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Entries in Meta-Ethics (2)


Truth, Belief and Moral Reasons

The point of making moral claims is to tell others and ourselves what we should or should not attempt to do. To accomplish this we produce statements about the shoulds and should nots which amount to reasons, i.e., providing our interlocutors (or ourselves) with information whose possession amounts to a source of motivation (a desire and a decision, when that becomes possible) to act. There are many sorts of reasons for acting, of course, including belief in the efficacy of the act for bringing about something we want (or which we believe we should want) or belief in the desirability (for whatever reason) of the act or object of the act, itself. Reasons stand at the heart of moral claims. And they imply a demand for justification because no reason stands alone. It's always part of a string of justifications: do this because of that, because of something else, etc. But reasons come to an end. If they did not, we would always be arguing (with others or ourselves) and never acting. At some point we must agree that something is reason enough or else the process is never ending and cannot result in action.

Sometimes we just stop the process of justifying arbitrarily. We grow tired, either explicitly or implicitly, and finally act, or desist from acting, without demand for further reasons. And many actions we take are done with no prior consideration of explicit reasons at all. We just act -- and perhaps compile and report our reasons after the fact. Actions are not dependent on reasoning to be actions although deliberating about what we should do and then doing it (or not) represents a large class of our actions as human beings. Those actions which we deliberate about, seeking for, and adducing and evaluating reasons, before acting, are the ones that are generally relevant to moral considerations. Actions performed instinctively, reflexively or mechanically (perhaps by habit or conditioning) fall outside the realm of moral consideration (except to the extent that we can address and alter our habits, conditioning and so forth). Morally relevant actions are those which we have the capacity to think about and weigh our alternatives before and during the acts themselves.

But to think about our actions in this way implies something else, namely that there is a potential for our beliefs about them to be correct or incorrect, true or false, thus worthy of our attention and action or not. . . .

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Act and Intent

Considering the features of any action which may warrant moral claims

All valuing assumes both choice (the possibility of selecting different courses of behavior) and action (the physical events which constitute the behaviors selected). Seen in this way, value can be assigned to any action along three vectors:

1) Intent (the purpose for which the action is undertaken)

2) Events (the physical phenomena associated with the act); and

3) Outcomes (the physical phenomena or states of affairs which the act is undertaken to secure)

That is, the sort of valuing we are now considering (this excludes uses of “value” which share the name but involve different practices such as truth values or fixing a symbol with some content) is always about picking an action to perform – either ourselves or to recommend or prescribe for another. To do this sort of thing we must look at the actions themselves to find features in them that commend the actions to us or should, in our estimate, commend them to others.

But if every action can be looked at along these three vectors, we have to determine how they relate both to one another and in light of the kinds of reasons we may give to justify a claim of having found value in them.

Consider a simple act like purchasing an ice cream cone. . .

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