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Neutral versus Relative: A Reply to Broome, and McNaughton and Rawling

  • John Skorupski (a1)
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1 Utilitas, vii (1995), 4954.

2 Broome John, ‘Skorupski on Agent-Neutrality’, Utilitas, vii (1995), 315–17.

3 McNaughton David and Rawling Piers, ‘Agent-Relativity and Terminological Inexactitudes’, Utilitas, vii (1995), 319–25.

4 Utilitarians would also endorse it as an underived or fundamental reason for x to do y. But they would not hold that it was the only fundamental or underived reason for x to do y. Unlike the egoist (i.e. what I called in my previous note the ‘rational egoist’) the utilitarian does not hold that an agent has to establish that doing y gives an expected benefit to him before he recognizes himself to have reason to do y.

5 It would not be enough for McNaughton and Rawling simply to specify, e.g., that it is that duty which one violates when and only when one tells a lie. They would also have to show that, if it is thus specified, it cannot be stated in agent-neutral form. See their rider, mentioned above on p. 239.

6 The agent-neutral reason-predicate is ‘It is wrong to tell lies and y is a lie’. In other words I am taking it that (x)(It is wrong to tell lies andy is a lie → x has reason not to do y).

7 Critique of Practical Reason, trans, by Beck Lewis White, New York, 1956, p. 65.

8 Here I am not assuming that intrinsic ethical value is a primitive concept. One can endorse teleological ethics while holding that the primitive concept, in terms of which intrinsic ethical value is defined, is that of a reason for action. Good and evil would still on this conception be defined prior to the moral law, though not prior to the notion of a reason for action.

9 But a misplaced ‘not’ crept into the text: Skorupski, p. 53.

10 Had McNaughton and Rawling said that the ethical, as against morality itself, is intrinsically impartial I would have agreed: this of course is a substantial stand, not a definitional thesis.

11 Their degree of strength is relative to the facts on which they supervene, and this is why in a proper treatment of their logical form they should be represented as relations rather than in the conditional form ‘p → there is reason to …’. On this see Davidson Donald, ‘How is Weakness of the Will Possible?’, in Essays on Actions and Events, Oxford, 1980, pp. 2142 – though Davidson would not I think agree that it is facts (as against beliefs) that rationalize.

12 As in my previous note I am omitting a variable ranging over choice-situations open to the agent.

13 Here I borrow points from Skorupski John, ‘Value-pluralism’, in Archard David, ed., Philosophy and Pluralism, Philosophy, Supplementary Volume, xl, Cambridge, 1996, pp. 101115 .

14 If one accepts the analysis offered of ‘de se attitudes’ in Lewis David, ‘Attitudes De Dicto and De SePhilosophical Papers: Volume I, Oxford, 1983, pp. 133–59.

15 I have benefited from discussion with John Broome and Roger Crisp.

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  • ISSN: 0953-8208
  • EISSN: 1741-6183
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