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The Good and the Right


T. M. Scanlon has revived a venerable tradition according to which something's being good consists in its being such that there is a reason to respond positively towards it. He has presented novel arguments for this thesis. In this article, I first develop some refinements of the thesis with a view to focusing on intrinsic value in particular, then discuss the relation between the thesis and consequentialism, then critically examine Scanlon's arguments for the thesis, and finally turn to the question whether we should reject the thesis on the grounds that, when there is a reason to respond positively towards something, this is so because the thing in question is good. Two appendices follow. In the first, I discuss whether it is good to do right. In the second, I discuss whether an act's being wrong provides a reason not to do it.

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1 See Scanlon T. M., What We Owe to Each Other (Cambridge, Mass., 1998), pp. 95100; Ewing A. C., The Definition of Good (London, 1948), ch. 5; F. Brentano, The Origin of Our Knowledge of Right and Wrong (London, 1969 [originally published in 1889]), p. 18. Compare H. Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics, 7th edn. (London, 1907), p. 112.

2 Some may wonder whether it is another way. That depends in part on whether G is true.

3 Interesting upshot: to say that something has value or is of value – see v1 – is to ascribe to it some evaluative property, whereas to say that it is valuable – in the sense of ‘to value’ captured in v3 – is to ascribe to it some deontic property.

4 Scanlon, What We Owe, p. 95.

5 Scanlon, What We Owe, p. 95.

6 G. E. Moore, Principia Ethica (Cambridge, 1903 [rev. edn. 1993]), ch. 6.

7 He also has in mind a kind of value that supervenes entirely on its bearers’ intrinsic properties. It is controversial whether the non-derivative value in question must have this feature. I will not pursue this issue. For discussion, see Korsgaard C. M., ‘Two Distinctions in Goodness’, Philosophical Review 92 (1983); Kagan S., ‘Rethinking Intrinsic Value’, Journal of Ethics 2 (1998); Rabinowicz W. and Rønnow-Rasmussen T., ‘A Distinction in Value: Intrinsic and For Its Own Sake’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 100 (1999); M. J. Zimmerman, The Nature of Intrinsic Value (Lanham, 2001), ch. 3.

8 For a treatment of the general conditions of moral obligation, see Zimmerman M. J., The Concept of Moral Obligation (Cambridge, 1996).

9 For further discussion of such requirement, see Zimmerman, Nature, sects. 4.4–4.6.

10 The issue is treated at somewhat greater length in M. J. Zimmerman, ‘The Moral Aspect of Nonmoral Goods and Evils’, Utilitas 11 (1999), pp. 9–13.

11 Moore, Principia, p. 25 [rev. edn., p. 76].

12 This is what Dancy says in J. Dancy, ‘Should We Pass the Buck?’, Philosophy, the Good, the True and the Beautiful, ed. A. O'Hear (Cambridge, 2000), p. 161.

13 There is also this difference: the proponent of R is concerned with the sort of rightness that is related to moral obligation in particular, whereas (as noted in the last section) the proponent of IG is concerned only with that sort of rightness that is related to moral requirement in general.

14 Contrast A. C. Ewing, Second Thoughts in Moral Philosophy (New York, 1959), p. 104. Moore himself never uses the term ‘consequentialism’ to refer to his view, although this term has now become standard. It is not very apt. Note that R employs the phrase ‘a “together with its consequences”’. C. D. Broad uses the term ‘optimific’ to refer to that act whose consequences are, on the whole, intrinsically best and the term ‘optimizing’ to refer to that act which, together with its consequences, presents the greatest sum of intrinsic value. (See C. D. Broad, ‘Certain Features in Moore's Ethical Doctrines’, The Philosophy of G. E. Moore, ed. P. A. Schilpp (Evanston, 1942), pp. 48–9.) Clearly, in Principia Ethica Moore claims that an act's being overall morally right is a matter of its being optimizing, not optimific. The term ‘consequentialism’ would be better suited to the view that an act's being overall morally right is a matter of its being optimific, since whether an act is optimific turns solely on the intrinsic values of its consequences (and of those of its alternatives) and not also on the intrinsic value of the act itself. It may seem that the term ‘consequentialism’ is better suited to the view of overall moral rightness that Moore espouses in his later book, Ethics, but the matter is complicated. It is true that in this later work Moore characterizes what it is ‘best’ to do in terms of what is optimific rather than what is optimizing – see G. E. Moore, Ethics (Oxford, 1965 [originally published in 1912]) – and it may therefore seem that he is thereby modifying his understanding of consequentialism. But I think this appearance is misleading. The explanation for the change in his characterization of ‘best’ is, I believe, as follows. In Ethics Moore begins by proposing a theory that he calls ‘utilitarianism’, which is a combination of hedonism and consequentialism. This combination collapses the distinction between what is optimific and what is optimizing, since according to hedonism acts themselves can have no (or can at best have neutral) intrinsic value. Moore then goes on to entertain a number of objections to utilitarianism. He in effect divides these objections into two classes: those that target consequentialism, and those that target hedonism. He rebuts all of the former and continues to embrace consequentialism. However, he accepts certain objections to hedonism, and so ends up rejecting utilitarianism. He fails to note, however, that the rejection of hedonism resurrects the distinction between what is optimific and what is optimizing, and as a consequence, in equating what is overall morally right with what is optimific, he misrepresents his own account of the conditions of such rightness. This is something that Broad brings out in Broad, ‘Certain Features’, p. 50, and Moore accepts the criticism in G. E. Moore, ‘A Reply to My Critics’, The Philosophy of G. E. Moore, ed. P. A. Schilpp (Evanston, 1942), pp. 559–60. (Having noted this, I should also note that in Ethics Moore nonetheless does in another way significantly modify his understanding of the relation between what is overall morally right and what is best. In Principia Ethica, he claims that doing what is overall morally right is to be analysed in terms of doing what is best; this thesis is captured by R. In Ethics, he claims only that the former is strictly equivalent to the latter. He gives his reasons for making this move in Moore, ‘Reply’, pp. 558–9.)

15 Dancy, ‘Should We’, p. 168.

16 W. D. Ross, The Right and the Good (Oxford, 2002 [originally published in 1930]), p. 21.

17 Ross, The Right, p. 27. It is surprising to me that (d) is said to fall under this principle, and also that (g) is not said to.

18 Such moves are discussed in J. Olson, ‘Buck-Passing and the Consequentialism/Deontology Distinction’, forthcoming.

19 Crisp reports in Crisp R., ‘Value, Reasons and the Structure of Justification: How to Avoid Passing the Buck’, Analysis 65 (2005), p. 83, that Scanlon intended something along these lines.

20 Dancy reports in Dancy, ‘Should We’, p. 168, n. 4, that Derek Parfit made a suggestion along these lines. It may be that what Scanlon intended is something along these lines in addition to, or instead of, the lines of IG1 (on which, see the last note).

21 Scanlon, What We Owe, pp. 96–8.

22 Scanlon, What We Owe, p. 95.

23 Thus G could be equally well rendered as x has value = df. x is valuable or as x is of value = df. x is valuable. See n. 3 above.

24 See Scanlon T. M., ‘Reasons, Responsibility, and Reliance: Replies to Wallace, Dworkin, and Deigh’, Ethics 112 (2002), p. 513.

25 Crisp, ‘Value’, p. 81.

26 In private communication, Jonas Olson and Robert Pulvertaft have suggested the following rationale for having the buck stop at P and thus for not passing it on to N: V (or G) supervenes necessarily on P, but P supervenes only contingently on N. That is, whereas V (or G) obtains in all possible worlds in which P obtains, there are some worlds (presumably worlds with psychophysical laws different from those that obtain in the actual world) in which N obtains but P does not. P thus provides all the explanation of V (or G) that is needed, whereas N does not. For this reason the buck stops at P and does not pass on to N. My response: presumably there is some fact X (a complex fact that comprises the psychophysical laws that obtain in the actual world) such that P supervenes necessarily on (N & X). There is no good reason, then, for the buck to stop at P; even if it does not pass on to N, it must at least pass on to (N & X). Olson has responded in turn: it is conceivable that P supervene on nothing at all; that is why the buck stops at P. My response to this: I grant that it is conceivable that P not supervene on any neurophysiological fact; I am not so sure that it is conceivable that P supervene on nothing at all. But even if this is conceivable, so what? Surely we should not require of all value-grounding facts that they be such that they can obtain ungrounded. That would be too demanding; it would preclude many alleged grounds of value (such as knowledge and understanding) from being such grounds.

27 Dancy, ‘Should We’, p. 164.

28 Dancy, ‘Should We’, p. 165; emphasis added.

29 Some philosophers have argued that the idea should be rejected, claiming that it is possible that something be intrinsically valuable without being intrinsically good. See e.g. Blanshard B., Reason and Goodness (London, 1961), pp. 287–9; W. Rabinowicz and T. Rønnow-Rasmussen, ‘The Strike of the Demon: On Fitting Pro-Attitudes and Value’, Ethics, 114 (2004). I believe these arguments fail, but I will not pursue the issue here. I suppose that someone might also argue that it is possible that something be intrinsically good without being intrinsically valuable, on the grounds that, to have a reason to behave in some way (e.g. to favour something), one must be motivated to do so, and it is possible that someone be aware of something intrinsically good without being motivated to favour it. I believe that this argument fails, too, but again I will not pursue the issue here.

30 See Blanshard, Reason, pp. 284–6. Compare W. D. Ross, Foundations of Ethics (Oxford, 1939), pp. 278–9, although Ross obscures the issue by failing to distinguish the various senses of the verb ‘to value’ noted in Section II above.

31 This thesis is depicted in Picture 3 above.

32 In addition to Scanlon's Redundancy Argument, see Ewing, Definition, pp. 157 and 172. Compare N. Lemos, Intrinsic Value (Cambridge, 1994), p. 19.

33 See Ewing, Second Thoughts, p. 100.

34 How analyses manage to combine these features is of course a vexed issue.

35 This illustration is borrowed from Zimmerman, Nature, p. 115.

36 Crisp, ‘Value’, p. 82.

37 Compare F. Jackson and P. Pettit, ‘Program Explanation: A General Perspective’, Mind, Morality, and Explanation, ed. F. Jackson, P. Pettit, and M. Smith (Oxford, 2004), pp. 129–30.

38 Scanlon, What We Owe, p. 11.

39 Dancy, ‘Should We’, pp. 165–6.

40 Dancy, ‘Should We’, p. 167.

41 Earlier drafts of this article were presented at the University of Toronto, the University of Calgary, and the 2005 meeting at Dartmouth College of the International Society for Utilitarian Studies. For comments on those and other occasions I thank in particular John Baker, Rachel Bryant, Philip Clark, Jorge Garcia, Ish Haji, Jennifer Hawkins, Tom Hurka, Ali Kazmi, Noa Latham, Dennis McKerlie, Mark Migotti, Andrew Moore, Jonas Olson, Philip Pettit, Robert Pulvertaft, Michael Smith, Gopal Sreenivasan, Wayne Sumner, Sergio Tenenbaum, and Nicole Wyatt. Many thanks also to Roger Crisp for his help.

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