Volume 1, Issue 2, Fall 2007
Why Common Sense Morality is Not Collectively Self-Defeating
The so-called Common Sense Morality (C) is any moral theory that allows, or requires, an agent to accept special, non-instrumental reasons to give advantage to certain other persons, usually the agent’s friends or kin, over the interests of others. Opponents charge C with violating the requirement of impartiality defined as independence on positional characteristics of moral agents and moral patients. Advocates of C claim that C is impartial, but only in a positional manner in which every moral agent would acquire the same relational characteristics if that agent was in a certain relationship to the given moral patient. The opponents of C reply that a theory that allows for positional characteristics is self-defeating; it violates the requirement of prescriptivity due to its inability to provide moral recommendations what should happen all things considered. Advocates of C retort that a moral theory should be prescriptive by telling every agent what to do, not what should the joint outcome of those activities be. In this paper I analyze the last two moves of this debate: the objection that C is self-defeating and the reply that there is a plausible moral theory (C) that accommodates positional characteristics of special moral reasons. I argue that the last move wins. In the process I sketch out a theory able to accommodate agent-relative moral reason.