Nov 18, 2022·edited Nov 18, 2022Liked by Richard Y Chappell

I think all the stuff you're saying is important and basically correctly, but I think it has to be admitted there are non-fantastical scenarios when non-naive act utilitarians ought, by their own lights, to do things that significantly violate conventional morality. Stuff about maxims and meta-courses-of-action complicate things, but ultimately if you live a utilitarian life, there is a non-trivial possibility you're gonna have to do something pretty 'sketchy' at some point.

How often this happens is a complex empirical quesiton relevant to the art of utilitarian living in the present moment in human history, but it does happen sometimes.

And, modulo stuff about population, everyone should be glad of this in some sense, since it increases their ex-ante welfare.

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Nov 20, 2022·edited Nov 20, 2022

The claim that "our normative ethical theory tells us how or whether moral agency upsets the basic picture given to us by our axiology" can be read as implying that axiological facts are prior to, and specifiable independently of, normative facts. Is this what you mean? Because if it is, many (most?) non-consequentialists will of course disagree: they will say facts about which outcomes are good are grounded in metaphysically prior facts about what agents have reason to want.

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If a moral theory, no matter how compelling, is easily abused, then it seems strange to avoid the possibility that despite being compelling, it is nevertheless incorrect.

While we might be able to get away with this in physics just as long as it gets us on the moon, the result of a mistake here is such that impacts the welfarist notions acting as a foundational appeal.

Given the repeated destruction in the wake of both good and bad acting utilitarians, at some point the utilitarian has to say utilitarianism does not deliver a greater good, no matter how you cut it.

Sam was not a bad apple. He was entirely predictable, predicted, and predicated by utilitarianism in its most fundamental, true form.

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Nov 17, 2022·edited Nov 17, 2022

"Ethical theories tell us what fundamentally matters, and actual events have no greater significance than purely hypothetical ones so far as such in-principle judgments are concerned."

I'm not sure this is uncontroversial.

I think many philosophers think that the "true" functions and algorithms in the correct comprehensive moral theory (if they exist at all) would be so incomprehensibly complex that they are not worth trying to determine--that would be a fool's errand. The best we can do, they reason, is to try to try to find moral principles that approximate the correct ones in the particular contingent circumstances in which contemporary humans find themselves. For this more modest task, actual events may well be of relevance.

[In a world where humans were a bit different (e.g. had significantly worse memory), morality (in this more provisional sense) would be different.]

Some appear to think that events such as the Holocaust and antebellum slavery are relevant to ethical theory in quite a theoretical sense. If I recall, some of the philosophical rhetoric in writings about the UN declaration of human rights suggests they are at least somewhat agnostic on these issues.

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