Rachels, Ch 13

What Would a Satisfactory Moral Theory Be Like?


1.      Rachels calls his theory: “Morality without Hubris”

2.      Dimensions of his theory

         a.      One: Morality is a function of reason

                   i.       We ought to do what there are the weightiest reasons for doing

                   ii.      Consistency in use of reason: If we accept a fact as a reason for acting on one occasion, then we must accept it as a reason for action on another occasion, except if there are morally relevant differences between these occasions

         b.      Two: Rachels combines consequentialist (utilitarian), non-consequentialist (Kantian), and virtue ethics considerations

3.      Right action specified as:

         a.      We ought to act so as to promote impartially the interests of everyone alike

                   i.       This is utilitarian

         b.      Two: Except when individuals deserve particular responses as a result of their own past behavior

                   i.       This is a Kantian respect for persons

         c.      Three: (And) Except when virtues like loyalty, friendship, artistic excellence, and doing one’s job well override the impartial promotion of interests

                   i.       This is an appeal to virtues

4.      Rachels position is a type of consequentialism: “A multiple strategies utilitarianism

         a.      Because Rachels justifies the appeal to desert and the virtues by arguing that acting on these bases promotes the general welfare, he is in the end a consequentialist

         b.      What best promotes impartially the interests of everyone is sometimes to not act impartially but as people deserves or in accordance with the virtues or partially with respect to friends and family

         c.      If people look out for their families, keep their promises, and sometimes promote the general welfare directly, this will maximize utility overall (promote the general welfare)

         d.      Multiple strategies (ways) to achieve overall utility


5.      What impartial promotion of everyone’s interests involves

         a.      Everyone’s interest count equally

                   i.       He rejects psychological egoism; we are social creatures who can care about others interests (to some extent)

         b.      Rejects ethical egoism, racism, sexism

         c.      Location not relevant

                   i.       Where the interests are is not relevant

                   ii.      Hence we must help sick and starving children around the world

         d.      Time not relevant

                   i.       When those interests are experienced is not relevant

                   ii.      Hence future generations interest count as much as ours and this has serious implications for use of nuclear weapons and out treatment of environment.

         e.      Species not relevant

                   i.       Whether the interests are human interests or those of some other species is irrelevant

                   ii.      Must extent the moral community to nonhumans who have interests

6.      Hence morality w/o hubris (without false pride)

         a.      An environmentalist dimension to Rachels’ theory

         b.      Humans have a modest place in the scheme of things

         c.      Recent arrivals (1/4 million or so years ago) to a planet that is 4.5 billion years old and has been teaming with other life forms for billions of years before we arrived

         d.      We get here and immediately begin to think of ourselves as the most important part of creation: As if everything is here just for our use

         e.      Main point: Rachels rejects anthropocentric (human-centered) view of morality


7.      What desert involves

         a.      Treating people as they deserve to be treated given their past behavior

                   i.       Backward looking (not directly consequentialist)

         b.      Those who have treated others well (or badly), deserve be treated well (or badly) in return

         c.      Adjusting your treatment of others according to their behavior acknowledges them as free agents responsible for their actions

         d.      This enhances their control over their lives

                   i.       If they want to be treated well by others, they will treat others well

         e.      This is a way of treating people with respect


         f.       Note: This is a departure from treating everyone’s interests impartiality

                   i.       Desert is a reason to depart from equal treatment

                   ii.      As are virtues of loyalty, friendship and so on.


8.      Justice, fairness, desert and the natural (and social) lottery

         a.      The only grounds for desert are people’s voluntary past actions

         b.      Luck is not based on people’s past actions, and so is not deserved

         c.      Thus one should not reward people for being lucky

9.      Were people end up in the natural and social lotteries is a matter of luck and is not deserved

         a.      Natural lottery: One’s natural endowments or gifts: physical beauty, superior intelligence

         b.      Social lottery: One’s fortunate social circumstances (the family one was born into, the country was one born in, the wealth one was born into)

10.    We didn’t do anything to earn these; Both are a matter of luck and one doesn’t deserve anything on the basis of luck

11.    **Thus one doesn’t deserve to be rewarded, praised or treated better on the basis of the results of the natural and social lottery

12.    A significant critique of our society

         a.      For many important benefits are given out (at least in part) on the basis of fortunate social or natural circumstances

         b.      “In practice, people often get better jobs and a greater share of life’s good things just because they were born with greater natural gifts” or born into lucky social circumstances

13.    One might justify these practices (e.g., giving the job to the natively smarter person) via utilitarian arguments about promoting the general welfare, but they are not justified on grounds of deservingness or fairness.

Rachels, Ch 13: What Would A Satisfactory Moral Theory Be Like?

1.         Describe and explain Rachels' own moral theory (what he calls "morality without hubris"). How does it conceive of right action? In what way is it utilitarian? In what way is it Kantian? In what way does it incorporate virtue ethics? What sort of hubris does he reject?

2.         Explain the notion of impartiality and some problems with impartiality as an ethical ideal. Does Rachels conception of right action insist on strict impartiality in all cases? For what reasons does Rachels allow a departure from strict impartiality?

3.         When Rachels argues that right action impartially promotes everyone’s interests, what positions and considerations is he ruling out? Consider race, sex, species, location, time, and preference for oneself.

4.         Why is it important to treat people as they deserve to be treated? Is desert forward or backward looking? What facts about a person are relevant in determining what she deserves? Consider: her native intelligence, her fortunate social circumstances, and her own past behavior.

5.         How does treating people as they deserve to be treated increase the control they have over their lives?

6.         What does Rachels think about the practice of rewarding people because of the superior natural endowments they possess or because they were born into a wealthy and well-educated family? Does he think people deserve better treatment because of this? Why or why not? What do you think?