Uncertainty, Indeterminacy, and Agent-Centred Constraints

Australasian Journal of Philosophy 95 (2):284-298 (2017)
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Abstract

Common-sense morality includes various agent-centred constraints, including ones against killing unnecessarily and breaking a promise. However, it's not always clear whether, had an agent ϕ-ed, she would have violated a constraint. And sometimes the reason for this is not that we lack knowledge of the relevant facts, but that there is no fact about whether her ϕ-ing would have constituted a constraint-violation. What, then, is a constraint-accepting theory to say about whether it would have been permissible for her to have ϕ-ed? In this paper, I canvass various possible approaches to answering this question and I argue that teleology offers the most plausible approach—teleology being the view that every act has its deontic status in virtue of how its outcome ranks, relative to those of its alternatives. So although, until recently, it had been thought that only deontological theories can accommodate constraints, it turns out that teleological theories not only can accommodate constraints, but can do so more plausibly than deontological theories can.

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Douglas W. Portmore
Arizona State University

Citations of this work

In dubious battle: uncertainty and the ethics of killing.Seth Lazar - 2018 - Philosophical Studies 175 (4):859-883.
Moral Uncertainty for Deontologists.Christian Tarsney - 2018 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 21 (3):505-520.
The Fundamental Divisions in Ethics.Matthew Hammerton - 2022 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy:1-24.

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The Limits of Morality.Shelly Kagan - 1989 - Oxford University Press.
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