The Factors of Moral Worth

Dissertation, Yale University (2003)

Kelly Sorensen
Ursinus College
Actions are right or wrong; agents are good or bad. Most ethicists are interested in the first dimension. My work is about the second. Factors relevant to the first dimension include, for example, the action's consequences and whether the action is a harm. But many other morally compelling factors are neglected if we focus exclusively on right and wrong---factors such as motives, intentions, effort, and character. These are among the factors of a second dimension, moral worth: the goodness or badness of agents. We can perform right actions without being good agents. Knowing which actions are right only partially helps us answer the question of what it is to be good. ;I take it that what I have just said reflects ordinary moral intuitions. Nevertheless moral worth is a neglected topic in contemporary philosophical ethics. Others have written about specific virtues, or about "virtue ethics" as an alternative moral theory to consequentialism and deontology. But I know of no one else who has attempted a close analysis of the general factors that constitute praiseworthiness and blameworthiness. An account of these factors is relevant to any of the three leading contemporary ethical theories. ;My examination of these factors yields a surprising wealth of possible positions. I map out these positions and argue for the best of them. My specific topics include the nature of motives, Kantian views about the motive of duty, the relative weight of first-order and second-order motives, patterns of motives, effort as a complex of apparently conflicting subfactors, and the relevance of counterfactual circumstances to character. I appeal to the cases of Oskar Schindler and Huck Finn, among others, to illustrate the complexities of these issues. ;My dissertation is the first systematic analysis of the factors of moral worth. Internal states of persons---motives, intentions, effort, character---matter to us, and an ethical theory is richer with an adequate account of them
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