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Conflicts of Rules in Hooker's Rule-Consequentialism

  • Ben Eggleston (a1)

Extract

It is the business of ethics to tell us what are our duties.

—John Stuart Mill

Just about any proponent of a rule-based theory of morality must eventually confront the question of how to resolve conflicts among the rules that the theory endorses. Is there a priority rule specifying which rules must yield to which, as in Rawls's lexical ordering of the first principle of his theory of justice over the second? Must the agent intuitively balance considerations, as in certain forms of intuitionist pluralism? Or might there be some other conflict-resolving provision? Brad Hooker, a defender of a rule-based theory of morality that he calls ‘rule-consequentialism,’ confronts this question about conflicts of rules in his recent book Ideal Code, Real World: A rule-Consequentialism Theory of Morality. In this paper, I examine Hooker's answer to this question, and I argue that his answer fails to solve a serious problem that arises from such conflicts.

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1

I would like to thank Dale Miller for commenting extensively on several drafts of this paper, and two anonymous referees for this journal for their comments on the penultimate draft. I would especially like to thank Brad Hooker for his gracious encouragement of this project, and for his generous advice on it.

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2 John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism (in Mill, John Stuart Essays on Ethics, Religion and Society [volume 10 of the Collected Works of John Stuart Mill], Robson, J. M. ed. [Toronto: University of Toronto Press 1969], 203–59), at 219.

3 Rawls, John A Theory of Justice, revised ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press 1999), 37–9.

4 Hooker, Brad Ideal Code, Real World: A Rule-Consequentialist Theory of Morality (New York: Oxford University Press 2000). Parenthetical references are to this work.

5 Some might object, on grounds of public policy, that the consequences will obviously be better if one is required to eradicate corruption of the kind found in this case than if just one child, whose condition is not even life-threatening, continues to be the beneficiary of such expensive private treatment. Others, impressed by consequentialist arguments for agents’ being specially attentive to those who are ‘nearest and dearest,’ might object that the consequences will obviously be better if one is required to give priority to one's family member. To such objectors, I say: please just worsen one of Mike's options, as needed, in order to make the two acts comparable in the way assumed in the argument.

6 Quoting Brandt, Richard B.Toward a Credible Form of Utilitarianism’ (in Morality and the Language of Conduct, Castañeda, Hector-Neri and Nakhnikian, George eds. [Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press 1963], 107–43), at 134.

7 On the distinction between moral theories (on the one hand) and decision procedures to be employed in practice (on the other), see Bales, EugeneAct-Utilitarianism: Account of Right-Making Characteristic or Decision-Making Procedure?American Philosophical Quarterly 8 (1971) 257–65, and Railton, PeterAlienation, Consequentialism, and the Demands of Morality,’ Philosophy and Public Affairs 13 (1984) 134–71.

8 On 107, he writes, ‘Rule-consequentialist agents will have to rely on judgement to resolve conflicts between general duties.’ On 116, he writes that in some cases, ‘rule-consequentialism mirrors the indeterminateness of conventional morality.’ Finally, on 133, he writes, ‘Judgement will … be needed to resolve conflicts where the degree of one consideration at stake is less dramatically different from the degree of the other consideration at stake.’

9 Brandt, QuotingTowards a Credible Form of Utilitarianism,142, n. 6.

10 Copp, Quoting David Morality, Normativity, and Society (New York: Oxford University Press 1995), 86.

11 I owe this objection to an anonymous referee for this journal.

1 I would like to thank Dale Miller for commenting extensively on several drafts of this paper, and two anonymous referees for this journal for their comments on the penultimate draft. I would especially like to thank Brad Hooker for his gracious encouragement of this project, and for his generous advice on it.

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Conflicts of Rules in Hooker's Rule-Consequentialism

  • Ben Eggleston (a1)

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