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Volume 10, 1984

Lawrence L. Heintz
Pages 477-489
DOI: 10.5840/pra19841016

The Occasional Rightness of Not Following the Requirements of Morality

Laymen and philosophers alike find it counterintuitive to consent to the assertion that “it is sometimes right not to follow the requirements of morality”. This may be because the conventions of ordinary language do much to encourage the view that “morally ought to do” functions as an equivalent for “what one ought to do all things considered”. In this paper I will argue against such an equivalence and attempt to shake the holders of the prevailing view, that moral reasons are always overriding, from their dogmatism. The primary theses of this paper are (1) there is no acceptable ordering of reasons for acting--not between types of reasons nor within the category of moral reasons, and (2) moral reasons are not unconditional or unexceptionable. The body of this paper will include a discussion of various versions of the prevailing view (that reasons do have an order with moral reasons as overriding all reasons). I will make some brief remarks about several forms of simplification or reductionism which provide fertile ground for the prevailing view, specifically (a) efforts to transform ‘the all things considered ought’ into a ‘moral ought’ and (b) three efforts to offer a single principle as the basis of moral reasoning. Then I will attempt to reveal flaws in two contemporary expressions of the prevailing view; those of D.Z. Phillips and Kurt Baier. The bulk of my efforts will be directed at demonstrating the conditionality and overrideability of moral reasons. In the process I will also attempt to illuminate the attractiveness of the, if I am correct, mistaken but prevailing view. And finally a moral will be drawn.

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