15 Replies to “Two Polls

  1. Paul,
    It depends whether you mean a perfectionist about well-being or perfectionism as a kind of moral theory. And if the latter, it depends on whether you take your moral theory to a version of consequentialism. If you self-describe yourself as a consequentialist, then please take the poll. If not, please don’t. I don’t care what kind of consequentialist you are (act-, rule-, motive-, etc.) and I don’t care what your theory of value is. I care only whether or not you consider yourself a consequentialist.

  2. I voted no on #1 because I think there’s no reason to think that preferring the best outcome available will always have the best outcome. I think you should do the act that has the best outcome, whether you prefer that outcome or not. But since so many consequentialists voted yes, I’m thinking they were interpreting the question as really being about what one should do, not about what one should prefer. And my answer only makes sense if we think Doug was asking a trick question, or was checking to see if we are careful readers. So Doug, should I change my answer to yes? Or is the question really supposed to be about what we should prefer?

  3. Ben: I said what I meant, and I meant what I said.
    And, in the future, commentators should not mention how others are voting. We don’t want the poll to be biased by that sort of information.

  4. I wonder why there’s a ‘not sure’ option in the first poll but not the second. Perhaps you can explain after the polls close.

  5. The second poll seems to be giving a false choice. The metric for moral permissibility is consequentialist in character while the underlying theory for choosing the metric (which is not provided) does not appear to be consequentialist. Given the information we have one would want to say that the theorist/theory is simply deficient for the reasons noted above and not that the theory is coherently consequentialist or coherently non-consequentialist.

  6. Aaron,
    I don’t see why it’s a false choice. Clearly, this person’s reason for thinking that an act’s maximizing aggregate pleasure is what makes it permissible is not that she thinks that goodness determines rightness. But why does that make it a false choice? Whether such a person is consequentialist depends on whether one thinks that a consequentialist must hold that goodness determines rightness. If you think that a consequentialist can’t coherently deny that goodness determines rightness, then you should clearly answer “A non-consequentialist” to the question.

  7. Maybe I am being too picky but the problem is that we do not know why this theorist is choosing pleasure as the metric of rightness. Let us say that I want to claim that a coherent consequentialist theory must hold that the goodness of an outcome determines its rightness. It does not follow that the theorist in the example is in fact advancing a non-consequentialist theory. Given the description it sounds much more like an attempt to advance a consequentialist theory that is confused/incoherent. Thus I do not want to say that it is a consequentialist theory but I also do not think I have a basis on which to claim that the theory should be counted as non-consequentialist. Rather I suspect a failed attempt to show that a consequentialist can coherently deny that goodness determines rightness.

  8. Or to put it another way I do not think that any non-consequentialist theory could hold that ‘an act is morally permissible if an only if it maximizes aggregate pleasure,’ and I do not think that any theory that is not an attempt to deny ethics altogether could hold that ‘nothing whatsoever is good.’ I take both of these views to be widely held.

  9. I do not think that any non-consequentialist theory could hold that ‘an act is morally permissible if an only if it maximizes aggregate pleasure.’
    Are divine command theorists who believe that God commands us to maximize aggregate pleasure consequentialists, then?

  10. Well I take it that a concern over the ethical problem of how to properly describe ‘divine command theorists who believe that God commands us to maximize aggregate pleasure’ is not the actual problem you are interested in (especially since they see something as good).
    I would of course argue that the divine command theorist is not a consequentialist, but I would also, of course, reject the claim that their ethical view was founded on the principle ‘an act is morally permissible if an only if it maximizes aggregate pleasure.’ Rather the theory is founded on the principle that what God commands is morally required/permissible (whatever the case happens to be). It is of course true that non-consequentialist theories can and do recommend the consequentialist standard, but they are treating consequentialism simply as a moral standard and not as a foundational moral theory of reasons for why one should or should not apply this or that moral standard in this or that situation (see for example Hurley’s ‘Does Consequentialism Make Too Many Demands, or None at All?’ for an account of this distinction).
    Furthermore a good divine command theorist would never be so presumptuous to think that they could know God’s will better than God himself, and thus would never be so presumptuous to claim that God will always command that acts should maximize aggregate pleasure. Isn’t this also true for any non-consequentialist theorist? Regardless of how regularly they employ the moral standard of ‘maximize pleasure’ they cannot claim that moral acts can ‘only be moral if they maximize pleasure because whatever reason they have for regularly recommending maximizing pleasure it is not that it is only consequences that matter. Thus like with the divine command theorist described above, there can potentially arise a situation where the non-consequentialist theory of moral reasons recommends that one not maximize pleasure but rather employ some other standard.
    Note that my intention in my original comment was not to irritate you. I genuinely think there is something problematic with the choice set up and your answers have not convinced me otherwise.

  11. Hi, I’m new here. I’m going back to school to study Philosophy (second undergrad, then Masters, then PhD *fingers crossed*). This blog fascinates me. I’d love to participate in the polls, but–so far, I’ve only studied philosophy on my own. How do I KNOW what I am? Consequentialist? Normative Ethicist? I wish there were a quiz for this. O Wise Ones, if you would be so kind as to please provide guidance to the blushing neophyte…

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