Moral Construction as a Task: Sources and Limits

Thomas E. Hill Jr.

in Virtue, Rules, and Justice

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199692002
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741241 | DOI:
Moral Construction as a Task: Sources and Limits

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Initially written for a conference on “objectivity” and “relativism” in ethics, this chapter distinguishes six different questions that fall under these general headings, and it comments briefly on Kant’s position regarding them. Then the chapter sketches a broadly Kantian position on two of the questions: First, how can basic moral principles guide and constrain deliberation about more specific moral principles? Regarding this, the chapter reviews Kant’s ideal of legislation in a moral commonwealth, interpreted as a deliberative procedure different from those commonly (and perhaps more literally) attributed to Kant. This ideal, which is explained further and used in other chapters, is presented as a constructivist procedure for normative ethics that, unlike metaethical constructivisms, presupposes and makes use of basic moral values associated with the idea of humanity as an end in itself. The proposed legislative perspective is like contractualism in assuming legislators’ rational self-regard and willingness to reciprocate, but the Kantian perspective differs from contractualism in important respects. Second, how can a theory’s basic standards be defended? In response to this question, two Kantian strategies for vindicating basic principles are briefly described. Setting the stage for these strategies were Kant’s arguments that all previous moral theories were mistaken, and these arguments remain relevant to contemporary moral theories. Beyond this, the strategies in question are, first, to argue analytically that the basic principles are presupposed in common moral concepts and, second, to appeal to each person’s consciousness of what practical reason demands when duty conflicts with self-interest. These strategies of defense invite comparison with Rawls’ method of reflective equilibrium.

Keywords: Kant; Kantian; relativism; constructivist; contractualism; humanity; moral concepts; practical reason

Chapter.  11284 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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