Rationality and Moral Risk: A Moderate Defense of Hedging

Dissertation, University of Maryland (2017)
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How should an agent decide what to do when she is uncertain not just about morally relevant empirical matters, like the consequences of some course of action, but about the basic principles of morality itself? This question has only recently been taken up in a systematic way by philosophers. Advocates of moral hedging claim that an agent should weigh the reasons put forward by each moral theory in which she has positive credence, considering both the likelihood that that theory is true and the strength of the reasons it posits. The view that it is sometimes rational to hedge for one's moral uncertainties, however, has recently come under attack both from those who believe that an agent should always be guided by the dictates of the single moral theory she deems most probable and from those who believe that an agent's moral beliefs are simply irrelevant to what she ought to do. Among the many objections to hedging that have been pressed in the recent literature is the worry that there is no non-arbitrary way of making the intertheoretic comparisons of moral value necessary to aggregate the value assignments of rival moral theories into a single ranking of an agent's options. This dissertation has two principal objectives: First, I argue that, contra these recent objections, an agent's moral beliefs and uncertainties are relevant to what she rationally ought to do, and more particularly, that agents are at least sometimes rationally required to hedge for their moral uncertainties. My principal argument for these claims appeals to the enkratic conception of rationality, according to which the requirements of practical rationality derive from an agent's beliefs about the objective, desire-independent value or choiceworthiness of her options. Second, I outline a new general theory of rational choice under moral uncertainty. Central to this theory is the idea of content-based aggregation, that the principles according to which an agent should compare and aggregate rival moral theories are grounded in the content of those theories themselves, including not only their value assignments but also the metaethical and other non-surface-level propositions that underlie, justify, or explain those value assignments.

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Christian Tarsney
University of Texas at Austin


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