The Importance of Moral Rules and Principles

Thomas E. Hill Jr.

in Virtue, Rules, and Justice

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199692002
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741241 | DOI:
The Importance of Moral Rules and Principles

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This chapter describes elements of the broadly Kantian conception of why certain rules are important, reviews some common objections, and considers these questions: (1) Is it morally important to have shared moral rules about specific types of problems, rules that are distinct from laws of the state and yet not merely heuristic guides? (2) If there are such morally important rules, does their moral authority or the justifiability of particular moral judgments depend on more fundamental moral standards that can be expressed in the form of principles? (3) If there are such fundamental moral principles, what sort of framework do they provide for deliberation about the content of moral rules, their limits, and the priorities among them? (4) If principles and rules are important, how can we respond to common objections to their use and abuse in philosophy and in ordinary decision making. The proposed answers, not surprisingly, are affirmative: (1) we need specific moral rules, (2) justification presupposes more general principles, as illustrated in a Kantian account of practical reason, (3) one sort of deliberative framework can be drawn from Kant’s basic moral principles, (4) common objections show the limits but not the unimportance of moral rules. All of these issues are controversial. The aim is not settle the disputes but to sketch a view of moral rules and principles worth taking seriously. The discussion sketches a reconstruction of Kant’s view of reasons and rational principles, distinguishes the pattern for hypothetical imperatives from the pattern for moral (categorical) imperatives, and then considers where in these patterns the “reasons” for action are Finally the chapter comments briefly on the familiar objections: (1) Rules are no substitute for good judgment, (2) Rule-worship is irrational, (3) Morality is not all about social rules, and (4) Moral thinking is not all about systems of possible rules.

Keywords: Kant; principles; moral rules; reasons; hypothetical imperatives; categorical imperatives; moral judment; rule-worship; dancy

Chapter.  10374 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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