What Would Lewis Do?

In Helen Beebee & Anthony Fisher (eds.), Perspectives on the Philosophy of David K. Lewis. Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
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Abstract
David Lewis rejected consequentialism in ethics. However, two aspects of his meta-ethical views make it a challenge to see how consequentialism could be resisted. Lewis endorses a maximising conception of rationality, where to be rational is to maximise value of a certain sort; he appears to think it is possible to be both rational and moral; and yet he rejects conceptions of moral action as acting to maximise moral value. The second tension in Lewis's views arises from his meta-ethics. Lewis's naturalisation of morality is in terms of a naturalised account of value, including moral value. Insofar as he offers a motivational story for moral judgements, it is one that goes via a motivational connection to value. Yet his anti-consequentialism seems to commit him to rejecting a story of moral action entirely in terms of pursuit of moral value. In both cases there are things to be said about how to weave these strands of Lewis's thought together. After setting out these two apparent tensions in Lewis's thought about ethics, the paper discusses what a Lewisian could best say about these puzzles. Lewisians do have a number of plausible options for dealing with the first challenge. While there are things a Lewisian could attempt to extend Lewis's moral naturalism in a way that could deal with the second challenge, it is harder to see how to do this in a satisfying way. Attention then turns to what Lewis said in his letters on these topics: on that basis, perhaps Lewis was close to being an agent-relative consequentialist after all.
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