Ethical Theories Part II

Feb 1, 2013 by

Now, last week I began examining Common Sense Morality (CSM) by examining one of its branches:  Naive Common Sense Morality (NCSM).  This week I would like to examine the other branch:  Sophisticated Common Sense Morality (SCSM).  To quickly recap, NCSM believes that there are five basic rules:  Don’t Kill, Lie, or Steal; keep promises; and help those in need.  This theory appeared to have some problems though in that it had no resolution for when the choice of actions caused a conflict in the rules.  I used the example of the Nazis asking if you were hiding any Jews, do you tell lie or not help the Jew in need?

Now, SCSM is an attempt to resolve the problems with NCSM.  SCSM takes the same rules and rationale of NCSM but adds priority rules to it.  For instance, it is better to help others in need than to keep your promises.  Seems simple enough.  This means that you can hide  the Jew from the Nazis and morally lie about it to them.  It is better to not kill than keep your promises.  It is better to help those in need than not steal.  Priority rules appear, on the surface, to help CSM be a viable moral theory, but there are two problems which immediately happen with SCSM.

A second desirable trait for a moral theory to have is that it must not be too complex.  All else being equal, a complex moral theory is not desirable because it makes it hard for the agent to know the entire theory.  This is a problem that SCSM has.  In order to resolve the Nazi question, we agreed that it was better to help others in need than tell the truth.  However, what if you know where Hitler is hiding from an assassination attempt?  Do you lie about his location because it is helping someone in need?  No, so now you are adding exceptions to the priority rules.  Moreover, the conflicts of rules can become complex in and of themselves.  You promise to kill a person so that his kidney will help a dieing person, but you have to steal a weapon and lie about having stolen it.  This case is very complex.  This complexity of priority rules is a problem that is hard for SCSM to overcome.

A third desirable feature for a  theory to have is that it must have a logical rationale for its belief.  This seems easy enough for SCSM, it is based on Common Sense.  Well, we may agree that the basic rules are based on collective common sense, but the priority rules aren’t, they are approximated.  We didn’t go out and poll the world on what they believe each priority rule should be.  Even if we tried to approximate the rules, there are a lot of scenarios where we might get a large divergence of opinions on what moral rule takes priority.  The priority rules don’t derive their logic from the common sense that CSM derives its basic logic from.

Common Sense Morality does have a strength in that it is based on what most everyone believes, but it runs into problems with that it has either no resolve for its conflicts of rules, or has overly complex, unjustified resolutions.

Related Posts

Share This

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

This site is protected by Comment SPAM Wiper.