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174 Recent Ethical Theory

Handout 12 Scanlon 4: Moral Motivation

I. A General Problem about Moral Motivation:
Two conceptions of moral motivation:
1. Being moved by the bare fact or thought that an action is wrong
- agent seems insensitive to the reasons the act is wrong, seems concerned about
character of her own action rather than the situation of others or her relationship to
2. Being moved by the considerations that make an action wrong
- seems like the moral agent might never think in moral terms; morality is not
practical and does not guide moral agents.
Correct account of moral motivation needs to combine these ideas somehow.
Advantage of Constructivist Accounts for Solving this Problem:
I. Concept of Justice = whatever solves the distribution problem
II. Conception of Justice =
*1. Principles that free citizens could agree to
2. The difference principle (economic distributions should be to the advantage of
the least advantaged)
III. Judgment of Justice =
1. Progressive taxation benefits the least off.
2. Progressive taxation is just (the concept of justice applies).
*Motivating Thought: A progressive taxation is acceptable to all concerned.
I. Concept of Right and Wrong = what to do
II. Conception of Right and Wrong =
*1. What must, can, or cannot be willed as a universal law.
2. We must will it as a law that we assist those in need.
III. Moral Judgment =
1. This person is in need.
2. It is right to help this person.
*Motivating Thought: I cannot will a world in which no one helps those in need (i.e. in
which there is not a law that one should help those in need)
I. Concept of Right and Wrong = what we owe to each other
II. Conception of Right and Wrong =
*1. What we can (or cannot) justify to each other
2. Assistance when it is needed and not too burdensome to the agent
III. Moral Judgment =
1. I can help this person at little cost to myself.
2. It is right for me to help this person. (the concept of right applies)
*Motivating Thought: I could not justify refusing my help to this person.

174 Handout 12 Scanlon 4: Why Be Moral, p. 2

The problem, as originally set up, was that either III.2 (the fact that the action is wrong) or
III.1 (the reason why it is wrong), had to serve as the motivating thought. But on a
constructivist account, the CONCEPTION of rightness or wrongness provides a motivating
thought that has normative content and yet does refer to the reason why the action is right
or wrong.
II. Scanlon on Why Should I be Moral?
1. Its not a question about moral motivation: it is no more puzzling why we should be
moved by moral reasons than why we should be moved by any other reasons. Its a question
about why we must care about moral reasons.
Prichards dilemma
Theres no (relevant) answer to why should I be moral?
- because it is morally right is trivial
- because it is (say) in my interests is irrelevant
Scanlon: the question is about the priority and importance of moral reasons
Priority = moral reasons take precedence over other values
(often = moral reasons silence other reasons)
Importance = insensitivity to moral reasons is an especially grave fault
Two approaches:
1. Formal, per Scanlon: appeal to considerations that are as far as possible
independent of the appeal of any particular ends:
Kant: moral considerations spring from the fact that you are a rational agent
Habermas: moral considerations spring from the fact that you are a party to
shared rational deliberations.
2. Substantive: moral reasons spring from certain values
Appeal of formal accounts: they explain the force and inescapability of the moral must
Scanlons criticism of formal accounts: they reduce wrongdoing to a form of incoherence;
they do not give strong answers to the questions of importance and priority
Replies on behalf of the formalist:
Completely formal accounts dont obviously reduce wrongdoing to mere
Kant and Nagel associate formal requirements with values and metaphysical
conceptions Kant with the value of humanity as an end in itself, Nagel with
the conception of oneself as one among others equally real
Three accounts of priority
Moral reasons outweigh other reasons: inadequate to idea of obligation
Moral reasons silence other reasons (priority constitutes necessity or obligation)
Moral principles are a test on considerations to see whether they are reasons
(priority reveals necessity or obligation)

174 Handout 12 Scanlon 4: Why Be Moral, p. 3

III. Scanlons Substantive Account of moral motivation: Unity with Others

The moral motive derives from the value of standing in a certain kind of relationship with
others, a kind of unity with others that is possible only if you can justify your actions to
If the value springs from relationship, why focus on what people could reasonably reject
rather than on what they do reject?
One interpretation (not Scanlons) of unity with others that explains this point (see Handout
- Nagelian objective reasons are necessary for the kind of deliberation that leads to
shared action. We can deliberate together only if I treat your reasons as
normative considerations that bear on my decisions.
- If reasons are subjective, in Nagels sense, your reasons provide me only with
information to work with in making decisions about how to promote my
own interests. The theory of subjective reasons places me in a competitive
or manipulative stance towards you.
Explanation of the point: Trying to win peoples approval is essentially manipulative and so
is a way of being divided from them not unified with them.
Despite the formal/ substantive difference,
The opposite of unity with others is practical solipsism
Scanlons view is close to Habermass, since moral requirements emerge as
necessary for shared deliberation.