Finlay's Radical Altruism

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The question “Why should I be moral?” has long haunted normative ethics. How one answers it depends critically upon one’s understanding of morality, self-interest, and the relation between them. Stephen Finlay, in “Too Much Morality”, challenges the conventional interpretation of morality in terms of mutual fellowship, offering instead the “radical” view that it demands complete altruistic self-abnegation: the abandonment of one’s own interests in favor of those of any “anonymous” other. He ameliorates this with the proviso that there is no rational basis for morality’s presumption of precedence, leaving it up to each person to decide when and whether they prefer self-interested concerns to more stringent moral requirements. I counter Finlay’s radical altruism with fair egalitarianism, a more congenial interpretation of moral normativity that repudiates self-abnegation and holds instead that ceteris paribus everybody’s interests are equal. As a result, supererogation and moral sainthood become more intelligible, and the choice between self-interest and morality becomes one between different decision procedures, the particular advantage of morality being others compatible results.
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