 166; ‘What is Life?’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 68]; ‘Reasons of State’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 17-8]}.

    828. How do we learn in morality?     [Top]
    In morality, as in general, we learn both from experience and by precept. The two kinds of education are inter-related; for reflecting on our experiences might lead us to adopt certain precepts or principles, and the latter often refer to experiences {‘Principles’: 7-8}.

    829. Is universal prescriptivism practically equivalent to any other ethical theories?     [Top]
    Yes. Universal prescriptivism is practically equivalent to

    • the ideal observer theory,
    • the rational contractor theory
    • specific rule-utilitarianism
    • universalistic act-utilitarianism

    These five theories (and one might add to them theories of the Golden Rule and Kant’s categorical imperative) are all practically equivalent with reference to the method of moral thinking that they generate. All these theories, on certain plausible interpretions of them, lead to the same normative results. They lead, that is, like universal prescriptivism, to utilitarianism {Hare and Critics: 219; ‘On Terrorism’: [Essays on Political Morality: 36]; ‘Medical Ethics: Can the Moral Philosopher Help?’: [Essays on Bioethics: 10]; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 125; ‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 207-8; ‘Contrasting Methods of Environmental Planning’: [Essays on Political Morality: 228-9]; ‘Rawls’ Theory of Justice–I’: 154-5; ‘Rules of War and Moral Reasoning’: 167}.

    830. Does universal prescriptivism assume that all action is founded on a maxim, rule, or principle?     [Top]
    No. Universal prescriptivism does not assume that all action is based on a maxim, rule, or principle. What universal prescriptivism does claim is that it is analytically true that giving a reason for an action involves explicitly or implicitly referencing a rule, maxim, or principle; for reasons apply to all similar occasions. It is analytically true due not to the meaning of ‘reason’, for the reasons need not be universally formulable (e.g., they can contain individual constants), but rather due to the meaning of ‘moral’ {‘Universalisability’: 297-8}.

    831. What is mistaken or ill-conceived about Rawls’ moral methodology?     [Top]
    Rawls’ hypothetical choice theory allows moral intuitions to enter twice, once in the conditions under which the choices are to be made, and then again in choices which are not determined by the conditions. So, based as they are on mere moral intuitions, the non-utilitarian normative conclusions Rawls reaches are not firm. In short, he allows his method to be influenced by his intuitions in reflective equilibrium. In contrast, universal prescriptivism’s theory of moral reasoning is based, not on what people think about moral issues – on their moral convictions or intuitions – but rather on philosophical logic {Sorting Out Ethics: 149; ‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 64-5]; Hare and Critics: 208, 291; ‘Liberty and Equality’: [Essays on Political Morality: 126-8]; Moral Thinking: 7-11; ‘Prediction and Moral Appraisal’: [Essays on Bioethics: 207]; ‘Rawls’ Theory of Justice–I’: 149}.

    832. What is mistaken or ill-conceived about Rawls’ philosophical methodology?     [Top]
    Rawls’ conception of what philosophy is to do and how it goes about it is subjectivist: he supposes that considered moral opinions can be used as data against which moral theory can be checked. This subjectivism is problematic because it makes the truth of a moral theory depend on agreement with what people think or accept. The methodology that universal prescriptivism uses does not rely on this subjectivism; for, although its methodology relies on people’s rational acceptance of prescriptions, this acceptance is based on the tautology that if we say something sincerely we must be able to accept it, and is not based on the generally false claim that merely thinking something is so makes it so {‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 21]; ‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 103]; Hare and Critics: 208; ‘Some Confusions About Subjectivity’: 191-2; ‘Rawls’ Theory of Justice–I’: 144-7}.

    833. What causes the most confusion in theoretical and applied ethics?     [Top]
    Failing to recognize the distinction between levels of moral thinking is the single most important cause of the confusions that plague both theoretical and applied ethics {Moral Thinking: 25}.

    834. What is the ‘thin end of the wedge’ argument?     [Top]
    The ‘thin end of the wedge’ argument claims that once you start to make qualifications to a principle it becomes difficult to justify a stopping point beyond which no qualifications can be made. The name derives from the fact that wedges are used to separate things and that the thin edge of the wedge separates them least, so that – as applied in philosophy – the conceptual distance between the things (e.g., concepts) becomes so minimal as to be indiscernible. This kind of argument is also often called a ‘slippery-slope’ argument and figures prominently in abortion and euthanasia discussions {Sorting Out Ethics: 33-4, 145; ‘A Kantian Approach to Abortion’: [Essays on Bioethics: 180-1]; ‘In Vitro Fertilization and the Warnock Report’: [Essays on Bioethics: 101]; ‘Abortion and the Golden Rule’: 216-7; ‘Medical Ethics: Can the Moral Philosopher Help?’: [Essays on Bioethics: 6-8]; ‘Euthanasia: A Christian View’: 48; ‘Drugs and the Role of the Doctor’: 92}.

    835. What are the aims of moral education?     [Top]
    One of the aims of moral education is to raise children into adults who will, by having had their characters molded by virtue, have certain moral sentiments (e.g., feeling compunction) and certain kinds of automatic physiological reactions (e.g., blushing) when they think they are doing something they ought not to do or are doing something they normally ought not to do. To achieve this, the lessons taught in moral education will have to be firmly implanted but not so strong as to make the ascent to the critical level of moral thinking impossible. Indeed, another aim of moral education is to teach people, even children (though not when they are too young to understand), how to do critical moral thinking; for only learning the intuitive level is not enough, as conflicts between intuitive-level principles will arise, as will unusual cases, for which critical thinking will be needed {Moral Thinking: 30-1, 198; ‘Utilitarianism and the Vicarious Affects’: 148-9; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 174; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 124; ‘The Simple Believer’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 22]}.

    836. Is it logically impossible to punish the innocent?     [Top]
    No. A logical thesis claiming that it is conceptually impossible to punish the innocent depends on the evidence of linguistic intuitions. A careful examination of these linguistic intuitions reveals that the innocent can be punished. For example, we can and do – and without any slippage in the meaning of ‘punish’ – say things like: ‘I am punishing you for something you did not do’; ‘He was punished for the alleged murder’. These sorts of sentences show that there is no logical bar to the punishment of the innocent {‘Punishment and Retributive Justice’: 212-3}.

    837. What are the differences between remorse, regret, and compunction?     [Top]
    These sentiments are closely related but not the same. Remorse and compunction are primarily moral sentiments, and the latter is typically less strong than the former; regret need not be a moral sentiment at all. We feel remorse, if we have been raised well, when we recognize that we have done something that we ought not to have done. And we feel compunction either before or during the performance of an action which we believe we ought not to do. So the difference between remorse and compunction is one of timing and felt strength {Moral Thinking: 28-30; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 172-3}.

    838. What goes wrong with Searle’s notorious attempt to derive ‘ought’ from ‘is’?     [Top]
    Searle’s attempted derivation of an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’ in the context of promising flounders in the inferences between the steps of the derivation. In particular, Searle mistakes what is a moral principle which expresses a synthetic constitutive rule of the institution of promising for a synthetic empirical statement about English word-usage. So there is actually a hidden moral principle within the derivation and thus no derivation of a moral conclusion from purely factual premises. More generally, a moral principle obligating promise-keeping is a necessary condition for the adoption of the word ‘promise’ as used in the context of the institution of promising; but neither the principle nor the adoption is necessary {Hare and Critics: 215; ‘Punishment and Retributive Justice’: 217; ‘The Promising Game’: 401, 406}.

    839. What are the elements of a complete moral system?     [Top]
    A complete moral system has at least two elements and possibly a third:

    • an account of the logical properties of the moral words;
    • a supply of empirical data;
    • reference to a capacity to exercise our rational will, to make choices and decisions

    The first, since the account leads to a fully developed utilitarianism, will actually involve not only a formal metaethical level concerned exclusively with the logical features of the moral words but also involve as its logical consequences critical and intuitive normative levels. The second, the empirical data, is needed so that the system will have application in the world in which we actually live. The third element lies somewhere between what words mean and what the world is like, an area of pure evaluation or prescription. It is not clear how large this third element is, for the first two elements of logic and the facts severely constrain our freedom to make rational moral evaluations {Moral Thinking: 5-7; ‘Utilitarianism and the Vicarious Affects’: 146-7}.

    840. What is the main goal of Moral Thinking?     [Top]
    The main goal of Moral Thinking is to make utilitarianism a real contender again. This it does by putting utilitarianism on a firm footing and by equipping it with more robust defenses against objections that stem from selective reflection on moral experience. These are accomplished by the separation of normative moral thinking into two levels and by building out the so-called Conditional Reflection Principle and the prescriptivity of ‘I’. This goal has been pursued in the service of the overall aim of establishing a firm foundation for a method of moral reasoning that can be used to help us find objective answers to the moral questions that we ask in the course of living our lives in this world {‘A Philosophical Autobiography’: 300-1; ‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 312; Moral Thinking: 96-7, 213-4}.

    841. What’s the job or business of the moral philosopher?     [Top]
    The job of the moral philosopher is to help us think (and thus not to do our moral thinking for us) more clearly, more rationally, and with more understanding, about moral problems, to help us reason validly about what we ought to do, and thereby point the way to resolving the antinomy between freedom and reason. This requires that the moral philosopher first investigate the meanings of the moral words in which moral questions or problems are actually couched. Fulfilling this first step will lead to the second step, which is to discover the logical properties of the moral words as they are actually used by humans and thus to discover the rules of rational moral thinking. With these rules it will then be possible for the moral philosopher to devise a procedure or method to use in answering moral questions. Lacking factual knowledge and expertise in many areas (e.g., lacking knowledge of how many people will take recreational drugs if the drugs were readily available and what the resultant level of benefits and harms would be to everyone), the philosopher herself may not actually use the method in particular cases. But the moral philosopher can clarify the issues by prying them apart, filtering out the propaganda, and can provide the method of moral reasoning to deal with the issues, and teach others how to use that method. Then these others, equipped with specialized knowledge unique to their fields, may then apply the method to the returned, but now clarified, issues so as to arrive at specific answers to particular difficult cases, such as cases in which doctors face conflicting duties and so find a need to philosophize. By making these contributions of a method of moral reasoning and a clarification of the issues, the moral philosopher can help (by doing her small part among many parts) to resolve peacefully the disputes which divide people. As a case in point, to help bring about a peaceful resolution to the troubles plaguing South Africa, basically all the philosopher can do is to publicize a method of moral thinking; it is then up to the people who are disputing with each other to determine the facts and then to apply that method to those facts in their situation {Sorting Out Ethics: 39-40, 43-4, 144; ‘Philosophy and Conflict’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 56-7]; ‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 57]; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 175]; ‘The Rights of Employees’: [Essays on Political Morality: 144]; ‘In Vitro Fertilization and the Warnock Report’: [Essays on Bioethics: 98]; ‘Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity in South Africa?’: [Essays on Political Morality: 167]; ‘A Reductio Ad Absurdum of Descriptivism’: 132-3; ‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 6, 15; Moral Thinking: 4; ‘Medical Ethics: Can the Moral Philosopher Help?’: [Essays on Bioethics: 3, 5, 9]; ‘Some Confusions about Subjectivity’: 208; Freedom and Reason: 3, 73; ‘Drugs and the Role of the Doctor’: 89; Freedom and Reason: 172, 185, 221, 224; ‘Reasons of State’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 11-2]; ‘Nothing Matters’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 37]; ‘Peace’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 71-2, 84-5]}.

    842. What is the purpose of moral philosophy?     [Top]
    The purpose of moral philosophy is to help us think better – more rationally – about moral problems. This striving after more rational moral thinking involves finding out what the rules of moral thinking are and learning to use those rules to help us better understand moral questions and answers to those questions. And these activities – the finding out and the learning – involve coming to recognize the meanings or uses of moral words such as ‘ought’ and ‘must’ that we generally employ in moral discourse. These meanings or uses are revealed by the logical properties of the words. So moral philosophy is a kind of philosophical logic the purpose of which is to discover the logic of the moral words in order ultimately to help us be more rational in the moral thinking we do as we go about trying to answer moral questions about how to act. By thus showing how rational moral argument is possible, moral philosophy will also have shown how freedom and reason can coexist, how prescriptivity and universalizability are consistent when our will can rationally universalize its prescriptions {‘Foundationalism and Coherentism in Ethics’: 195; ‘Philosophy and Conflict’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 56-7]; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 175]; Moral Thinking: 1-4; Freedom and Reason: 3, 18}.

    843. Is universal prescriptivism a variety of non-cognitivism?     [Top]
    No. Universal prescriptivism is a kind of non-descriptivism. In fact, ‘I get extremely cross when people classify me as a non-cognitivist’ {‘Objective Prescriptions’: 18}. The main reason why universal prescriptivism, a variety of rational non-descriptivism, is not a kind of non-cognitivism is that universal prescriptivism allows that moral judgments can be true or false. Calling universal prescriptivism a kind of cognitivism would actually be closer to the truth, but sticking to the non-descriptivism label is better because it will be less likely to mislead people, who are generally wedded to the prevalent cognitivist prejudice that all reasoning has to be done with factual statements, into believing what is false, namely that universal prescriptivism is a kind of descriptivism {‘Philippa Foot on Subjectivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 87-8]; ‘Objective Prescriptions’: 18, 30; ‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 92-3, 96-7]; ‘Do Agents Have to be Moralists?’: 57}.

    844. What is a test of the sincerity or honesty of an imperative sentence?     [Top]
    The test of the sincerity of a command is that the speaker intends the hearer to do something. Though imperatives and moral judgments are not the same, a similar test goes for moral judgments as well {Sorting Out Ethics: 11, 17; The Language of Morals: 13}.

    845. What is ethics?     [Top]
    Ethics is a branch of logic, modal logic to be more precise; it is the study of the meanings of the moral words or of the logic of the language of morals, the language used as a guide to answering questions such as ‘What shall I do?’ which can only be answered by commands. While philosophy in general is the study of arguments, ethics or moral philosophy is, in particular, the remedial study of moral argument; as such, it is first and foremost a metaethical enterprise. The metaethics, however, provides a formal or logical foundation for answering the more substantial or normative moral questions we have about what we ought to do or about what acts are right. It provides this foundation in providing canons of reasoning that give rise to a fruitful method of normative moral reasoning. Using this method themselves, which the moral philosopher can explain and teach to them, people can then apply the method and thereby find answers to their moral questions on their own. In short, ethics provides the decision-making tools, but people still need to make their own moral decisions {Sorting Out Ethics: 1, 4, 38-9; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 175]; ‘Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity in South Africa?’: [Essays on Political Morality: 170]; Plato: 66; Moral Thinking: 4; ‘Medical Ethics: Can the Moral Philosopher Help?’: [Essays on Bioethics: 3, 5]; ‘Language and Moral Education’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 156]; Freedom and Reason: 97; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 39-40]; ‘Broad’s Approach to Moral Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 13]; The Language of Morals: iii, 46, 172}.

    846. Why study ethics?     [Top]
    We use moral language in order to think about and discuss unavoidable moral problems. So it is important that we understand this language so as to understand the problems better. This better understanding that we can gain through the study of ethics may help us both theoretically and practically: our theory will be less muddled, and this theoretical clarity might well bring with it solutions – or at least progress toward solutions – to the vexing problems of conduct which we cannot avoid facing in our lives {The Language of Morals: 1}.

    847. To what uses is moral language put?     [Top]
    Moral language has several uses. One is education, teaching and learning {Moral Thinking: 88; The Language of Morals: 2}.

    848. What are the connections between having an interest, valuing, and desiring?     [Top]
    Valuing is a kind of desiring, and the relation between having an interest and valuing is an example of the more general relation between having an interest and desiring. Based on these connections, we can typically say that x valuing y is a sufficient condition for x having an interest in the existence of y and then that x desires the existence of y {‘Moral Reasoning about the Environment’: [Essays on Political Morality: 239]}.

    849. What is a philosopher?     [Top]
    A philosopher is someone, like Socrates, who makes a study of arguments. Her objectives are to understand the arguments better and to be able to separate the good arguments from the bad. In the course of this broadly logical enterprise, she has developed certain techniques and canons of reasoning, based on the meanings of the moral words, to help her realize those objectives {Sorting Out Ethics: 43-4; ‘Moral Reasoning about the Environment’: [Essays on Political Morality: 236]; Plato: 65-6; ‘Language and Moral Education’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 154-5]}.

    850. How can we get from harm to wrongness?     [Top]
    We can get from the statement of fact that an action harms someone to the moral judgment that the action is wrong in the following way.

    1. The factual statement about harm implies (conceptually) the factual claim that certain actual or potential prescriptions of the person harmed might not be fulfilled.
    2. By universalizability (putting myself in the other person’s situation), the harmed person’s frustrated prescriptions are my frustrated prescriptions.
    3. I do not prefer that my prescriptions be frustrated.
    4. So I have a reason to prohibit actions which cause the other to have frustrated prescriptions.
    5. So I support a systematic code of conduct that generally prohibits actions which cause others to have frustrated prescriptions.
    6. So actions which cause harm are prima facie wrong.

    But this is not a derivation from ‘is’ to ‘ought’ because the move from 2 and 3 to 4 is not required by logic; it is not an offense against logic to allow actions that frustrate my prescriptions: we are free to prefer what we prefer. In other words, the universal prescriptivist’s account of how to get from fact to moral judgment still allows someone like the amoralist or fanatic to get in {Moral Thinking: 225-6; ‘Wrongness and Harm’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 100-2, 106]}.

    851. Which things can be harmed?     [Top]
    Because of the conceptual connection that exists between harm and prescriptions, the only creatures that can be harmed are those that can assent to prescriptions. So to say that non-humans animals can be harmed we must say that the prescriptions regarding wants, which the animals would assent to if they could, will or might not be fulfilled. And we must say that plants can be harmed only indirectly through harms that are done to the users of the plants. Or, if we want to say that plants and even inanimate objects can be harmed, then these peculiar uses of ‘harm’ do not imply the existence of those kinds of interests, desires, or preferences in the things that are harmed that give rise to moral rights and duties. To be more precise, no moral duties to them arise and they themselves do not have moral rights; but there still may be moral rights and duties with regard to them insofar as harming them can harm the morally relevant interests of sentient beings who value them {‘Moral Reasoning about the Environment’: [Essays on Political Morality: 244-5]; ‘Wrongness and Harm’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 99]}.

    852. What is it to harm?     [Top]
    To harm someone is to act against that person’s interests, desires, wants. Since it is best (so as to expose logical or conceptual connections between them) to give these closely related psychological states linguistic expression, we have that to harm someone is to act in such a way that a prescription which the person has accepted, or might accept, will not, or might not, be fulfilled {Moral Thinking: 107; ‘Wrongness and Harm’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 97-8, 100]}.

    853. Why do we have the pro-attitudes that we do in fact have?     [Top]
    In general and very roughly, we have the pro-attitudes (e.g., liking food, desiring sleep) that we have because the things (e.g., food, sleep) toward which we have the pro-attitudes are things we need for survival {‘Descriptivism’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 72]}.

    854. What is autonomy?     [Top]
    Autonomy is a kind of freedom to make decisions on one’s own about choices that impact one’s own future. Autonomy does not have a value independent of utility. Its value comes from two sources: people tend to want it for its own sake; and it is valued as a means because it is usually, people typically being the best judges of what is in their own interests, a better means by which people can satisfy their own interests. Given this overall positive contribution to utility, critical moral thinking will select prima facie moral principles for the intuitive level that support autonomy for individuals {‘Health Care Policy: Some Options’: [Essays on Bioethics: 210-2]; Plato: 64, 67}.

    855. What are the sources of values?     [Top]
    There are two chief sources of values: wanting and imitating other people (by which we acquire new wants). Without wants, preferences, desires, we would not have values {Hare and Critics: 237-8; ‘Nothing Matters’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 36-7]}.

    856. When is it appropriate to blame someone in the sense of finding fault with her?     [Top]
    If we can trace the motivation for a person’s action back to her dispositions and thus to her character, and if that kind of character is bad, then we may morally fault that person {‘Prediction and Moral Appraisal’: [Essays on Bioethics: 206]}.

    857. What is it for something to matter?     [Top]
    For something to matter is for someone to be concerned about it; and to be concerned is to be disposed to make choices that one thinks will have some kind of effect on the object of our concern {‘Nothing Matters’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 33-4, 36]}.

    858. If we can predict that someone will reject our moral advice, why give it?     [Top]
    There are at least two reasons why it still makes sense to give moral advice in the form of an action-guiding appraisal (e.g., ‘You ought not to do action X’ or ‘Action X is wrong’) even if we know that the person to whom we give the advice is going to reject it. First, the advice is still an answer to the practical question ‘What shall I do?’ that the person is asking herself. Second, the person may learn from the advice and later recall it and apply it when faced in the future with a relevantly similar situation {‘Prediction and Moral Appraisal’: [Essays on Bioethics: 204-5]}.

    859. Why is philosophy so unpopular?     [Top]
    Philosophy is unpopular because, in contributing to the solution of problems only by increasing our understanding of the problems, philosophy does not make decisions for people; they still have to take that final step and make the decisions for themselves {‘Reasons of State’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 23]; ‘Peace’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 71-2, 72-3]}.

    860. What is character?     [Top]
    A person’s character is an amalgam of the person’s dispositions to behave in certain ways under certain circumstances. We can learn what a person’s dispositions are by observing what actions she typically or habitually performs under certain conditions or if we know in a particular case that she is acting in accord with what she most wants to do {‘Prediction and Moral Appraisal’: [Essays on Bioethics: 202]}.

    861. What determines the morality of an action?     [Top]
    A large part of what determines the morality of an action is the effect the action will have on other people. Whether a person wants to do an action plays little or even no part in determining the morality of the action {‘Prediction and Moral Appraisal’: [Essays on Bioethics: 205]; Freedom and Reason: 149; ‘Reasons of State’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 12-3]}.

    862. How are we to decide moral questions rationally?     [Top]
    Because we are mere humans rather than God-like archangels, our rationality – or ability to exericise that amount which we have – varies. When we have the time and other conditions are such that we can exercise our rationality fully, then we should decide moral questions by doing critical-level moral thinking, thus using the full-blown method of moral reasoning in which we imaginatively put ourselves into the place of all others affected by our contemplated actions. But when we do not have the luxuries of time and a cool hour in which to do our thinking, we should decide moral questions by doing intuitive-level moral thinking and relying on the moral convictions that have been inculcated in us by our upbringings engineered by wise moral educators who have already done the critical-level moral thinking {‘How to Decide Moral Questions Rationally’: 77; ‘Contrasting Methods of Environmental Planning’: [Essays on Political Morality: 235]}.

    863. What is the fundamental mistake in moral philosophy over the last several decades?     [Top]
    The fundamental mistake in moral philosophy since around 1930 is the belief that reason can only be used to find facts. This mistake amounts to a rejection of the possibility of practical reason, of prescriptivity and logicality together, and to a rejection of the possibility of a rational non-descriptivism (such as universal prescriptivism). The mistake thus leads people to think that ethical rationalism requires moral realism or belief in the existence of discoverable moral facts. The mistake is especially pernicious because people make it in the quest for rationality and objectivity in morals, and yet the effect of the mistake is to make this quest impossible to achieve; for relativism ultimately results from the mistake {Sorting Out Ethics: 128-9; ‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 107]; ‘How to Decide Moral Questions Rationally’: 63-4; ‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 92-3]; ‘Do Agents Have to be Moralists?’: 57}.

    864. Why is the psychological way of characterizing the debate between realist and anti-realist ethical theories superficial?     [Top]
    Both beliefs and attitudes are mental states studied by psychologists, and so both states are intentional states. So distinguishing ethical theories by appeal to the difference between beliefs and attitudes requires not a psychological study but rather a conceptual or logical study of the linguistic entities used to express those mental states {‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 94-5]}.

    865. Can you give some examples of bilateral, trilateral, and multilateral cases?     [Top]
    Yes.

    • Bilateral case: the creditor-debtor example, the trumpeter example,
    • Trilateral case: the example of the chocolate bar to be split three ways,
    • Multilateral case: the judge-criminal example.

    The main difference between such cases or situations is the number of people whose interests are considered in moral thinking. In bilateral situations only the interests of two affected people are considered, in trilateral three, and in multilateral situations everyone whose interests are affected is considered. The bilateral and trilateral cases are artificially simplified cases, for purposes of exploratory philosophical discussion, for in the real world even creditor-debtor cases typically involve the interests of more than just two people {Freedom and Reason: 117-8}.

    866. Why are facts relevant to moral arguments?     [Top]
    Facts are what make different cases or situations different. If not for the facts being what they are, the cases would be similar and, by universalizability, if a moral judgment were made about one of the cases the same judgment would have to be made about any other similar case. So it is the facts which enable us to differentiate cases, thus enabling possibly different moral evaluations {Freedom and Reason: 215-6}.

    867. Is there an easy way to cash out ‘a person’s interests’?     [Top]
    No. The phrase ‘a person’s interests’ refers to something quite intricate and involved. What we can say, as a start, is that having an interest is wanting to have something or in the future likely wanting to have something. If spelled out completely, the phrase would take the form: what a person would want if …. In place of that full specification, a working version would say that a person’s interests are what she would prefer if she were fully informed about her preferences for both actual and possible or hypothetical situations, were also fully informed about the likelihood of those situations actually occurring, and would prefer if she did not discount her future desires. Even more summarily, a person’s interests line up with what she would desire if she were perfectly prudent {‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 69]; ‘Moral Problems about the Control of Behaviour’: [Essays on Bioethics: 56-7]; Moral Thinking: 105; ‘Drugs and the Role of the Doctor’: 100; ‘Wrongness and Harm’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 97]; Freedom and Reason: 122, 157}.

    868. What is the essence of morality?     [Top]
    Morality is love in the sense of loving one’s neighbor (i.e., all those affected by my actions) as oneself. More philosophically, it is deciding to treat others’ interests as if they were one’s own interests, deciding to make their rational ends one’s own, or deciding to count everyone as one and nobody as more than one, or willing our principles of action as universal laws, or prescribing that as we wish others should do to us we should do to them, or accepting overriding universal prescriptions {‘How did Morality Get a Bad Name?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 95]; ‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 69]; ‘Satanism and Nihilism’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 102, 110]; ‘Language and Moral Education’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 161, 170]; ‘Community and Communication’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 115]; ‘Reasons of State’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 22]; ‘Adolescents into Adults’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 61]}.

    869. What can affect a person’s interests?     [Top]
    At least some of what can affect a person’s interests include:

    • changes in the person’s physical state,
    • changes in the person’s surroundings,
    • changes in the person’s personality,
    • changes in the person’s values.

    Any of these changes can be brought about in various ways with varying effects on the person’s interests {‘Drugs and the Role of the Doctor’: 98}.

    870. Why is literary fiction not a particularly good source for examples?     [Top]
    Although moral judgments can be made about fictional characters and literary fiction does help us develop our imaginations and that development is crucial to moral thinking, examples drawn from fiction do not provide us with a good sense of what happens in the real world. In particular, novelists and dramatists often, to make their work more interesting and hence saleable, focus on extraordinary or unusual cases. Since reliance on such unusual cases can skew our sense of what is most probable or more likely to happen in the real world, our moral thinking will better be served if we rely on non-fiction accounts and on our own lived experiences {Sorting Out Ethics: 97; ‘How to Decide Moral Questions Rationally’: 74-5; Moral Thinking: 48; ‘Medical Ethics: Can the Moral Philosopher Help?’: [Essays on Bioethics: 13-4]; ‘Value Education in a Pluralist Society: A Philosophical Glance at the Humanities Curriculum Project’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 152]; ‘Language and Moral Education’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 168-9]; Freedom and Reason: 183}.

    871. What are some important parts of a person’s personality?     [Top]
    Some, but only some, important elements of a person’s personality are her various standards such as her moral, intellectual, and aesthetic standards. Changing any of these standards is likely to change a person’s personality {‘Drugs and the Role of the Doctor’: 98}.

    872. Should metaphors be eschewed in philosophy?     [Top]
    For the most part, metaphors should be avoided in philosophical discussions because they can be misleading, ambiguous, and so unclear as to make the topic which they metaphorically characterize more mysterious than it needs to be. An example of an unhelpful metaphor is the citadel metaphor for a person’s personality, for personality is less mysteriously understood in terms of a person’s interests. But, if used with great care and with the reminder that they are merely metaphors, they can be helpful if they enable us to see something that was previously obscure. An example of a helpful metaphor is that of stepping into another’s shoes, though here care must be taken to make it clear, for example, that the shoes include the other’s likes and dislikes and that the self is not a thing {Hare and Critics: 284; ‘Drugs and the Role of the Doctor’: 97-8; Freedom and Reason: 126-7, 210, 224}.

    873. Why do we not need to look too hard for exceptions to our moral principles?     [Top]
    If there are exceptions to our principles, the exceptions will show up at some point in the course of our daily lives and demand our attention. Also, giving too much attention to exceptions can help to weaken the commitment to the firm moral convictions that we need to have in order to make the right decisions in normal cases {‘The ethics of medical involvement in torture: commentary’: 140; ‘Drugs and the Role of the Doctor’: 92}.

    874. What is being asked when it is asked ‘What ought I to do in this case?’?     [Top]
    The person who asks ‘What ought I to do in this case?’ is asking for a universal prescription for all cases like the case mentioned in the question. If a person accepts an answer to this question, then the person has accepted a universal principle regarding all such cases, even cases in which the roles individuals play in them are different {‘Drugs and the Role of the Doctor’: 86}.

    875. Does universal prescriptivism put any restrictions on what can count as a moral principle?     [Top]
    Yes. Universal prescriptivism puts formal, and only formal, restrictions on what can count as a moral principle. These restrictions derive from the logical properties of prescriptivity and universalizability which the moral words have. Universal prescriptivism places no content restrictions on what can count as a moral principle; there can, for instance, be discriminatory, appalling, malevolent, or promise-breaking, moral principles. Universal prescriptivism handles such objectionable principles not by ruling them out from the start but by filtering them out through its golden-rule method of moral reasoning {Sorting Out Ethics: 130-1, 135, 154; ‘Universalizability’: [Encyclopedia of Ethics: 1260-1]; Hare and Critics: 249, 253; ‘Why Moral Language?’: 85-6; ‘Relevance’: 88-9}.

    876. What are the possible sources of moral disagreement?     [Top]
    If two people are using their words, such as ‘ought’, in the same way so that their disagreement is real and not merely verbal, the source of their differences might be:

    • about the facts of the case (which account for a large majority of the differences and mistakes in moral thinking),
    • due to uneven powers of imagination,
    • attributable to varying inclinations,
    • incomplete understanding of relevant concepts,
    • confusion, prejudice, laziness

    All of these possible sources are susceptible to improvement of some sort, and so a resolution of the disagreement may yet be achieved {Sorting Out Ethics: 35; Hare and Critics: 248; ‘How to Decide Moral Questions Rationally’: 70-1; ‘Value Education in a Pluralist Society: A Philosophical Glance at the Humanities Curriculum Project’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 150]; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 115]; Freedom and Reason: 97}.

    877. Why is moral language indispensable?     [Top]
    Moral language – such as the illocutionary act ought-judgments that are at its core – is indispensable for several reasons.

    • Moral language, particularly its universalizability, helps us secure agreement on conduct by making it unnecessary to consider large numbers of singular imperatives.
    • We need to be able to consider hypothetical and past-tense cases in order to argue cogently about conduct and only proper universal prescriptions (i.e., ought-judgments) can be used for such considerations.
    • We need to use moral ought-judgments in moral education in order to reap the benefits essential to maintaining social order.
    • Moral language provides us with a way to express moral opinions and sympathetic or benevolent desires and feelings.

    Though at least some of these are or involve perlocutionary or intended effects of moral language use, the effects are in part enabled by the more fundamental illocutionary character of moral language; and so, when traced to their roots, these effects reveal why we could not do without moral language and morality and would have to reinvent them if we were to lose them {‘How did Morality Get a Bad Name?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 88, 94, 96-97]; ‘Why Moral Language?’: 76-7, 86; ‘Language and Moral Education’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 156-7]; Freedom and Reason: 166; The Language of Morals: 187}.

    878. What constitutes a substantial moral disagreement?     [Top]
    A substantial moral (or evaluative) disagreement has at least two features.

    • The disputants must have different views about what actions are to be done in a particular case.
    • The disputants must have different views about a universal principle prescribing what ought to be done in any such case.

    Without these two differences, the apparent moral disagreement would really only be a verbal disagreement {Freedom and Reason: 89-9}.

    879. Does Williams use ‘integrity’ in its usual sense?     [Top]
    No. In typical contexts, ‘integrity’ means something like an honesty which engenders trust; in Williams’ hands, ‘integrity’ means something like a single-mindedness of purpose in pursuing one’s own projects to the exclusion of anything else {‘Why Moral Language?’: 71; ‘Why Do Applied Ethics?’: 227; ‘Arguing about Rights’: [Essays on Political Morality: 116]; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 120}.

    880. Since universal prescriptivism takes morals to be a rational activity, what is its discipline?     [Top]
    Morals is a rational activity and so has a discipline. Morals’ discipline is its method: using the golden-rule role-reversal procedure to test proposed moral principles to see if we can accept and live by them. In other words, morals is rational when the logic of the moral concepts – prescriptivity and universalizability – are followed in our moral thinking {‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 27]; Sorting Out Ethics: 130; ‘Philosophy and Conflict’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 59]; ‘Autonomy as an Educational Ideal’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 132, 135]; ‘Value Education in a Pluralist Society: A Philosophical Glance at the Humanities Curriculum Project’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 151]; Plato: 72; ‘The Practical Relevance of Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 107]; Freedom and Reason: 92; ‘Austin’s Distinction between Locutionary and Illocutionary Acts’: [Practical Inferences: 103]; ‘Adolescents into Adults’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 58]}.

    881. What are the logical relationships between prescriptivity, universalizability, and descriptivism?     [Top]
    With the understanding that descriptivism can be strong (i.e., moral judgments have only descriptive meaning) or weak (i.e., moral judgments have descriptive meaning and may have other meanings), the logical relationships between prescriptivity, universalizability, and descriptivism are as follows:

    • strong descriptivism entails universalizability;
    • weak descriptivism entails universalizability;
    • prescriptivity and weak descriptivism are consistent;
    • prescriptivity and strong descriptivism are inconsistent;
    • strong descriptivism entails weak descriptivism;
    • prescriptivity and universalizability are consistent;

    The upshot is that prescriptivity, universalizability, and weak descriptivism are consistent {Freedom and Reason: 17-8}.

    882. Why is the combination of universalizability and prescriptivity difficult to attack?     [Top]
    The combination of universalizability and prescriptivity is difficult to attack because:

    • if you deny the universalizability half, then you also deny descriptivism, thus leaving you with prescriptivism;
    • if you deny the prescriptivity half, then you are left with descriptivism, but descriptivism entails universalizability.

    So it is difficult to attack simultaneously both major components of universal prescriptivism {Freedom and Reason: 16-7}.

    883. What does ‘universal prescriptivism’ signify?     [Top]
    The name ‘universal prescriptivism’ signifies an ethical theory which claims that:

    • moral judgments are universalizable;
    • moral judgments, in their central uses, are prescriptive.

    The theory aims, by combining these two claims, to show that rational moral argument is possible {Freedom and Reason: 16-7}.

    884. What two features does every serious moral problem have?     [Top]
    The two features that all serious moral problems have are the following attendant convictions.

    • There is the very strong freedom of someone (i.e., typical adult humans or moral agents) facing the problem to take ownership of the solution, to answer it in her own way even if that requires changing her language; it is very strong because the facts alone do not entail an answer, and it is logically possible to want anything.
    • There at least ought to be a rational, non-arbitrary way of solving the problem; it is non-arbitrary because the problem and its solution do matter to us.

    These two convictions amount to a paradox or antinomy between freedom and reason {‘Adolescents into Adults’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 64]; Freedom and Reason: 1-3, 110; ‘Broad’s Approach to Moral Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 14-5]}.

    885. What is relativism?     [Top]
    Relativism is the normative moral (but not metaethical) view that the truth of a moral statement is a function of its acceptance by people, that is, that our merely thinking that we ought to do something is enough to make it the case that we ought to do it. This is a strong sense of relativism and is wholly rejected by universal prescriptivism {Sorting Out Ethics: 79, 90; ‘Justice and Equality’: 130; Freedom and Reason: 50; ‘Nothing Matters’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 45-7]; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 47]}.

    886. What does an ethical view’s agreement with widespread opinion prove?     [Top]
    An ethical view’s agreement with widespread opinion proves nothing except that the view is not completely counter-intuitive {‘Little Human Guinea-Pigs?’: 87; Freedom and Reason: 174-5}.

    887. How does ethical practice or applied ethics benefit from ethical theory?     [Top]
    By applying ethical theory to real-life moral issues that actually occur in the field, so to speak, applied ethics can perhaps be saved from devolving into a war of conflicting and unsupported intuitions held by the various parties to the moral dispute. The application of ethical theory has a chance of benefiting applied ethics in this way because ethical theory can impose some structure on the proceedings by identifying the rules of moral thinking and clarifying the concepts used in moral thinking when that thinking is done well (e.g., without factual or logical errors and without special pleading or confusion) {‘Why Do Applied Ethics?’: 234-6; ‘Little Human Guinea-Pigs?’: 76-7}.

    Point

    888. When do moral appraisals have a point?     [Top]
    Moral appraisals have a point when they could make a difference to how someone might act {‘Prediction and Moral Appraisal’: [Essays on Bioethics: 205]}.

    889. What is the point of prescriptivism?     [Top]
    The point of prescriptivism is to show how preferences or desires underlie moral judgments insofar as moral judgments are one kind of prescription and prescriptions are linguistic expressions of preferences and desires {Hare and Critics: 213; Moral Thinking: 107, 185}.

    890. What is the whole point of a decision?     [Top]
    The whole point of a decision is the difference it makes to what happens in the world, the difference to the effects or consequences that are realized {The Language of Morals: 57}.

    891. What is the main point of moral judgments?     [Top]
    Moral agents are faced with the question ‘What shall I do?’ This kind of question can only be answered by a command, an imperative, a prescription – by an action-guiding form of language. Moral judgments provide one of the main ways to answer the question. So moral judgments must be action-guiding and must be such by entailing imperatives {‘Why Moral Language?’: 82; The Language of Morals: 46; ‘Freedom of the Will’: 215}.

    892. What is the whole point of having a moral language?     [Top]
    The whole point of having a moral language that has formal features such as universalizability and prescriptivity is to ensure that moral communication is possible. Since people often have differing substantial moral beliefs, such beliefs do not provide common ground that can serve as a basis for communication. But if moral language is equipped with purely formal features which everyone who uses the language for communication with others must accept, then the words they use will have the same meanings and be governed by the same logical rules {‘How did Morality Get a Bad Name?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 94-5]; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: 180}.

    893. What is the whole point of asking ‘Ought I?’?     [Top]
    The whole point of asking ‘Ought I?’ is that an answer to it helps us decide how to answer ‘Shall I?’. This latter question is one that rational agents such as ourselves ask insofar as we have the freedom to be presented with choices and the rationality to deliberate about those choices we face {‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 179]; The Language of Morals: 15-6}.

    894. What is rationality?     [Top]
    In its chief sense, rationality is a property of thought in the service of answering questions. Because one of these questions is ‘What morally ought I to do?’, and because this moral ‘ought’ carries with it certain logical requirements such as universalizability, a rational answer to the question must take account of the universalizability of moral judgments. Besides such logical requirements, rationality in morals also requires that all available and relevant ordinary (not moral) facts be taken into account in critical thinking; for example, in deciding what principles of justice should be inculcated, critical thinkers need to know facts about how psychologically ready people will be to accept the proposed principles and thus how likely it is that the principles will be successful in achieving their purpose {‘Philippa Foot on Subjectivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 92]; Moral Thinking: 214-5, 217-8; ‘Justice and Equality’: 129-30}.

    895. When do the demands of prudence typically coincide with those of morality?     [Top]
    There are instrumental moral virtues such as courage, self-control, and perseverance which are needed in order to be successful at doing all kinds of things. So prudential thinking and moral thinking will frequently converge on a set of common prima facie principles, such as a principle endorsing temperance, that serves both domains well {Moral Thinking: 193}.

    896. What accounts for the convergence of the moral and the prudential?     [Top]
    The justification of morality in terms of prudence is possible because there is a limited kind of preestablished harmony between morality and prudence. This preestablished harmony may have a sociobiological explanation {‘Rights, Utility, and Universalization Reply to J. L. Mackie’: 115-6}.

    897. Given that the morally right act is not in every instance in the agent’s interest, why should the agent always do what is morally right?     [Top]
    When in some particular case morality and prudence diverge, the agent should still act morally. There are two points to keep in mind in these hard cases. First, what the agent morally ought to do will be prescribed by prima facie moral principles, and these principles will be backed by moral sentiments such as guilt and remorse if transgressed. These prima facie moral principles and moral sentiments go together; given the way human beings are, the principles will not be effective in fulfilling their purpose unless they have the backing of the moral sentiments. So following the moral principles will be in agent’s interest so as to avoid suffering feelings of remorse and guilt. Second, because critical thinking is so very hard for humans to do well, especially on-the-spot critical thinking, the easier and wiser policy is to follow one’s inculcated moral principles rather than to rely on error-prone cost-benefit analyses of the prudential advantage of transgressing the moral principles in any given case {‘Rights, Utility, and Universalization Reply to J. L. Mackie’: 116-7; ‘Utility and Rights: Comment on David Lyons’s Essay’: 150}.

    898. Why be moral?     [Top]
    The basic answer to the ‘Why be moral?’ question is that the easiest way to appear to be a good person is just to be a good person. That is, the answer appeals to self-interest or prudence. But this basic answer needs to be spelled out more fully, for it is not the case that doing the morally right act is in all instances in the actor’s interest. A step in that fuller direction is to say something like the following: given that the world is as it is and that humans are as they are, inculcating moral dispositions and habits which, if positive, promote cooperation and affection and which, if negative, occasion remorse and guilt when principles are transgressed, is likely to further in general the interests of all ordinary humans {‘Rights, Utility, and Universalization Reply to J. L. Mackie’: 114; Moral Thinking: 196-7}.

    899. What is the point of having moral rules?     [Top]
    Moral rules such as prima facie intuitive-level moral principles have at least one of their points in the usefulness – even necessity – of their generality. By being relatively general rather than specific, moral rules help us group together, for the benefit of our moral thinking, cases that are similar in morally important ways even while the cases differ from each other in their details {‘A Utilitarian Approach to Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 162]}.

    900. What is the point of all moral action?     [Top]
    The point of all moral action is to advance impartially the interests of all those who are affected by the actions {‘Punishment and Retributive Justice’: 222}.

    901. What is the point of universalizability?     [Top]
    The point of universalizability is that moral thinking requires that we make decisions from a standpoint that can be shared by anyone {‘Do Agents Have to be Moralists?’: 56}.

    902. Why do moral issues get us stirred up?     [Top]
    Moral issues interest us greatly because we are, and cannot easily give up being, people living with other people. As such people, we know we may find ourselves in – or at least can imagine ourselves in – the place of those playing roles in the situations characterized by those moral issues {The Language of Morals: 141-2, 162}.

    903. What is the point of having an ethical theory?     [Top]
    An ethical theory is to give us an account of the meaning or logic of the moral words or concepts so that from that account we can learn how to reason correctly to the solution of moral problems {‘Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 133]; Sorting Out Ethics: 126; Moral Thinking: 4; ‘Broad’s Approach to Moral Philosophy’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 17]}.

    Preferences

    904. What is the connection between prescribing and wanting?     [Top]
    The connection between sincere prescribing and wanting is logical or conceptual in that if someone sincerely prescribes something then the someone wants the something to happen. What we have in our minds when we want is more akin to what is going on in our minds when we use prescriptive, rather than descriptive, language; in particular, wanting is similar to assenting to a singular imperative {‘Why Moral Language?’: 73; ‘Relevance’: 78; ‘Prediction and Moral Appraisal’: [Essays on Bioethics: 199]; ‘Wanting: Some Pitfalls’: [Practical Inferences: 54]; Freedom and Reason: 71}.

    905. Since prescriptions are linguistic expressions of preferences, how do prescriptions represent the intensity of preferences?     [Top]
    The intensity or strength of preferences can be represented in various ways.

    • Prescriptions can be permissions, obligations, or prohibitions.
    • Prescriptions can be accepted (or assented to or dissented from) by differing amounts or degrees.

    {Moral Thinking: 104, 107, 185; Freedom and Reason: 22, 102}.

    906. What controls how much weight to give to preferences in our moral thinking?     [Top]
    It is the strength of a preference that controls how much weight we are to accord a preference in our moral thinking. Typically, the greater the preference, the greater the weight. But weights will also differ due to how much a particular preference or interest is affected by the action under consideration. So, for example, if a person has a strong preference but will be little affected by an action, correspondingly little weight will be accorded that person’s preference even though it is a strong one {‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 69]; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 187]; ‘Contrasting Methods of Environmental Planning’: [Essays on Political Morality: 229]}.

    907. What are we to do when two preferences conflict?     [Top]
    When two preferences, perhaps one original with me and the other acquired through identification with another in the process of moral thinking, conflict or when their expression as prescriptions present – as Kant would put it – a contradiction in the will, we are to let the stronger preference override the weaker {‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 187]; ‘Relevance’: 89}.

    908. Why is it difficult to know what others’ sufferings are like?     [Top]
    It is difficult to know what others’ sufferings are like because knowledge of suffering is direct rather than inferential knowledge; thus to know suffering it is necessary for the suffering to be present in one’s experience {‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: 184}.

    909. What are the reasons for the conceptual truth that one suffers if and only if one knows one is suffering?     [Top]
    There are several reasons in support of the conceptual truth that one (who is self-conscious) suffers to a certain degree if and only if one knows one is suffering to that degree.

    • To know anything, whatever is known must obtain or be, or have been, the case.
    • Knowing that we are experiencing suffering is direct (not inferential) knowledge, and so the suffering must be present in our experience; otherwise there would be nothing to know and no way to know it.

    Though this truth is highly qualified by the requirement of self-consciousness and the limitation to quantitative measurement of the suffering, this is an important truth for ethics because morality is about actions and actions can make a difference to what experiences we have and also to their quality {‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 183-4]; Moral Thinking: 92-3}.

    910. Can some preferences be more rational than others?     [Top]
    Yes. Some preferences, even prudential ones, can be more rational than other preferences because they more successfully survive exposure to logic and the facts {Moral Thinking: 101, 104-5, 226}.

    911. How are our preferences for our own future related to our interests?     [Top]
    Our preferences for our own future are the same as what we think to be in our own interest {‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 631}.

    912. In what sense are we free to prefer what we prefer?     [Top]
    We are free to prefer what we prefer in several ways:

    • our total system of preferences is not externally constrained by anything;
    • we neither create nor destroy preferences by our will;
    • our preferences can change and are fluid rather than fixed;
    • some of our preferences are autonomous in the Humean sense of immunity to rational assessment;
    • universalizability does not constrain preferences themselves.

    But we are still not totally free to prefer what we prefer; for among those preferences which we do have, some may, because of their intensities, override other preferences, and some preferences we acquire by identifying with others when engaging in Goldren Rule reasoning {Moral Thinking: 225-6}.

    913. Is, besides facts and outcomes, interest a further factor in rational choice?     [Top]
    No. Knowledge of the facts and outcomes is sufficient to determine what is in the chooser’s interest; so the interests of the chooser are not a further factor to be considered in assessing the rationality of the choice {‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 629-30; ‘Contrasting Methods of Environmental Planning’: [Essays on Political Morality: 234-5]}.

    914. Must singular as well as universal prescriptions be responsive to the facts?     [Top]
    If they are to accord with rationality, then even singular prescriptions such as ‘Let that not happen to me if I am in that situation’ must be made in awareness of the facts {Moral Thinking: 221; Freedom and Reason: 214}.

    915. What would make a choice irrational?     [Top]
    There are several ways in which a choice might be made irrationally:

    • ignoring available relevant facts;
    • failing to seek relevant, easily obtainable information.

    What are considered facts and information needs to be taken in a broad sense to include possibilities (e.g., about one’s probable future state of mind) and others’ preferences {Moral Thinking: 221; ‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 628-9; ‘Contrasting Methods of Environmental Planning’: [Essays on Political Morality: 234-5]}.

    916. What are some pitfalls of ‘wanting’?     [Top]
    There are several common mistakes to be aware of about ‘want’.

    • ‘Want’ is often confused with ‘desire’ as a reference to a mental or psychological state. This mistake is especially common in hypothetical imperatives; in these, ‘want’ is actually a logical term.
    • ‘Want’-statements do not give the reasons; they merely repeat in alternate words the desires or preferences already expressed linguistically in prescriptions.
    • ‘Want’, at least a genuine active kind of wanting, should not be confused with idle wishing in which no action is commanded.
    • It is easy to forget that wanting can be a wanting more or a wanting most.

    In general, to want something is to assent to a prescription {‘Why Moral Language?’: 79-80; ‘Prediction and Moral Appraisal’: [Essays on Bioethics: 198]; ‘Wanting: Some Pitfalls’: [Practical Inferences: 50-1, 57-8]; ‘Wrongness and Harm’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 98]; Freedom and Reason: 71; The Language of Morals: 34}.

    917. What makes a choice a rational choice?     [Top]
    There are only two main elements that play a role in the rationality of choices and prescriptions.

    • understanding the meaning of the prescription which expresses a choice;
    • finding out what difference this or that choice makes to what happens.

    The first element refers to the meaning of the words in the prescription, and the second refers to the consequences that will predictably occur if a particular choice is made. If one understands and finds out these things, so that one is at most only partially ignorant, and makes a choice based on them, then one has gone some way towards making a rational choice. In sum, all that is needed to make a rational choice is that one sufficiently accurately ascertain between what one is choosing {Moral Thinking: 216-7; ‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 627, 633, 635}.

    918. How can one’s preferences be compared to another’s when conflicts arise between the preferences?     [Top]
    Interpersonal (whether bilateral or multilateral) comparisons of conflicting preferences can be made by fully representing the others’ positions to oneself, thereby acquiring replicas of the others’ motivational states, and then intrapersonally comparing all the preferences. The intrapersonal comparison of all the preferences is no different from the procedure we use to resolve conflicts between preferences that are original in us; so no special procedure of comparison is needed. In short, interpersonal comparisons get translated or reduced into intrapersonal comparisons between preferences which we can rank in an ordering {Hare and Critics: 212, 235-6, 239-40; Moral Thinking: 109-10, 124, 127-8}.

    919. Why should one’s preferences be subordinated to another’s when conflicts arise between the preferences?     [Top]
    The weaker preferences, no matter whose they are, should be subordinated just as they are in conflicts between preferences having their source wholly in ourselves. Only when representing to ourselves another’s preferences are we to suppress or disregard our own preferences; this is done so that the other’s preferences may be fully represented. But everyone’s equal preferences are to be given equal positive weight and everyone’s interests are to count equally proportionally to their strength, as impartiality demands {‘Rights, Utility, and Universalization Reply to J. L. Mackie’: 110; Moral Thinking: 109-10, 128-9}.

    920. How can the intensities of others’ preferences be compared?     [Top]
    By fully representing to oneself another’s preferences, while temporarily setting aside one’s own preferences, one acquires replicas of the other’s preferences. So the intensities of these replicas can now be compared in the same way that one typically compares the intensities of preferences that are original with oneself, by putting them in an ordering of preferences {Hare and Critics: 212, 239-40; Moral Thinking: 109, 124, 128; ‘Relevance’: 89}.

    921. Whose preferences count in moral thinking?     [Top]
    The preferences of all possible sentient beings count in moral thinking {‘Preferences of Possible People’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 128-9]; ‘A Utilitarian Approach’: 86; Moral Thinking: 90-1}.

    922. What are prescriptions?     [Top]
    Prescriptions are linguistic expressions of preferences or desires broadly construed. In general, for example, the preference or desire that event x not happen could be expressed in language as ‘Let event x not happen’. A specific example is a prescription that expresses the preference that suffering stop. Prescriptions in general tell us what we are to do; moral prescriptions tell us what we ought to do, and these are distinguished from prescriptions in general by their having to be universalizable. It is important that there be such linguistic expressions so that we may speak of logical relations (e.g., inferences or inconsistencies) between desires {‘Satanism and Nihilism’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 109-10]; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 184]; Moral Thinking: 107, 185; ‘Drugs and the Role of the Doctor’: 85-6; ‘Wanting: Some Pitfalls’: [Practical Inferences: 47, 51]; Freedom and Reason: 151}.

    923. What kinds of temporal preference are there?     [Top]
    There are at least four kinds of temporal preference:

    • now-for-now (synchronic): a preference now for what should happen now
    • now-for-then (asynchronic): a preference now for what should happen later
    • then-for-then (synchronic): a preference later for what should happen later (i.e., happen at that later time when the preference is had)
    • then-for-later-then (asynchronic): a preference later for what should happen even later

    Of these, now-for-then and then-for-later-then preferences are not to count in moral thinking {‘A Utilitarian Approach to Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 158]; ‘Preferences of Possible People’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 126]; ‘A Utilitarian Approach’: 86; Moral Thinking: 101-3}.

    924. Since moral thinking does not include all kinds of preferences, how sure can we be of the reliability of the results of that thinking?     [Top]
    The preferences that are not included in moral thinking are very likely to be weak preferences and so will have little influence on the final outcome of the thinking. It is through exposure to logic and the facts that they would be seen to be weak relative to other preferences {Moral Thinking: 101, 106}.

    925. What are external preferences?     [Top]
    External preferences or non-experiential preferences are preferences for states of affairs that the preferrer will never experience personally. For example, the preference that homosexual acts not occur is an external preference for someone who will never engage in homosexual activity and will never perceive such activity {‘Preferences of Possible People’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 126]; ‘A Utilitarian Approach’: 86; Moral Thinking: 104}.

    926. How are we to know what preferences others would have if they were prudent?     [Top]
    Though circumscribed by human limitations, our knowledge of the facts allows us to identify what others would prefer if they were prudent {Moral Thinking: 106; ‘The Simple Believer’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 18]}.

    927. Do all preferences count in moral thinking?     [Top]
    Ideally, yes. But to minimize the complexity of the account of moral reasoning, some preferences are excluded. Thus external preferences do not count, and now-for-then and then-for-later-then preferences do not count. Ideally, though, it seems that some external now-for-then (i.e., asynchronous non-experiential) preferences should count; for example, it seems that preferences we have for what happens to our loved ones after we die should count {‘Preferences of Possible People’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 131]; Hare and Critics: 233-4, 246-7; ‘A Utilitarian Approach’: 86; Moral Thinking: 103}.

    928. What is it to prefer one thing over another?     [Top]
    There are at least two senses of ‘prefer’:

    • a pattern of behavior
    • a mental state

    As a pattern of behavior, a preference amounts to a habitual, but still intentional, tendency to choose in a particular way when presented with a choice. As a mental state, a preference amounts to an introspectable mental state of liking something more than something else. It is possible for the two senses to give different results, for it is possible for oneself to be aware of a mental state preference that one not have a behavior pattern preference for something (e.g., one might wish that one were not a smoker) {‘A Utilitarian Approach to Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 157]; ‘A Utilitarian Approach’: 86}.

    929. How are conflicts between now-for-then and then-for-then preferences to be resolved?     [Top]
    One way in which conflicts between now-for-then and then-for-then preferences can be resolved is by considering one’s overall set of preferences. A then-for-then preference which conflicts with a now-for-then preference and also with some additional preferences will fail to carry the day because the now-for-then preference along with the additional preferences can override the then-for-then preference {‘Some Reasoning about Preferences’: 82-3}.

    930. Do anyone’s preferences count more than anyone else’s: does anyone have a veto?     [Top]
    No. If a person has a preference that an action not be done, then that preference must be taken into account in the moral reasoning about whether one should perform the action. That objecting person’s preference must be given equal positive weight with all the other equal preferences of those affected by the action, but it may be overridden by some other preferences. What is decisive are the overall preferences {Hare and Critics: 216, 288; ‘The ethics of medical involvement in torture: commentary’: 140; ‘Some Reasoning about Preferences’: 83; ‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 634}.

    931. What is the Conditional Reflection Principle?     [Top]
    The Conditional Reflection Principle claims as a conceptual truth that fully representing another’s situation to oneself entails forming actual preferences now (regarding the hypothetical situation in which one occupies the other’s position with the other’s preferences) that are similar to the other’s preferences. This Principle, in combination with universalizability and prescriptivity, lead to utilitarianism. As used in moral reasoning, however, the Principle does not apply to asynchronic non-experiential (external now-for-then) preferences; for these kinds of preferences are not experienced as frustrated or satisfied, and it is just such experiences of frustration or satisfaction, not the mere having of preferences, that count in moral reasoning {‘A Philosophical Autobiography’: 300-1; ‘Preferences of Possible People’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 127]; Hare and Critics: 216, 250; Moral Thinking: 95-6}.

    932. Are the hypothetical preferences generated by role-reversal imaginings to be treated as if they were actual preferences?     [Top]
    Yes. Because universalizability requires law-like principles rather than material conditionals, role-reversal preferences, even though hypothetical, are treated in moral reasoning as actual preferences. In other words, the role-reversal preferences resulting from application of the imagination are actual preferences regarding hypothetical situations {‘Some Reasoning about Preferences’: 84; ‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 310-1; Freedom and Reason: 108}.

    933. Are things valuable because they are desired or desired because they are valuable?     [Top]
    Neither, for the answer will depend on whether ‘valuable’ is taken in an objective or subjective sense {Hare and Critics: 239, 270-2}.

    934. How do we acquire preferences?     [Top]
    We form preferences. This can happen, for instance, in response to a choice we have to make between options presented to us {Hare and Critics: 236-7; Moral Thinking: 125}.

    935. Is the relation between choice and reasons for choice a logical relation?     [Top]
    No. To be more precise, there is no direct logical relation between choice and reasons for choice. I may, for example, choose not to drink a glass of liquid that has poison in it. My reason for so choosing is that there is poison in it. But that there is poison in it does not, by itself, logically require me to choose as I did. It is possible, however, to reason to the choice by adding a prescriptive premise to the effect that I ought not to drink what has poison in it {‘Descriptivism’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 74]}.

    936. What is the connection between choosing and thinking something good?     [Top]
    If we typically choose something, then we think it good; and if we think something good, then we have some (perhaps a very slight) disposition to choose it. It should be remembered here that thinking something good should not be confused with something being good {Plato: 73; Moral Thinking: 22; ‘Descriptivism’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 69-70, 72]}.

    937. If we think something to be good, must we also think that it is desirable in some way?     [Top]
    Yes. We must also think that the thing thought good is itself desirable or a means to something else that is desirable {Plato: 73; Moral Thinking: 22; ‘Descriptivism’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 63-6]}.

    938. How are we to decide what is in a person’s interests?     [Top]
    There are a number of steps we can take to help us decide what is in a person’s best interests.

    • We can ask the person.
    • We can ask those people who know her best.
    • We can imagine ourselves in the person’s position.
    • We can use our knowledge of the facts (including those about the particular situation under consideration and general facts about human psychology and so on).

    Finally, unless we are very sure of what we are proposing, we should be very careful not to impose our own ideals on others {‘The Philosophical Basis of Psychiatric Ethics’: [Essays on Bioethics: 25]; Moral Thinking: 106; ‘Drugs and the Role of the Doctor’: 99-100}.

    939. Are one’s interests harmed if one does not know that one’s desires or preferences are not satisfied?     [Top]
    Yes. If one has a desire or preference that something be done but it is not done, one’s interests are harmed even if one does not know that the action was not done; for one has the desire or preference and has the desire or preference that one’s desires or preferences be satisfied or fulfilled rather than frustrated. In general, harming of interests requires only that the potential exists for desires or preferences to be frustrated or not satisfied. There has been confusion on this point because there is a tendency to think in terms of felt experiences such as pleasure and pain {‘Moral Reasoning about the Environment’: [Essays on Political Morality: 237]; ‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 4-5; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 119, 126, 129-31; ‘Political Obligation’: [Essays on Political Morality: 17]; ‘The Argument from Received Opinion’: [Essays on Philosophical Method: 131]; Freedom and Reason: 134}.

    940. What are desires?     [Top]
    Desires are sincere assents to prescriptions or imperatives, and it is for this reason that universal prescriptivism speaks more of preferences and desires than of likings {‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 118; ‘Wanting: Some Pitfalls’: [Practical Inferences: 46]; Freedom and Reason: 196}.

    941. Why give equal weight to both good and evil preferences or desires?     [Top]
    Universal prescriptivism will give equal weight to both good and evil preferences or desires in its method of moral reasoning. But this equal weighting does not entail that evil preferences will be just as likely as the good to prevail; for the method requires that the preferences be universalized or at least be consistent with the preferences we can universalize and which thus make up our moral system. It is not likely that evil preferences will survive this universalization requirement {‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 312; Moral Thinking: 140-2}.

    942. Are preferences alterable?     [Top]
    Yes. Preferences are alterable, for instance, by cognitive psychotherapy (i.e., exposure to logic and the facts) so that only rational and prudent, though perhaps also some bizarre, preferences survive the therapy {Hare and Critics: 217-8; Moral Thinking: 101, 180}.

    943. In what way can a preference prevail against another preference?     [Top]
    In the method of moral reasoning used at the critical level, conflicting preferences are pitted against each other in a kind of competition. In this competition, what makes one preference prevail over another is its strength or intensity in comparison to the other preference. The content of the preferences does not matter; for example, that one of the preferences expressed a moral conviction would not give it an advantage in the competition {Hare and Critics: 216, 288; ‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 312-3; Moral Thinking: 178-9}.

    944. What do preferences, interests, desires, and motivational states have to do with morality?     [Top]
    The method of moral reasoning used at the level of critical thinking essentially involves making choices between alternative singular or universal prescriptions. These prescriptions are expressions of preferences which we are prepared to universalize. The resulting universal prescriptions are moral judgments. Also, others’ preferences come into the moral picture because of the requirements to take cognizance of the facts and to universalize, which require us to put ourselves in others’ places with their preferences insofar as the preferences go with the places {‘Are there Moral Authorities?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 68-9]; ‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 312; Moral Thinking: 107, 111, 179}.

    945. In putting oneself into the other’s shoes (i.e., in the role-reversal procedure), in what sense does one have the other’s preferences and motivational states?     [Top]
    In putting oneself into the other’s shoes, and fully representing the other’s situation to oneself, one acquires the other’s preferences. But this must not be misunderstood. First, one does not literally acquire the other’s preferences. One acquires corresponding preferences or replicas of the other’s preferences; in terms of the type-token distinction, one acquires token preferences of the same type. Second, one has the other’s preferences only hypothetically, with regard to an imagined situation in which one is in the other’s place; one in imagination experiences the desires of the other. One does not have the other’s preferences in the actual world as one has one’s own preferences in the actual world. Third, one has in the actual world preferences with regard to the hypothetical situation such that if one were in the other’s place one would prefer to have satisfied those preferences that the other prefers to have satisfied; these are one’s in-the-actual-world-now preferences to prefer as the other prefers. With these three points in mind, there is nothing mysterious about the role-reversal procedure {‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 310-1; Moral Thinking: 108-9, 127-8; ‘Relevance’: 88}.

    946. What is necessary for a preference or prescription to become a moral judgment?     [Top]
    A necessary condition for a preference or prescription to become a moral judgment is that the preference or prescription be universalized {‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 310}.

    947. How are repugnant or gross preferences to be handled?     [Top]
    Because the content of preferences is irrelevant in critical thinking, repugnant or gross preferences, which are not harmful, will count equally with non-repugnant preferences that are of the same level of intensity. But given the way the world is, most satisfied repugnant preferences are less satisfying than satisfied non-repugnant preferences. So critical thinking will typically select prima facie principles that encourage the satisfaction of non-repugnant preferences, just as our current intuitions typically do {Moral Thinking: 142-6}.

    948. Do imprudent preferences count in moral thinking?     [Top]
    No. Although a complete theory would assign a weight to all preferences, it is helpful to make this simplifying assumption: in universalizing prescriptions, we are to consider only the prescriptions and preferences of others that they would keep if they were always prudent (i.e., never let now-for-then preferences dominate then-for-then preferences that are represented fully) {Hare and Critics: 246-7; Moral Thinking: 104-6}.

    949. How are immoral preferences, such as those of sadists, to be handled?     [Top]
    Critical moral thinking will, in deciding which prima facie principles to select for the intuitive level, consider various alternatives to immoral or evil preferences and bad desires. Given our experience of the way the world is, alternatives that produce just as much, if not more, preference-satisfaction will be found. So critical thinking will select those prima facie principles which encourage the good preferences and which discourage the bad preferences. For example, the case of the sadist can be handled in this way: first, the sadist’s pleasure is unlikely to outweigh the displeasure suffered by her victim(s); second, sadists can be given substitute pleasures or be cured; third, that sadists’ desire were to be satisfied would cause great anxiety among the general population {‘Moral Reasoning about the Environment’: [Essays on Political Morality: 249-50]; ‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 312; Moral Thinking: 140-2; ‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 122}.

    950. Who is the autofanatic?     [Top]
    The autofanatic is an imprudent person who lets now-for-then preferences dominate then-for-then preferences that are represented fully {Hare and Critics: 231; Moral Thinking: 105}.

    951. How are irrational preferences to be handled?     [Top]
    As called for by critical moral reasoning, irrational preferences, by exposing them to logic and the facts, will be eliminated or otherwise reduced or mitigated {Moral Thinking: 101, 140}.

    952. What is the requirement of prudence?     [Top]
    The requirement of prudence is that we should always have an overriding present preference to maximize the satisfaction of now-for-now and then-for-then preferences. Meeting this requirement ensures that we will be prudent in that we will not let now-for-then preferences dominate our fully represented then-for-then preferences. In consequence, our maximal happiness – in the sense of maximizing the satisfaction of now-for-now and then-for-then preferences – will always be preferred. In short, to be prudent is to think of a person’s future as one’s own so that one becomes concerned about the satisfaction of that person’s future preferences {Hare and Critics: 217, 231; Moral Thinking: 105, 222-3; ‘The Simple Believer’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 18]}.

    953. What can we use to help us represent to ourselves the situation of others?     [Top]
    Besides imagination, which helps to fill the gaps in our experience of how others fare as a result of actions taken, there are a variety of tools or aids we can use in order to help us represent to ourselves the situations – states of mind, preferences, motivations – of others and of our own future selves:

    • memory
    • induction
    • testimony
    • analogy
    • circumstances
    • consequences or effects of actions
    • environment
    • verbal and non-verbal behavior
    • anatomy
    • sensitivity to others’ feelings
    • habituation of thought

    One or all of these may be used {Hare and Critics: 217; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 184]; Moral Thinking: 127; ‘Language and Moral Education’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 166-7]}.

    954. What is the rational action for someone to do?     [Top]
    Without the requirement of prudence, the rational action is what someone prefers now when her present preferences have been exposed to logic and the facts. The present preferences are now-for-now preferences and now-for-then preferences (and only then-for-then preferences if they have now-for-then surrogates). With the requirement of prudence supplementing present preferences, it is now-for-now and then-for-then preferences, having survived exposure to logic and the facts, which the rational person will maximize {Moral Thinking: 104-5}.

    955. Is it rational to give less weight to future preferences simply because they are future?     [Top]
    No. Pure discounting is not rational; that is, if we are certain of what the future holds, it is not rational to give less weight to the future preferences (i.e., preferences which one may not now have but will have in the future). It is not rational to discount them because, if we fully represent future preferences to ourselves, we will have replicas of them in the present. This pure discounting must be distinguished, however, from discounting due merely to the unpredictability of future events; it is rational to give less weight to future preferences to the extent that we are not certain what the future holds {Moral Thinking: 95, 100-1; The Language of Morals: 57}.

    956. Does universal prescriptivism claim that we can fully know the experiences of others?     [Top]
    No. Universal prescriptivism does not claim that we can fully know the experiences of others, but it does claim that we can know what it is like to be others and that this manifests itself in our correctly imagining the experiences and preferences of the others so that we have equal conative responses (motivations) as if we were in the others’ positions {Moral Thinking: 95}.

    957. What is it to know what it is like for another to suffer?     [Top]
    In order to know what it is like for another to suffer, we must be able vividly to imagine ourselves in the position of the other with the other’s preferences and must have an equal aversion to (i.e., an equal motivation to avoid) our suffering what the other is suffering and must with equal strength assent as the other does to the prescription that the suffering stop {‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 184-5]; Moral Thinking: 94-5; ‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 630-1; ‘Relevance’: 80}.

    958. What kinds of mental/psychological states are relevant to preference-satisfaction?     [Top]
    There are three possibly distinct kinds of mental/psychological states that are relevant to discussions of preference-satisfaction.

    • affective (e.g., experiencing suffering of a given intensity)
    • cognitive (e.g., being aware that one is suffering and that the suffering is of a given intensity)
    • conative (e.g., being motivated to stop one’s suffering)

    At least with regard to suffering (which is not the same as harm or pain), it is a conceptual truth that the affective and cognitive states reciprocally imply each other, so that one cannot be had without the other. It is a further conceptual truth that if the affective and cognitive states are present then so is the conative {‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 183-4]; Moral Thinking: 92-3}.

    959. What knowledge of the preferences of others does rationality demand of us in making moral judgments?     [Top]
    Rationality demands that in making moral judgments we be able to represent to ourselves what it is like to be the other people in the situation under consideration. This knowledge of what it is like for the others is more than just knowing that something is happening to them; it is also knowing what it is like for them to experience suffering {Moral Thinking: 91-2}.

    960. What would be an example of a non-universalizable prescription?     [Top]
    A plain desire is an example of a non-universalizable prescription {Moral Thinking: 56}.

    Prescriptivity

    961. What is the substantive part of the prescriptive thesis?     [Top]
    The substantive part of the prescriptive thesis is that the moral words do have prescriptive uses that are a core part of their meaning {Freedom and Reason: 84}.

    962. Can ‘ought’ ever be purely descriptive?     [Top]
    Yes. Though in its typical uses ‘ought’ is also prescriptive, it is possible for ‘ought’ sometimes to be purely descriptive {Freedom and Reason: 52, 67}.

    963. What is prescriptivism?     [Top]
    Prescriptivism is a kind of ethical theory. Universal prescriptivism is one kind of prescriptivist theory. Prescriptivism itself holds that moral terms have as part of their meaning the logical characteristic that moral judgments containing the terms are, in their typical uses, intended to guide conduct in the sense that sincerely making the moral judgment commits the speaker to making certain choices in certain kinds of actual or possible situations. Moral judgments, then, are expressions (but not statements) of willing. In this way, their prescriptivity, moral judgments are like imperatives, but in other ways they are different {‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 19, 21-2]; Freedom and Reason: 67; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 51-2]}.

    964. What rules out asking whether one ought to do something?     [Top]
    The speech act of asking whether one ought to do something is ruled out if it is impossible to deliberate or wonder about whether to do that something {Freedom and Reason: 61}.

    965. What does it mean to say that a question does or does not arise?     [Top]
    A question, such as the practical or prescriptive question, arises just in case, if someone did verbally ask it aloud, what she asked would be comprehensible in the sense that we understood what her words meant and were not baffled by them {Freedom and Reason: 59}.

    966. Why does the prescriptive question not arise without the practical question having arisen?     [Top]
    When ‘ought’ is used with full (i.e., universal prescriptive) force, it is used in order to provide advice or guidance indirectly in answer to the practical question ‘What shall I do?’. So, if the practical question does not arise, this usage of ‘ought’ loses its point and so the prescriptive question ‘What ought I do?’ does not arise {‘Prediction and Moral Appraisal’: [Essays on Bioethics: 195-7]; Freedom and Reason: 56}.

    967. What is the difference between a practical question and a prescriptive question?     [Top]
    A practical question is the ‘What shall I do?’ question. It is a question that arises when someone is wondering what to do, and it calls for an answer that issues in either an imperative or a decision. A prescriptive question, on the other hand, is the ‘What ought I to do?’ question, which is a wider notion that encompasses both the practical question and the prescriptive ‘ought’-question {Freedom and Reason: 54-6}.

    968. Why does ‘ought’ imply ‘can’?     [Top]
    ‘Ought’ implies ‘can’ because ‘ought’ is a prescriptive word {Freedom and Reason: 51; ‘Freedom of the Will’: 206}.

    969. What reasons are there for restricting the scope of the dictum that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’?     [Top]
    Although some have tried to escape moral dilemmas by restricting the scope of the dictum that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’, there are better reasons. There are uses of ‘ought’ that do not imply ‘can’.

    • There are non-prescriptive uses of ‘ought’ that merely state sociological or psychological facts about moral conventions or mental phenomena.
    • There are uses of ‘ought’ that produce only general prescriptions (or quasi-universal) rather than universal prescriptions; in these uses the speaker carves out an exception for herself.

    The above are cases in which ‘ought’ has been weakened from its typical universal prescriptive use in which it is intended seriously and with full force. So it is not true that ‘ought’ always implies ‘can’ {Moral Thinking: 28; ‘Prediction and Moral Appraisal’: [Essays on Bioethics: 196]; Freedom and Reason: 51-3}.

    970. Why do we have ought-rules or ought-principles or prescriptive language in general?     [Top]
    We have ought-rules or ought-principles for several reasons.

    • We can, and have to, make decisions and choices about what to do and so face the ‘Shall I?’ question.
    • We frequently engage in activities whose circumstances present us with the ‘What shall I do?’ question.
    • The circumstances prompting the ‘What shall I do?’ question can be grouped into kinds such that ought-rules provide answers.
    • Practical realities demand that we learn, and everything taught can be reduced to rules.

    We can now also see why ‘ought’ implies ‘can’: we cannot be instructed in, or instantiate, a rule to do what is impossible {‘Language and Moral Education’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 158]; Freedom and Reason: 5-6, 51, 61; The Language of Morals: 158; ‘Freedom of the Will’: 205}.

    971. Can ‘ought’ be universalizable and yet not express a universal prescription?     [Top]
    Yes. When the speaker uses ‘ought’ prescriptively but makes herself an exception to the prescribed action, ‘ought’ is still universalizable (because of its descriptive meaning) and yet does not imply a universal prescription (because of the exception) but only a general prescription {Freedom and Reason: 53}.

    972. In what ways may the question ‘What shall I do?’, taken as a question about what action(s) to do, be answered?     [Top]
    It should be noted first that the question is neither ‘What will I do?’ nor ‘What am I going to do?’, both of which can be interpreted as asking for a prediction; ‘What shall I do?’, on the other hand, is more akin to ‘What am I to do?’, and can only be answered by a command. With that understood, there are three ways in which the question ‘What shall I do?’, taken as a request for advice or guidance about what action(s) to do, may be answered.

    • A: The answer may be occasion-specific, directly applicable only to a single instance.
    • B: The answer may be occasion-specific-by-rule, directly applying to occasions (as in type A) by specification in an invoked general rule (of type C).
    • C: The answer may be occasion-general, applying to a kind of occasion rather than to an individual occasion (as in A above).

    This scheme can be extended to a type D (analogous to advice or principles of type B) covering the past tense. Whatever the tense, however, answer types B and D, besides providing advice or guidance, also instruct or teach the general rule appealed to or invoked {The Language of Morals: 46, 155-6; ‘Freedom of the Will’: 202-4}.

    973. Why do the moral words have the property summarized by saying that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’?     [Top]
    The moral words have the property summarized by saying that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ because they are prescriptive. Moreover, this prescriptivity also provides the means for discriminating between cases in which ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ and cases in which ‘ought’ does not imply ‘can’ {Freedom and Reason: 51, 56}.

    974. Is the principle that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ the distinguishing mark of moral judgments?     [Top]
    No. The principle that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ is not sufficient to distinguish moral judgments from other kinds of judgment, for the principle does not apply only to moral uses of ‘ought’. The principle applies to all uses of ‘ought’ in which a judgment of any kind is made, or advice is given, about an action. There are many examples of these uses of ‘ought’ in ordinary language {Freedom and Reason: 52-3; ‘Freedom of the Will’: 201-2}.

    975. What kind of ‘can’ does ‘ought’ imply?     [Top]
    In the slogan that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’, the kind of ‘can’ is the kind needed in order to represent to oneself the question ‘What shall I do?’ Moral judgments imply freedom of choice in the way that advice and guidance, but not persuasion and propaganda, imply freedom of choice: advice, or even a command alone, does not determine conduct {Moral Thinking: 27-8; ‘Prediction and Moral Appraisal’: [Essays on Bioethics: 195-7]; Freedom and Reason: 51; ‘Geach: Good and Evil’: 105; ‘Freedom of the Will’: 211}.

    976. What is prescribed?     [Top]
    Both actions – which might include inaction or so-called acts of omission – and states of affairs can be prescribed {‘A Utilitarian Approach’: 85; ‘Foundationalism and Coherentism in Ethics’: 198}.

    977. What is it that makes some moral judgments prescriptive?     [Top]
    It is their evaluative or prescriptive meaning, which some moral judgments have in addition to descriptive meaning, that makes some moral judgments prescriptive; for prescribing, advising, and instructing can be done even when descriptive meaning or information content is totally absent, as in ordinary singular imperatives {Moral Thinking: 22; Freedom and Reason: 22-3, 26-7; The Language of Morals: 159}.

    978. What is it to accept a moral judgment?     [Top]
    If we fully accept a moral judgment, then our conduct conforms to it, at least in the sense that we are generally motivated to act according to the principle and make a real effort to use the principle in our lives; this is a tautology. A part of this is to say that when we accept a universal prescription, then we want the prescription to be fulfilled. It should be pointed out, too, that to accept a moral judgment is to say or think that what the judgment says holds, but that accepting the judgment is not what makes the judgment hold, or be true, or be correct {Hare and Critics: 251; ‘Some Confusions About Subjectivity’: 193; ‘Relevance’: 80; ‘Prediction and Moral Appraisal’: [Essays on Bioethics: 199]; Freedom and Reason: 47; The Language of Morals: 143}.

    979. How is prescriptivity related to choice?     [Top]
    The relation between prescriptivity and choice is logical or conceptual. That is to say, if a person sincerely verbally assents to a prescription alleging that one choice is better than another, then she logically must choose the better when she has the opportunity and other things are equal; for if she sincerely assents then she thinks it to be better, prefers it, and so chooses it, provided she has the opportunity, ability, and so on {Moral Thinking: 21-2; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 51]}.

    980. Is a statement’s being a reason for action that which makes the statement prescriptive?     [Top]
    No. That a statement is given (or taken) as a reason for acting does not in itself make the statement prescriptive. There are many examples in support of this; for instance, someone can sincerely assent to the statement that a hotel is in the picturesque Italian coastal village of Ravello and still not book a room at the hotel even though the person is looking to book a room at a hotel and is free to choose that hotel as well as any other. Here the statement asserting the hotel’s location is given (or taken) as a reason for acting (i.e., booking one of its rooms), but the action is not chosen (perhaps because one prefers to be more inland where one will not be tempted to go swimming and thereby risk swallowing too much sea water and getting sick from it) {Sorting Out Ethics: 70; Moral Thinking: 21}.

    981. What is the connection between prescriptivity and insincerity?     [Top]
    The connection between prescriptivity and insincerity is a logical or conceptual one. A way of characterizing prescriptivity is this: if a person were verbally to assent to a moral judgment that she ought to do some act in some situation and then, in that situation and with the ability to do it, not do the act, her assent must logically have been insincere, provided she has not changed her mind between the time of assent and the time of action (or inaction) in the situation. It must, however, also be kept in mind that there are degrees of assent and that sincerity can be compatible with failure to act if there is regret, remorse, guilt, and the like, subsequent to the failure to act {Sorting Out Ethics: 11, 17; ‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 184]; Moral Thinking: 21; ‘Language and Moral Education’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 159]; The Language of Morals: 19-20, 169-70}.

    982. Is prescribing or not prescribing ever necessary?     [Top]
    Yes. If we are in a position to prescribe, we necessarily prescribe, for instance, that we not be tortured. And, again, if so situated, we cannot prescribe that we be tortured {Sorting Out Ethics: 133-4}.

    983. Can purely descriptive words commend?     [Top]
    Yes. If someone has desires that will be triggered by a purely descriptive statement, then those purely descriptive words can commend. But this does not establish that there is no real distinction between descriptive meaning and evaluative meaning; for, because certain desires have to be present, it is a contingent matter whether those descriptive words commend, and it is not a contingent matter (at least not in the same way) that ‘good’ commends in its typical and central uses {‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 24]; Sorting Out Ethics: 70; Moral Thinking: 21}.

    984. Are there past-tense ‘ought’-statements that are prescriptive now?     [Top]
    Yes. There are past-tense ‘ought’-statements that are about actions done in the past and yet the statements are prescriptive in the present when they are said. Such prescriptive past-tense statements can occur, for instance, in the process of teaching someone how to do something. One might say ‘You ought to have done action A rather than B’ in the hope that the pupil will learn to do action A in the future {‘How did Morality Get a Bad Name?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 88]; ‘Prediction and Moral Appraisal’: [Essays on Bioethics: 196]}.

    985. Why must morality be freely accepted?     [Top]
    Morality must be freely accepted because prescriptivity is one of the logical features of moral language and we have such a prescriptive language precisely because we are free to make choices about what to do. A moral judgment not freely accepted would not be a genuine moral judgment in the full prescriptive sense of a moral judgment which we are prepared to accept and live by in all of our thought and action {‘Adolescents into Adults’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 64]; Freedom and Reason: 1-5}.

    986. Why do moral judgments have the grammatical form of indicatives if they are really prescriptions?     [Top]
    The conceptual or logical study of the moral words and sentences in which they are used shows that moral judgments are hybrids: they have descriptive or factual elements as well as prescriptive elements. So the indicative grammatical form of some moral judgments stems from their elemental structure and is therefore not a feature that needs to be explained away by the universal prescriptivist as superficial {Sorting Out Ethics: 11; ‘Ontology in Ethics’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 94-5]}.

    987. In what sense can ordinary statements of fact, too, guide actions?     [Top]
    Although statements of fact can, in a sense, guide actions, they do not have the prescriptivity by which moral judgments and other prescriptions guide actions. The difference can be seen in the example of the dirty stairs in which the lady of the house states ‘The stairs are dirty’ and this descriptive statement prompts the maid to clean the stairs; in this example, it only seems like the descriptive statement is doing prescriptive work, for there is an unsaid, but still assumed, prescription with which the statement is actually being combined in the mind of the maid, and it is this combination, not the descriptive statement by itself, that establishes the connection to the maid’s action {Sorting Out Ethics: 15-6; ‘Objective Prescriptions’: 19; ‘Philosophy and Practice: Some Issues about War and Peace’: 3; ‘Descriptivism’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 61-2]; Freedom and Reason: 187-191}.

    988. Is prescriptivity presupposed by moral argument?     [Top]
    Yes. Serious moral argument, wherein people are seeking answers to questions about what actually to do or how actually to conduct themselves, takes prescriptivity for granted; without prescriptivity the moral argument would be viewed as unserious, frivolous, practically unimportant {Freedom and Reason: 90-1}.

    989. What would it take to show that prescriptivism is incorrect?     [Top]
    In order to show that prescriptivism is incorrect, one would have to show that we never use the moral words prescriptively. It is not enough to show that we sometimes do not use the moral words prescriptively, for the prescriptivism in universal prescriptivism allows that we sometimes do not use the moral words prescriptively {Moral Thinking: 21-2; Freedom and Reason: 22, 84}.

    990. What problems would not arise if the moral words were not typically prescriptive?     [Top]
    If the moral words were not, in their central uses, prescriptive, then the following problems would not arise with regard to moral language:

    • the impossibility of naturalistic definitions of moral words;
    • the difficulties arising from ‘ought’ implies ‘can’;
    • the problems associated with weakness of will.

    The existence of these problems shows that descriptivism is presumptively incorrect {Freedom and Reason: 67-8, 84}.

    991. Why is prescriptivity an essential component in the golden-rule method of moral reasoning promulgated by universal prescriptivism?     [Top]
    Universal prescriptivism’s golden-rule method of moral reasoning, which is used at the critical level of moral thinking, calls upon people to ask themselves in earnest what prescriptive principle they are really prepared to accept if they were put into the shoes of the others in a given situation. The prescriptive principle they are sincerely prepared to accept is prescriptive and thus action-guiding. The ensuing actions can have a detrimental or salutary impact on people, and so people, in accepting the prescriptive principle, must also be prepared or genuinely willing to accept this impact, whatever it is, on themselves. Without prescriptivity, without the logical link between principle and action, then, the impact of the actions need not be considered, and the method of moral reasoning loses its bite or sting. In other words, without prescriptivity, a proposed moral judgment (e.g., ‘C ought to put me into prison for failing to pay my debts’) could not entail an imperative (e.g., ‘Let C put me into prison for my failure to pay my debt’) which we might be inclined to reject. In short, without prescriptivity, moral argument would be all talk and no action: we could say whatever we wanted, verbally commit ourselves to any course of action, and it would not matter because the words would carry no weight {Sorting Out Ethics: 18, 25, 129, 133-4; ‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 105]; ‘Why Moral Language?’: 87; ‘Peace’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 77]; Freedom and Reason: 91}.

    992. How does the prescriptivity of moral judgments help to show that they cannot be derived from ‘is’-statements alone?     [Top]
    The prescriptivity of moral judgments, which holds that moral judgments entail imperatives, can be used in a reductio-style argument to show that moral judgments cannot be derived from ‘is’-statements alone. The argument, possible because it is prescriptivity that makes substantive moral judgments synthetic even while all deduction is analytic, goes like this.

    1. Moral judgments entail imperatives.
    2. Imperatives cannot be derived from non-moral ‘is’-statements alone.
    3. Assume that moral judgments can be derived from non-moral ‘is’-statements alone.
    4. Then it follows, from the assumption and the explicit entailment claim, that imperatives can be derived from ‘is’-statements alone.
    5. But this contradicts the claim that imperatives cannot be derived from non-moral ‘is’-statements alone.
    6. So the assumption must be incorrect.

    In evaluating this argument, which is valid, it must be remembered that the explicit entailment claim is tautologous for genuine moral judgments {‘Why Moral Language?’: 82-3; Freedom and Reason: 23, 26-7; The Language of Morals: 32, 164, 168, 192}.

    993. What gives evaluative meaning to value words?     [Top]
    It is prescriptivity that gives evaluative meaning to value words {Freedom and Reason: 27}.

    994. What happens when prescriptive meaning is added to a word which hitherto has had only descriptive meaning?     [Top]
    What happens when prescriptive meaning is added to a word which hitherto has had only descriptive meaning is that the descriptive meaning-rule also becomes a synthetic moral principle. The meaning-rule will now tell us two things. First, it will tell or instruct us, as before, that it is linguistically appropriate to apply the word to a certain kind of object; thus the rule will retain the same content specification. But, second, it will now also tell or instruct us that it is morally appropriate to apply the word to a certain kind of object; thus the rule will acquire new logical behavior. In brief, adding prescriptive meaning allows the word to be used not only for verbal instruction but also for moral instruction {Freedom and Reason: 22-3}.

    995. Why can there be no gap between a prescriptive moral judgment and a disposition to act on the judgment?     [Top]
    There can be no gap between a prescriptive moral judgment and a disposition to act on the judgment; for if someone were not disposed to act on a moral judgment, then she would not be treating the moral judgment as prescriptive {Moral Thinking: 189; The Language of Morals: 168-9}.

    996. Can prescriptive conclusions be drawn from institutional facts?     [Top]
    Yes. But that one can draw prescriptive conclusions from institutional facts should not be taken to show that moral conclusions can be drawn from only factual premises; for there are always implicit moral premises hidden in the institutional facts such that without one’s subscription to the moral premises one is not a member of the institution and thus not logically bound to accept prescriptive conclusions based upon the institution {‘The Promising Game’: 410-1}.

    997. Is it correct to say that to desire something and to think it good are the same?     [Top]
    No. Although identifying one’s desire for something with one’s thought that it is good gets prescriptivism very nearly right by recognizing the motivative feature of moral thinking, the identification leaves the universalizability of ‘good’ out of the picture. So the identification is not entirely correct {‘Platonism in Moral Education: Two Varieties’: 574, 576-7; Freedom and Reason: 71, 126, 157-8; ‘Descriptivism’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 63-4]}.

    998. Does the thesis of prescriptivity claim that moral words are always used prescriptively?     [Top]
    No. The prescriptivity thesis does not claim that the moral words are prescriptive in all contexts. For example, ‘she is a good girl’ could be purely descriptive, saying that she displays the behavior considered to be good by society. It does claim, however, that, in those contexts in which the moral words are not used prescriptively, it is still appropriate to call them moral words and their use is still dependent on the prescriptive use {‘Moral Terms’: [Encyclopedia of Ethics: 869]; Freedom and Reason: 22, 52-3, 68; The Language of Morals: 172, 179}.

    999. Is prescriptivity a matter of grammatical form?     [Top]
    No. Grammatical form only makes it more evident or plain to see that some utterances are prescriptive; for example, the use of the imperative mood makes it very obvious that an utterance is prescriptive {‘Principles’: 2}.

    1000. Is prescriptivity to be understood to include permissions?     [Top]
    Yes. ‘Prescriptive’ is to be taken in a broad sense that includes permissions such as ‘You may do …’ The justification for this broad sense lies in recognizing that much of what we would not prescribe we also would not permit {Freedom and Reason: 22, 102, 196}.

    1001. What is the prescriptivity of ‘I’?     [Top]
    The prescriptivity of ‘I’ refers to the suggestion that ‘I’ is not only descriptive but also prescriptive or even only prescriptive; that is, part of what it means to be me is that I typically care more about the satisfaction of my preferences than I do about the satisfaction of preferences than are not mine and that I will typically act in ways to satisfy my preferences. What the suggestion does is add another element to the concept of personal identity such that a person who is, will be, or could be me is someone for whose preferences I have greater concern than I do for a person who is not, will not be, or could not be me. Thus when I hypothetically identify with another person by putting myself in the other person’s shoes, as I do in Golden Rule type moral reasoning, I acquire hypothetical preferences that I would want satisfied were I in the other person’s position with that person’s preferences {‘A Philosophical Autobiography’: 301; Hare and Critics: 282-3, 286; Moral Thinking: 96-8, 221-2}.

    1002. Does overridingness preclude prescriptivity?     [Top]
    No, overridingness does not rule out the prescriptivity of moral judgments. The prima facie principles used at the intuitive level of moral thinking are overridable and yet are still prescriptive. What happens when a prima facie principle is overridden in a particular case is not that it loses its prescriptivity but rather that it contextually loses its applicability to the case; the principle retains its prescriptivity throughout {Moral Thinking: 59-60, 178; ‘Moral Conflicts’: 190}.

    1003. Is the notion of an objective prescription incoherent?     [Top]
    Yes and no. Whether ‘objective prescription’ is incoherent depends on what is meant by ‘objective’. If ‘objective’ is taken to mean ‘factual’, then the phrase is incoherent; for prescriptions are not factual, not purely descriptive, do not merely state facts, and cannot be both descriptive and prescriptive at once. In short, a prescription is never a statement that anything. If, on the other hand, ‘objective’ is taken in the sense of a rational agreement or consensus, or in the sense of an impartial judgment, then the phrase is coherent {‘A Philosophical Autobiography’: 303-4; ‘Objective Prescriptions’: 25, 31; ‘How did Morality Get a Bad Name?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 93-4]; Plato: 57, 66-7; Moral Thinking: 83-4, 211-2}.

    1004. What is prescriptivity?     [Top]
    Prescriptivity is a logical property of some words and of some types of judgment or statement. Basically, a statement is prescriptive if and only if the statement alone (or with purely factual statements) entails at least one imperative which logically (i.e., without abusing moral language by misusing ‘ought’) commits anyone who assents to it to action. Principles can also be prescriptive in that they are things we can act on. In their most common uses, moral judgments are prescriptive because they tell (not necessarily get) us to do something, are used with the intention of guiding conduct rather than stating a fact or giving information, and because sincerely to accept a moral judgment is to commit oneself to action (in the sense of being generally motivated to act as the judgment prescribes) or to prescribe that action to others. In short, prescriptivity logically compels us to seek principles which we can use and whole-heartedly abide by – thus not for show or pretense – in our actual lives {Sorting Out Ethics: 17-8, 139; ‘Foundationalism and Coherentism in Ethics’: 192; ‘How did Morality Get a Bad Name?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 94]; Moral Thinking: 21; ‘What Makes Choices Rational?’: 634; ‘Prediction and Moral Appraisal’: [Essays on Bioethics: 199]; ‘Geach on Murder and Sodomy’: 467; ‘Language and Moral Education’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 158, 165]; ‘Principles’: 1-2; Freedom and Reason: 47; The Language of Morals: 30, 172; ‘Adolescents into Adults’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 59-60]}.

    1005. In what sense can prescriptions be objective?     [Top]
    Some prescriptions, namely moral judgments, can be objective in the sense that, by following the correct method of moral thinking, rational thinkers can come to agree on moral issues and so make the same moral judgments about the same issues. So objectivity cashes out as something like interpersonal rational agreement, stretching even across different cultures and societies, based only on logic and non-moral facts (which include facts about preferences). More briefly, prescriptions can be objective by being impartial prescriptions acceptable to all rational thinkers {‘A Philosophical Autobiography’: 303-4; ‘Prescriptivism’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 24]; Sorting Out Ethics: 134, 141; ‘Objective Prescriptions’: 25, 31; ‘Philosophy and Conflict’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 61, 65]; ‘Internalism and Externalism in Ethics’: [Objective Prescriptions and Other Essays: 107]; ‘How did Morality Get a Bad Name?’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 93-4]; Hare and Critics: 238-9; Plato: 66-7; Moral Thinking: 211-2}.

    1006. Is being a value word a sufficient condition for being prescriptive?     [Top]
    Yes. ‘Bad’, for instance, is (when used genuinely) a value word and thus is prescriptive, telling us that some action should be taken or avoided, that something ought to be done to avoid or fix whatever it is that has been claimed to be bad. In general, all evaluative or value words are prescriptive, for evaluative words are just those that have both descriptive and prescriptive meaning {‘Health’: [Essays on Bioethics: 42-3]; Freedom and Reason: 27; The Language of Morals: 8}.

    1007. What evidence is there that moral principles are action-guiding or prescriptive?     [Top]
    There are several reasons for thinking that moral language is action-guiding or prescriptive. First of all, it is just obvious from our experience that moral judgments, as ordinarily used, do guide actions {The Language of Morals: 195}.

    One argument for the prescriptivity of moral language is that the prescriptivity provides a good explanation of why we look more to actions or deeds than to words – more to what people do than what they say – in order to determine the actual moral beliefs that people hold. If moral beliefs were not action-guiding, there would be little point in taking, as we do, a person’s actions as the most reliable indicators of what a person’s real or sincere moral beliefs are {‘Religion and Morals’: [Essays on Religion and Education: 45-6]; The Language of Morals: 1}.

    Another reason for thinking that moral language is prescriptive is that moral judgments are in some ways analogous to imperatives. It is clear that imperatives often tell us what to do, direct our conduct, guide our actions. So, given the analogy, it is plausible to conclude that moral judgments are likewise action-guiding {The Language of Morals: 5}.

    The intimate logical relations between wanting something and thinking it good and between wanting something and trying to get it are additional evidence for prescriptivism, for they strengthen the connection between thinking something good and acting to get it {Plato: 72-3; Moral Thinking: 22; Freedom and Reason: 71; ‘Ethics’: [Essays on the Moral Concepts: 51]}.

    Yet another piece of evidence for prescriptivism is that it is possible that, in not doing some action, one can at least sometimes be said to have rejected the moral advice to do that action {Freedom and Reason: 85}

    One more argument for prescriptivity is that it can elegantly account for phenomena such as changes in moral standards and moral disagreement. As an example involving changing standards, people might all say that a person is good but have different reasons for saying so; in this case, the prescriptive meaning of ‘good’ is the same since all are commending her by calling her good, but the descriptive meaning is different since they have differing reasons (i.e., the non-moral properties in virtue of which they commend the person). If, on the other hand, some people commend her (by calling her ‘good’) while others condemn her (by calling her ‘not good’), we have an example involving moral disagreement; one possible explanation of the disagreement is again that, while the prescriptive meaning of ‘good’ is the same for all in being a term of commendation, the descriptive meaning of ‘good’ is not the same for all and that is why not all apply ‘good’ to her {Sorting Out Ethics: 55, 59}.

    It must be remembered, however, that, in saying that moral principles are action-guiding or prescriptive, the claim is only that moral principles are sometimes action-guiding or prescriptive. The claim of universal prescriptivism is not that moral principles are always prescriptive; there can be and are non-prescriptive uses of moral principles and judgments {Sorting Out Ethics: 18, 55; Moral Thinking: 22; Freedom and Reason: 22}.

    1008. What is the simplest form of prescriptive language?     [Top]
    Ordinary imperative sentences – commands – are the simplest kind of prescriptive language. Because of this simplicity and because moral language is also prescriptive, the study of the ordinary imperative is the best place to start (but not end) an investigation of moral language and ethics generally. Moral judgments are more a more complex kind of prescriptive language in that they, but not plain simple imperatives, also exhibit universalizability. Moral judgments, and prescriptive ‘ought’-judgments in general, are also more complex than plain imperatives in that plain imperatives do not have to have reasons backing them up but moral judgments do {‘The Structure of Ethics and Morals’: [Essays in Ethical Theory: 182-3]; Hare and Critics: 210; ‘Prediction and Moral Appraisal’: [Essays on Bioethics: 199]; Freedom and Reason: 36-7; The Language of Morals: 2, 79}.

    1009. What is conclusive evidence that someone does not assent to a moral judgment in an evaluative sense?     [Top]
    Conclusive evidence that someone does not assent to a moral judgment in an evaluative sense is that she does not assent to an imperative derivable from the moral judgment to which she assents {The Language of Morals: 171-2}.

    1010. When is someone using the judgment ‘I ought to do X’ as a value-judgment?     [Top]
    Someone is using the judgment ‘I ought to do X’ as a genuine value-judgment just in case she recognizes that if she assents to the judgment then she must also assent to the first-person singular command ‘Let me do X’. Another way of putting this is to say that if ‘ought’ is used evaluatively then it entails an imperative {‘Utilitarianism and Double Standards: A Reply to Dr Annas’: 310; ‘Prediction and Moral Appraisal’: [Essays on Bioethics: 201]; Freedom and Reason: 55; The Language of Morals: 168-9, 171}.

    Principles

    1011. How do our principles change over time as we grow more morally mature?     [Top]
    As we grow older, gaining in experience and developing morally, our general intuitive-level moral principles will tend to become more complex or more specific because we become better able to handle the complexity {‘Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism’: 126; ‘What is Life?’: [Applications of Moral Philosophy: 68]; Freedom and Reason: 40}.

    1012. What makes a substantial moral principle a synthetic judgment?     [Top]
    It is prescriptivity that makes a substantial moral principle a synthetic judgment. That this is so can be seen by reflecting on how a descriptive meaning-rule, which deals only with the meanings of words and is thus analy