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Wouldn't It Be Nice If p, Therefore, p (for a moral p)

  • DAVID ENOCH (a1)

Instances of the argument-schema ‘Wouldn't it be nice if p, therefore, p’ are usually fallacious, but for a moral p they are not clearly as bad as they are elsewhere. I offer a diagnosis of this phenomenon, arguing that in some conditions – specified in terms of a logical property of the relevant normative operator – such arguments are actually valid (for a moral p).

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1 Tom Nagel – following Quinn and Kamm – gives a positive answer to the first question in the opening paragraph. See Nagel T., ‘Personal Rights and Public Space’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 24.2 (1995), pp. 83107. Margaret Urban Walker implicitly assumes a positive answer to the second question. See Urban-Walker M., ‘Moral Luck and the Virtues of Impure Agency’, Metaphilosophy 22 (1991), pp. 1427 (reprinted in Moral Luck, ed. D. Statman (Albany, 1993), pp. 235–50).

2 A point pressed against Nagel by McNaughton and Rawling. See McNaughton D., and Rawling P., ‘On Defending Deontology’, Ratio 11.1 (1998), pp. 51–2. They also mention further complications which I ignore, complications that may arise from the perhaps metaphysically necessary status of the basic moral truths. It seems clear, though, that such thoughts as the ones in the text can be given a sense even if fundamental moral truths are necessary.

3 Nagel (‘Personal Rights’, p. 92) expresses this intuition, but fails to explain or support it.

4 So both Nagel's position (‘Personal Rights’, p. 92) and McNaughton and Rawling's (‘On Defending Deontology’) are false.

5 Perhaps the point made in the text can be generalized somewhat: perhaps there are families of operators that satisfy GGp → Gp as a family, so that if both N and G are members of the family, NGp → Gp is valid, and so on. If so, and if the ethical operators form such a family, then the result in the text nicely applies to ethical contexts more generally.

6 For very helpful comments, I thank Alon Harel, Josh Schechter and Ruth Weintraub.

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