Assessing Moral Rules: Utilitarian and Kantian Perspectives

Thomas E. Hill Jr.

in Virtue, Rules, and Justice

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199692002
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741241 | DOI:
Assessing Moral Rules: Utilitarian and Kantian Perspectives

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This chapter compares and contrasts rule-utilitarian and Kantian thinking about what moral rules should be accepted and what exceptions they should allow. We do not, and may never, know just what particular rules would maximize expected aggregate utility, and the relevant Kantian perspective is not a fully determinate decision procedure. So assessment by reference to putative counter-examples is unpromising. Nevertheless, the chapter offers four considerations for thinking that the Kantian way of assessing moral rules is more plausible than the rule-utilitarian way. The fundamental problem is that rule-utilitarianism gives an inadequate account of relevant moral reasons even if it does not clearly lead to counter-intuitive conclusions. Promoting utility (the general welfare, preference satisfaction, etc.) is not the only reason for moral permissions and requirements, for why certain commitments are morally worthy, and for why facts about the past matter. To have a right and moral permission to pursue one’s own projects in certain contexts, for example, it is not necessary that general adoption of a system of rules allowing it would maximize utility. Kantians and rule-utilitarians will no doubt agree that one should not in general commit murder to prevent a comparable murder, but arguably this is not simply a matter of the utility of accepting moral codes permitting or forbidding it. Further, we may question whether it is morally worthy to commit oneself to any set of rules solely because they are utility maximizing. Finally, although rule-utilitarianism can be expected to favor moral codes with some backward-looking requirements regarding fidelity, reparations, gratitude, and just deserts, we may doubt that their moral force stems entirely from forward-looking estimates of their effects on aggregate welfare.

Keywords: Kant; Kantian; moral rules; rule-utilitarianism; moral reasons; moral permission; moral worthy; backward looking requirements

Chapter.  9752 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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