Intuitions and the Demands of Consequentialism
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 15 February 2011
One response to the demandingness objection is that it begs the question against consequentialism by assuming a moral distinction between what a theory requires and what it permits. According to the consequentialist, this distinction stands in need of defense. However, this response may also beg the question, this time at the methodological level, regarding the credibility of the intuitions underlying the objection. The success of the consequentialist's response thus turns on the role we assign to intuitions in our moral methodology. After presenting the demandingness objection to consequentialism and revealing the underlying methodological stalemate, I break the stalemate by appealing to research in the cognitive neuroscience of intuitions. Given the evidence for the hypothesis that our moral intuitions are fundamentally emotional (rather than rational) responses, we should give our intuitions a modest (rather than robust) role in our moral methodology. This rescues the consequentialist's response to the demandingness objection.
- Research Article
- Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011
1 See, for example: Williams, Bernard, ‘A Critique of Utilitarianism’, Utilitarianism: For and Against, ed. Smart, J. J. C. and Williams, B. (Cambridge, 1974)Google Scholar; Scheffler, Samuel, The Rejection of Consequentialism (Oxford, 1994)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Murphy, Liam, Moral Demands in Nonideal Theory (Oxford, 2000)Google Scholar; Mulgan, Tim, The Demands of Consequentialism (Oxford, 2001)Google Scholar; Cullity, Garrett, The Moral Demands of Affluence (Oxford, 2005)Google Scholar.
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4 Sobel, David, ‘The Impotence of the Demandingness Objection’, Philosopher's Imprint 7 (2007)Google Scholar.
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8 I call this position ‘extreme consequentialism’ in deference to Kagan's defense of ‘the extremist’ throughout the The Limits of Morality.
10 Sobel, ‘Impotence’, p. 3.
11 Sobel, ‘Impotence’, p. 3.
12 Sobel, ‘Impotence’, p. 17.
13 Kagan, Limits, pp. 11–15.
14 Hooker, Ideal, pp. 4–16.
15 Hooker, Ideal, p. 11.
16 As Kagan points out (see Limits, p.14, n. 9), it is not clear whether Rawls intends for reflective equilibrium to involve eliminating dangling distinctions.
17 This distinction between the two methodological models illustrated by Kagan and Hooker mirrors the distinction between ‘wide’ and ‘narrow’ reflective equilibrium described by Norman Daniels. See Justice and Justification: Reflective Equilibrium in Theory and Practice (Cambridge, 1997).
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19 Greene et al., ‘fMRI’, p. 2106.
20 Greene and Haidt, ‘Moral Judgment’, p. 517.
21 This neuroscientific research is certainly not the only reason to be suspicious of the independent credibility of our intuitions. As Peter Unger has demonstrated through a number of variants on the original trolley problem, our intuitions are also vulnerable to the ways in which situations are framed. In one variant – a two-option case, called ‘The Heavy Skater’ – you can either allow the trolley to roll over six innocent people, or else you can direct a heavy skater by remote-control into the path of the trolley. In another variant – a four-option case, called ‘The Switches and Skates’ – you have the same two options from The Heavy Skater, as well as two new options: switch the track to have the trolley roll over three innocent people, or else switch to yet another track resulting in a collision with a new trolley with two heavy people on it. Respondents overwhelmingly approve of sending the remote-controlled skater into the path of the trolley in the four-option case, but not in the two-option case; see Living High and Letting Die (Oxford, 1996), pp. 86–94. I thank Alastair Norcross for bringing this to my attention. However, at least some who accept the Demandingness Objection are skeptical of the empirical results that Unger describes, as well as the lessons he finds in these results; see Mulgan, Demands, pp. 30–1.
22 Singer, ‘Ethics’, p. 333.
23 Singer, ‘Ethics’, p. 347.
24 Singer, ‘Ethics’, p. 349.
25 Singer, ‘Ethics’, p. 351.