Rachels, Ch 13

What Would a Satisfactory Moral Theory Be Like?


1.      Rachels develops his own theory which he calls “Multiple-Strategies Utilitarianism”

2.      Right action (for Rachels) involves a combination of consequentialist (utilitarian), non-consequentialist (Kantian), and virtue ethics considerations

                  i.      We ought to act so as to promote impartially the interests of everyone alike (the general welfare)

                                    (a)    This is utilitarian

                  ii.     Except when individuals deserve particular responses as a result of their own past behavior

                                    (a)    This is a Kantian respect for persons

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

                                    (a)    This is an appeal to the virtues

3.      However, in the end, at the justificatory level, 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 promotes the general welfare, he is in the end a consequentialist/utilitarian

         b.      What best promotes impartially the interests of everyone (the general welfare) is sometimes to not act impartially but as people deserve or in accordance with the virtues which involve partially toward friends and family

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

         d.      Multiple strategies (ways) to achieve overall utility

                  i.      Not simply aim at maximizing general welfare of each act


4.      What impartial promotion of everyone’s interests involves: Everyone’s good or well being is to be counted

5.      He rejects psychological egoism

         a.      Weare social creatures who can care about others interests (to some extent)

         b.      So it is possible to care about others interests/good

6.      Rejects ethical egoism, racism, sexism

         a.      For they are discriminatory prejudices

7.      Location not relevant

         a.      Where the interests are is not relevant

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

8.      Time not relevant

         a.      When those interests are experienced is not relevant

         b.      Hence future generations interest count as much as ours and this has serious implications for use of nuclear weapons and out treatment of environment, including climate stability

9.      Species not relevant

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

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

10.    Hence importance of a 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.      Rachels rejects an anthropocentric (human-centered) view of morality

                  i.      Moral concern is not directed at humans only


11.    Treating people as they deserve involves treating them based on their past behavior

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

12.    Desert acknowledges people as free and responsible

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

13.    Desert enhances freedom

         a.      Treating people as they deserve enhances their control over their lives

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

14.    Treating people as they deserve is a way of respecting them

15.    Note: Desert 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


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

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

         b.      Thus one should not reward people for being lucky

17.    Natural lottery

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

18.    Social lottery

         a.      One’s fortunate social circumstances (the family one was born into, the country was one born in, the wealth one was born into)

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

         a.      We didn’t do anything to earn our natural/social givens

         b.      Both are a matter of luck and one doesn’t deserve anything on the basis of luck

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

21.    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

22.    One might justify these practices (e.g., giving the job to the naturally 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 "Multiple-Strategies Utilitarianism"). How does it conceive of right action? In what way is it utilitarian? In what way does it involve Kantian respect for persons? In what way does it incorporate virtue ethics?

2.      Explain how Rachels “Multiple-Strategies Utilitarianism”–despite asking us to treat people as they deserve and acting virtuously–is really at bottom the utilitarian view that we ought to promote the general welfare. What are the “multiple strategies” for promoting the general welfare?

3.      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?

4.      Explain what Rachels means when he says impartially promoting the interests of everyone rules out considerations of race, sex, species, location, time, and preference for oneself. Do you agree?

5.      Explain in what way Rachels’ view a “morality w/o hubris.”

6.      What is involved in treating people as they deserve to be treated? What facts about a person are relevant in determining what she deserves? Consider: Her native intelligence, her fortunate social circumstances, her own past behavior, luck.

7.      How does treating people as they deserve to be treated enhance their freedom?

8.      What are the “natural and social lotteries?” Give examples.

9.      Does our society reward people because of superior natural endowments that they possess and/or because they were born into a wealthy and well-educated family? Is this just? Fair? Is it treating people as they deserve to be treated?

10.    Should our society be based solely on what people deserve? That is should wealth, power, employment, status be based only on what people deserve? Why or why not?