A fault line in ethical theory

Philosophical Perspectives 28 (1):173-200 (2014)
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A traditional picture is that cases of deontic constraints--- cases where an act is wrong (or one that there is most reason to not do) even though performing that act will prevent more acts of the same morally (or practically) relevant type from being performed---form a kind of fault line in ethical theory separating (agent-neutral) consequentialist theories from other ethical theories. But certain results in the recent literature, such as those due to Graham Oddie and Peter Milne in "Act and Value", do not sit well this traditional wisdom. My aim in this paper is to argue that both the traditional wisdom and Oddie and Milne are mistaken. I begin by looking more closely at the traditional wisdom and why it fails (§1). Then I develop my account of this fault line in ethical theory and its importance (§2). Finally I show that a diagnosis of where Oddie and Milne go wrong follows as a corollary of this new account (§3). An important upshot will be that discussions of cases of deontic constraints would do best to focus on the account of the nature and importance of the cases identified in this paper rather than continuing to work with the mistaken traditional picture.

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Shyam Nair
Arizona State University


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