Consequentialism, integrity, and ordinary morality

Utilitas 21 (3):377-392 (2009)
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According to the moral standards most of us accept and live by, morality generally permits us to refrain from promoting the good of others and instead engage in non-harmful projects of our own choice. This aspect of so-called ‘ordinary morality’ has turned out to be very difficult to justify. Recently, though, various authors, including Bernard Williams and Samuel Scheffler, have proposed “Integrity Theories” that would vindicate this aspect of ordinary morality, at least in part. They are generated by treating as a default some moral theory, like consequentialism, that demands that we do a great deal of good. The theory is then modified so as to make room for individuals to pursue the projects they value most deeply, and perhaps their trivial interests as well—i.e., so as to respect individual integrity. This paper presupposes that Integrity Theories are correct and that, for the reasons given by others, they can explain why morality should grant us agent-centered prerogatives to pursue our own projects and interests. The goal is to extend this work in two respects. First, it will be shown that previous authors have not paid sufficient attention to ordinary morality’s conflicting pronouncements about agent-centered prerogatives. Second, it is argued that Integrity Theories can vindicate those conflicting intuitions by positing a special kind of obligations, relievable obligations.
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