How to model lexical priority

Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming)
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Abstract

A moral requirement R1 is said to be lexically prior to a moral requirement R2 just in case we are morally obliged to uphold R1 at the expense of R2 – no matter how many times R2 must be violated thereby. While lexical priority is a feature of many ethical theories, and arguably a part of common sense morality, attempts to model it within the framework of decision theory have led to a series of problems – a fact which is sometimes spun as a ‘decision theoretic critique’ of lexical priority. In this paper, I develop an enriched decision theoretic framework that is capable of modelling lexical priority while avoiding all extant problems. This will involve introducing several new ingredients into the standard decision theoretic framework, including multidimensional utilities, de minimis risks, and the means to represent two different conceptions of risk.

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Martin Smith
University of Edinburgh

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