From the Top, If You Please.

Some of my earliest thought on (meta-)ethical issues.
Now evaluation of action has been separated into two parts here. The first part is evaluation by natural normativity. One’s actions are judged by whether they are good qua human or not. Those actions considered to fall within the realm of the ethical are judged good or defective just as actions like foraging for food might be. Humans do make complex societies, in which foraging is not likely to be the source of anyone’s sustenance. But in so far as we are social beings, and we work together by participating in our societies, it can be just as humanly good for one to show up for work on time as for another, perhaps far away, to dig taro or cut coconuts. The general outline in ethics is set (no murder, no adultery, etc.) by our life-form, but ethics is here just a part of virtue, and virtue is set the same way (prudence, justice). That reasons for particular actions come from within (or derive from datable events in our lives) does not interfere with judging whether or not they were good or defective human actions, though they may have been quite favorable as my actions. If we limit practical rationality just to action, without building in any ethical component, we are not prevented from making ethical judgments about properly practically rational choice. My quest for a cancer cure may be hopelessly misguided or misinformed, or (introducing counterfactuals) the good I do produce may be less in the way of human flourishing than settling down to raise a family.
The second part of evaluation is concerned with irrationality. It must be admitted that if practical rationality is a master virtue, then irrationality must be a cardinal defect. If practical rationality itself is subject to natural normative judgments, however, the master virtue is also a master feature. All the evaluations of good we have to work with have to do with goodness qua human, yet unethical action has been shown to be bad qua human in two ways: irrationality, and (roughly) societal harm. We should fold irrationality back into simply a defect of a feature of humans, and no special significance attached to it (by which I mean increased penalties). The benefit of the additional method of detecting defect is not to restrict what is intelligibly the object of practical reason, but to condemn those ends that are incompatible with one’s or others’ living good lives. ...
Incomplete to be sure. I would now say, roughly, that "rationality" as usually conceived (e.g. as subject to internal "coherence" constraints) is unintelligible unless one shows a necessary, even "analytic" connection between the notions of rational deliberation and right action. In fact, however, though this argument is obviously far to broad to be taken without several grains of salt (I may explain further elsewhere), the misguided notion that there is such a connection underlies the deontologists' fruitless quest for moral perfection via rule and epistemically easy-access justifications: for what else does the formulation of universal law say but that you must do that which (other) morally proper would do, in such-and-so situation? That's what makes it a failed attempt to give the imperative content in that form. On the other hand, the formulation of humanity already brings in content, but is as such unjustifiable. I'm sorry to say that, whatever you'd like to think or wish to believe, Prichard was (in outline) correct. Reason doesn't "self justify"--nothing does that. And so now everyone wants to make Kant out to secretly have been a virtue theorist all along... I won't call it rank historical revisionism. But perhaps it is time to revisit this material.


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