Thursday, December 28, 2006

GRIFFIN: 3 well-being and morality/2

The question is:

do ethical push and ethical pull eventually meet?”

this “meeting” is interpreted in terms of “moral reasons [being] generated out of prudential ones” ("if you behave well - morally speaking - is always going to be good for you”)

Griffin allows that:

  • Moral reasons do trump purely prudential reasons.



that does not mean [...] that moral reasons are generated out of prudential ones. It shows only that once our various reasons for action – prudence, morality, etiquette, and the rest – are brought together in a single hierarchy of reasons for action, moral reasons come out on top. But we want to know something different. When we organize the various things that make an individual life better into a hierarchy of prudential values, does morality then come out on top? Does it, in cases of conflict, trump, perhaps even extinguish all other prudential values?” (68-69) [This is identified with the idea of McDowell about prudential value. Griffin here follows the Foot/Hosthouse line rather than the McDowellian one.]

“So the strong argument we need, which indeed many will make, runs something like this. There is no coherent concept of good in conflict with right; right is prior to good; good has sense only within limits laid down by right. Therefore, it would make no sense to say that morality required a sacrifice of good. Suppose I come upon several children trapped in a blazing building. Suppose, too, I ought to try and save them (for whatever reason are strong enough to create an obligation: it is one life against many; I am risking fewer years than they have ahead of them; I am responsible for them.) [This is starting with a bad example. We do not know enough about the life of the person who is supposed to make the decision. Suppose you were studying a molecule that would provide a vaccination for AIDS. Or suppose you had children to care, etc... We could question whether you have, after all, most reason to do is to save the trapped children.] I might reason: I could well die in the attempt; my life – if I funk doing what I ought – would still be a lot better than no life at all; by funking it I would, of course, suffer terrible guilt and remorse, but I would eventually face up to them and go on living what altogether would be a good life. But this strong claim means that I cannot intelligibly reason like this. The moral failure would make it impossible for it to be a good life; it could not be a better life than one without the moral failure. It could not, no matter how small the moral failure, and how great the disaster to me. [How small the moral failure is a rethorical device. An act which can be called “a small moral failure” in terms of conventional morality may turn out to be no moral failure at all when seen in the light of the right moral theory. For example, I may be poor and steal a drug to save my life. This is a moral failure in conventional terms, but it may not be a moral failure in the stronger sense of “moral” for which it is sensible to say that moral reasons “come up on top”.] It is an extravagant claim, and one that again, I think, rests on a confusion. We need to split the notion of 'a good life' into two. There is a sense in which moral failure, being a failure to act for the best reasons, is a falling off from an ideal – and not just in the trivial circular sense that it is not the most moral or most rational life.[ What it means is that it is among the things that count in a good life.] It is not the finest life: the life one would hope to lead. But there is another conception of a good life, a life one would hope to lead. It is the sense that appears in judgments such as that it is better to be moral and alive than to be moral and thereby lose one's life, or that it is sometimes better to fail morally and stay alive than not to fail and thereby lose one's life. [Here I shall ask: better from which point of view? Are such claims really typical, ones whose meaning I am supposed to recognize? Are they really uttered? And does the concept of “moral” in question refer to conventional morality, or to what is truly moral and therefore ought to trump other concerns?] And it is this second conception that should be the base for judgments of well-being in moral theory. [But I find there is more than one sense in which a life can be meant to be better, when it contains a moral failure, than another. Example: it contains more subjective states of happiness, it contains more accomplishments, etc… Why shall we suppose that there is only one conception of what it means for a life to go well, apart from moral considerations?] This is not at all paradoxical. We want as the base for at least some moral judgment consideration of quality of life that are restricted to the prudential values on my list. [who is “we”. Why should we want this?] And being moral enters that list only in a limited way: only by being part of what it is to be at peace with one’s neighbour and with oneself. This sort of peace is a prudential value, and when morality enters consideration under that heading it takes on prudential weight. But as a purely moral consideration, not subsumable under one of these headings, it has no prudential weight. We do not want to lose this prudential notion of a good life by merging it altogether with morality. [Why?] And we do not for reasons of moral theory: it needs the notion.” (69)[Is this supposed to be a constraining assumptions? If yes, it puts the argument on weak grounds. One could claim that morality does not need the notion. (E.g. Scanlon.)]

[Also: This shows that Griffin's conception of well-being as a particular sense of goodness invokes the self-sacrifice constraint: the concept of self-sacrifice must be coherent]

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