Rachels, Ch 13

What Would a Satisfactory Moral Theory Be Like?


1.       Rachels calls his theory: “Morality without Hubris”

2.       Dimensions of his theory

          a.       One: Morality is a function of reason

                    i.        We ought to do what there are the weightiest reasons for doing

                    ii.       Consistency in use of reason: If we accept a fact as a reason for acting on one occasion, then we must accept it as a reason for action on another occasion, except if there are morally relevant differences between these occasions

          b.       Two: Rachels combines consequentialist (utilitarian), non-consequentialist (Kantian), and virtue ethics considerations


3.       Right action specified as:

          a.       We ought to act so as to promote impartially the interests of everyone alike

                    i.        This is utilitarian

          b.       Except when individuals deserve particular responses as a result of their own past behavior

                    i.        This is a Kantian respect for persons

          c.       (And) Except when virtues like loyalty, friendship, artistic excellence, and doing one’s job well override the impartial promotion of interests

                    i.        This is an appeal to virtues

4.       Rachels position is a type of consequentialism: “A multiple strategies utilitarianism

          a.       Because Rachels justifies the appeal to desert and the virtues by arguing that acting on these bases promotes the general welfare, he is in the end a consequentialist

          b.       What best promotes impartially the interests of everyone is sometimes to not act impartially but as people deserves or in accordance with the virtues or partially with respect to friends and family

          c.       If people look out for their families, keep their promises, and sometimes promote the general welfare directly, this will maximize utility overall (promote the general welfare)

          d.       Multiple strategies (ways) to achieve overall utility


5.       What impartial promotion of everyone’s interests involves

          a.       Everyone’s interest count equally

                    i.        He rejects psychological egoism; we are social creatures who can care about others interests (to some extent)

          b.       Rejects ethical egoism, racism, sexism

          c.       Location not relevant

                    i.        Where the interests are is not relevant

                    ii.       Hence we must help sick and starving children around the world

          d.       Time not relevant

                    i.        When those interests are experienced is not relevant

                    ii.       Hence future generations interest count as much as ours and this has serious implications for use of nuclear weapons and out treatment of environment.

          e.       Species not relevant

                    i.        Whether the interests are human interests or those of some other species is irrelevant

                    ii.       Must extent the moral community to nonhumans who have interests

6.       Hence morality w/o hubris (without false pride)

          a.       An environmentalist dimension to Rachels theory

          b.       Humans have a modest place in the scheme of things

          c.       Recent arrivals (1/4 million or so years ago) to a planet that is 4.5 billion years old and has been teaming with other life forms for billions of years before we arrived

          d.       We get here and immediately begin to think of ourselves as the most important part of creation: As if everything here is for our use

          e.       “We exist by evolutionary accident as one species among many on a small and insignificant world in one little corner of the cosmos”

                    i.        Is it fair to say that earth with its teaming life and beauty is “insignificant?”

                    ii.       One might argue that it is of ultimate significance.

          f.       Main point: Rachels rejects anthropocentric (human-centered) view of morality


7.       What desert involves

          a.       Backward looking (not directly consequentialist)

          b.       Treating people as they deserve to be treated given their past behavior

          c.       Those who have treated others well (or badly), deserve be treated well (or badly) in return

          d.       Adjusting your treatment of others according to their behavior acknowledges them as free agents responsible for their actions

          e.       This enhances their control over their lives

                    i.        If they want to be treated well by others, they will treat others well

          f.       This is a way of treating people with respect


          g.       Note: This is a departure from treating everyone’s interests impartiality

                    i.        Desert is a reason to depart from equal treatment

                    ii.       As are virtues of loyalty, friendship and so on.


8.       Justice, fairness, desert and the natural (and social) lottery

          a.       The only grounds for desert are people’s voluntary past actions

          b.       Luck is not based on people’s past actions, and so is not deserved

          c.       Thus one should not reward people for being lucky

9.       Were people end up in the natural and social lotteries is a matter of luck and is not deserved

          a.       Natural lottery: One’s natural endowments or gifts: physical beauty, superior intelligence

          b.       Social lottery: One’s fortunate social circumstances (the family one was born into, the country was one born in, the wealth one was born into)

10.     We didn’t do anything to earn these; Both are a matter of luck and one doesn’t deserve anything on the basis of luck

11.     Thus one doesn’t deserve to be rewarded, praised or treated better on the basis of the results of the natural and social lottery

12.     A significant critique of our society

          a.       For many important benefits are giving out (at least in part) on the basis of fortunate social or natural circumstances

          b.       “In practice, people often get better jobs and a greater share of life’s good things just because they were born with greater natural gifts”

13.     One might justify these practices via utilitarian arguments about promoting the general welfare, but they are not justified on grounds of deservingness or fairness