This paper develops and defends a conception of moral coherence that is suitable for use in contexts of principle pluralism. I argue that, as they are traditionally understood, coherence methods stack the deck against pluralist theories, by incorporating norms such as systematicity—that the principles of a theory should be as few and as simple as possible. I develop and defend an alternative, minimal, conception of coherence that focuses instead on consistency. It has been suggested that consistency in this context should aim at the avoidance of conflict, but I argue against this: what matters is “case consistency,” or judging consistently from one case to another. This means judging in accordance with morally relevant similarities and differences. I defend my proposal of minimal coherence from objections having to do with complexity and arbitrariness.
See e.g. Klemens Kappel“Meta-Justification of Reflective Equilibrium,”Ethical Theory and Moral Practice9 (2006) 131–147for a list of standard elements of moral coherence. Though Kappel uses the term “systematicity” differently from the way I do here he includes “simplicity” and “generality” as elements in a way that seems to me equivalent to the systematicity norm offered here. David Brink Geoffrey Sayre-McCord and Shelly Kagan each interpret coherence in roughly this way; I discuss particular texts below.
Norman Daniels“Reflective Equilibrium”The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy(Spring 2011 Edition) Edward N. Zalta (ed.) url = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2011/entries/reflective-equilibrium/>.
See e.g. Kappel“Meta-Justification of Reflective Equilibrium” p. 132. Sayre-McCord’s “coherence” model in his “Coherence and Models of Moral Theorizing” includes consistency comprehensiveness and connectedness.
Sayre-McCord“Coherence and Models for Moral Theorizing” p. 171. In a later paper “Coherentist Epistemology and Moral Theory” (in Walter Sinnott-Armstrong ed. Moral Knowledge? (New York: Oxford University Press 1996) 137–89) Sayre-McCord takes consistency to be “evidential consistency.” I don’t discuss evidential consistency here but see brief remarks in my “Moral Coherence and Value Pluralism.”
W.D. RossThe Right and the Good (Oxford: Clarendon Press1930). Kagan argues that “pro tanto” captures more accurately than “prima facie” what Ross is trying to articulate and I agree (The Limits of Morality p. 17).
George Rainbolt“Perfect and Imperfect Obligations,”Philosophical Studies98 (2000) 233–56and N.C. Gillespie “On Treating Like Cases Differently” Philosophical Quarterly 25 (1975) 151–58; for general discussion see Jeffrie Murphy “Justifying Departures from Equal Treatment” The Journal of Philosophy 81 (1984) 587–593 and Andrei Marmor “Should Like Cases Be Treated Alike?” Legal Theory 11 (2005) 27–38.
Shelly Kagan“The Additive Fallacy,”Ethics99 (1988) 5–31and David Brink “Moral Conflict and Its Structure” The Philosophical Review 103 (1994) 215–247. Kagan is not endorsing the factor view but merely describing it in order to show that factors are not “additive.” Brink is writing about the nature of moral conflict not about how to determine what to do.