Thursday, December 03, 2020

Adams' Critique of Global Consequentialism

From p.479 of 'Motive Utilitarianism':

The moral point of view—the point of view from which moral judgments are made—cannot safely be defined as a point of view in which the test of utility is applied directly to all objects of moral evaluation. For it is doubtful that the most useful motives, and the most useful sort of conscience, are related to the most useful acts in the way that the motives, and especially the kind of conscience, regarded as right must be related to the acts regarded as right in anything that is to count as a morality. And therefore it is doubtful that direct application of the test of utility to everything results in a system that counts as a morality.

How must the right motives be related to the right acts?  Plausibly through a principle that links normative and motivating reasons: an agent acts from the "right reasons" when their motivating reasons are the very normative reasons that make the act worth doing.  Something along those lines.

Adams is right that this plausible principle is incompatible with Global Consequentialism.  GC-ists must instead embrace a radical disharmony between reasons and motives, of the sort that Stocker powerfully criticized in 'The Schizophrenia of Modern Ethical Theories'.  That gives us reason to reject GC.

Curiously, Adams is more sympathetic to the direct application of utilitarian evaluation to motives than to actions.  This strikes me as exactly backwards.  However distasteful one might find some of Act Utilitarianism's implications, it could hardly be denied that one has strong moral reasons to perform the action that does the most good.  It is far less clear, by contrast, that utility-promoting motives are always rationally supported in this way.  Wanting the most useful motives, and acting to inculcate them, may of course be straightforwardly justified on utilitarian grounds.  But that's different from holding the motives themselves (which might have whatever perverse contents you care to imagine) to be warranted.  As I explain in 'The Right Wrong-Makers':

[A]n internal orientation towards the good may have bad extrinsic effects. For example, we may imagine that an evil demon threatens to destroy the world unless you acquire (and subsequently maintain) the very same vicious, morally contemptible motivations that drive the demon himself. He offers a magic pill that will induce this effect in you. As a good person, you care more about the world than about the purity of your own moral character, and so—quite virtuously—opt to take the pill and become vicious. Your subsequent motivational profile is, by design, morally contemptible. (We may suppose that you come to intrinsically desire to corrupt the virtuous, cause innocents to suffer, etc.) Nonetheless, it is highly morally fortunate or desirable—though you no longer care that this is so—because your new-found viciousness is causally responsible for saving the world from the evil demon's threat. So the moral aptness of one's motivations cannot be identified with their desirability or usefulness from a moral point of view. [...]

Of course, it's true that the value-promoting motivations are the best ones to have, but that simply isn't the same thing as their being fitting, virtuous, or what we mean when talking about acting with “moral worth” or for the “right reasons”. We may happily grant that promoting value matters more, in practice, than the latter sort of normative status. Even so, as moral theorists we should want to have an accurate account of this other kind of normative status. And that requires us to look beyond mere value-promotion, even for consequentialists. 


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