Intertheoretic Value Comparison: A Modest Proposal

In: Journal of Moral Philosophy
View More View Less
  • 1 Netherlands

Purchase instant access (PDF download and unlimited online access):


In the growing literature on decision-making under moral uncertainty, a number of skeptics have argued that there is an insuperable barrier to rational “hedging” for the risk of moral error, namely the apparent incomparability of moral reasons given by rival theories like Kantianism and utilitarianism. Various general theories of intertheoretic value comparison have been proposed to counter this objection, but each suffers from apparently fatal flaws. In this paper, I propose a more modest approach that aims to identify classes of moral theories that share common principles strong enough to establish bases for intertheoretic comparison. I show that, contra the claims of skeptics, there are often rationally perspicuous grounds for precise, quantitative value comparisons within such classes. In light of this fact, I argue, the existence of some apparent incomparabilities between widely divergent moral theories cannot serve as a general argument against hedging for one’s moral uncertainties.

  • Aboodi R. , Borer A. , and Enoch D. (2008). Deontology, Individualism, and Uncertainty: A Reply to Jackson and Smith. Journal of Philosophy 105 (5), 259272.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gracely E.J. (1996). On the Noncomparability of Judgments Made by Different Ethical Theories. Metaphilosophy 27 (3), 327332.

  • Gustafsson J.E. and Torpman O. (2014). In Defence of My Favourite Theory. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 95 (2), 159174.

  • Harman E. (2015). The Irrelevance of Moral Uncertainty. In Shafer-Landau R. (Ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Volume 10. Oxford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hawley P. (2008). Moral Absolutism Defended. Journal of Philosophy 105 (5), 273275.

  • Hedden B. (2016). Does mite Make Right? On Decision-Making under Normative Uncertainty. In Shafer-Landau R. (Ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Volume 11. Oxford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hudson J.L. (1989). Subjectivization in Ethics. American Philosophical Quarterly 26 (3), 221229.

  • Jackson F. and Smith M. (2006). Absolutist Moral Theories and Uncertainty. Journal of Philosophy 103 (6), 267283.

  • Lockhart T. (2000). Moral Uncertainty and Its Consequences. Oxford University Press.

  • MacAskill W. (2013). The Infectiousness of Nihilism. Ethics 123 (3), 508520.

  • MacAskill W. (2014). Normative Uncertainty. DPhil thesis, University of Oxford.

  • Nissan-Rozen I. (2015). Against Moral Hedging. Economics and Philosophy 31 (3), 121.

  • Nover H. and Hájek A. (2004). Vexing Expectations. Mind 113 (450), 237249.

  • Ross J. (2006). Rejecting Ethical Deflationism. Ethics 116 (4), 742768.

  • Sepielli A. (2009). What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do. Oxford Studies in Metaethics 4, 528.

  • Sepielli A. (2010). ‘Along an Imperfectly-Lighted Path’: Practical Rationality and Normative Uncertainty. Ph.D. thesis, Rutgers University Graduate School - New Brunswick.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sepielli A. (2013). Moral Uncertainty and the Principle of Equity among Moral Theories. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 86 (3), 580589.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Tarsney C. (2017). Rationality and Moral Risk: A Moderate Defense of Hedging. Ph.D. thesis, University of Maryland at College Park.

  • Tarsney C. (forthcoming). Moral Uncertainty for Deontologists. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice.

  • Weatherson B. (2014). Running Risks Morally. Philosophical Studies 167 (1), 141163.

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 536 195 4
Full Text Views 253 18 1
PDF Views & Downloads 87 20 1