Moral reasons and moral sentiments
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Most philosophers believe that morality gives us reasons, and that those reasons apply necessarily and universally. I refer to this rather general view as the Normativity Thesis. My dissertation is (1) a defense of the Normativity Thesis, and (2) an inquiry into what form the Normativity Thesis should take. I defend the Normativity Thesis on the grounds that morally wrong action always provides sufficient reason for criticism of the wrongdoer. I then argue that sufficient reason to criticize always involve the failure on the part of the criticizable person to respond to her own reasons. Thus, morally wrong action involves the failure to respond to reasons. It is commonplace to capture the relationship between reasons and morality as follows: Necessarily, for all A, x: if A’s doing x was morally wrong, then when A did x, there was a reason for A not to do x. This thesis, however, is in tension with a prominent theory about reasons for action, Humeanism: Necessarily, for all A, x: if A has a reason to do x, then A has some desire that will be served by doing x. The tension results from the fact that it appears to be possible that someone lacks any desire that is served by ii refraining from immoral action. I provide a novel argument for Humeanism, inspired by Bernard Williams’ famous argument for that thesis. Thus, I argue, since we have very good reason to accept Humeanism, the standard way of specifying the Normativity Thesis is problematic. I suggest that given Humeanism, we are compelled towards a specification of the Normativity Thesis that gives a central role to what I call moral sentiments: compassion and respect. On my view, the normativity of morality derives from reasons to have those sentiments, rather than reasons for action. Finally, I suggest that this view of the normativity of morality provides strong but non-conclusive reason to adopt a particular view about the nature of the property of moral wrongness, or what it fundamentally is to be morally wrong -- a view that again places moral sentiments at center stage.