Deontology - The Pros And Cons


Deontology requires self-evident moral truths, but since there are neither natural nor non-natural ethical qualities, ethical judgments are based instead on attitudes, which should be required to withstand critical scrutiny. Nevertheless, deontology has the important advantage that act utilitarianism is far too demanding to be viable and that the rules of most kinds of deontology are preferable to those of some kinds of rule utilitarianism. This is outweighed, however, by the fact that rule utilitarianism provides an alternative to irresolvable intuitive disagreements, which, as for abortion, are often irresolvable because, among other reasons, intuitions don’t leave sufficient time for the complex considerations needed to asses their pros and cons. The same holds though to a lesser extent for homosexuality since it is not only natural but beneficial in an over populated world. Rule utilitarianism’s most beneficial form includes strict rules against, among others, violating promises and harming whenever you’d gain more than the victims would lose, less demanding rules for most kinds of help, but surprisingly only a limited scope for maximizing utility. These features make it differ less than one would expect from the best kinds of deontology. I also consider two kinds of practical deontology. First, the use of utility to resolve conflicts provides some agreement with rule utilitarians. Second, when principles conflict it accepts different priorities for different periods and different cultures. Nevertheless, abandoning the requirement for self-evident rules is such a marked deviation from traditional deontology that I call it practical deontology.

Deontology deserves serious attention if for no other reason because the majority of ethicists accept it in practice, even if not in theory. Also, though it would be hard to provide a meta-ethical defense of deontology, it has the important advantage that act utilitarianism is, among other things, far too demanding to be viable, and that the rules of most kinds of deontology are preferable to those of common kinds of rule utilitarianism. I argue, however, that this does not apply to the most beneficial kind, which would have rules that only allow violations in extreme cases against, among other things, breaking promises, theft, and harming innocent persons whenever your gain would exceed their loss, graded demands for most kinds of help, and the avoidance of harmful side effects, but would only require optimific behavior in a relatively small area. I also consider a kind of deontology that grants that there cannot be synthetic a priori[1] ethical truths, plus two kinds of what I call practical deontology.

Similarities between deontology and rule utilitarianism
1.     Rule utilitarians can agree with deontologists that some rules should be strict in the sense of only allowing violations in extreme cases.
2.     Rule utilitarians agree with deontologists that other factors as well as consequences are relevant in deciding whether an action is morally permissible. It has been claimed that they don’t, but this is limited to act utilitarians.
3.     Similarly, though respect for the agent-relative agent-neutral distinction is sometimes used to distinguish deontology from consequentialism, this too is limited to act utilitarians.

Differences between deontology and rule utilitarianism
1.     Many deontologists recognize that since there are neither natural nor non-natural ethical qualities[2] there cannot be objective synthetic a priori ethical truths let alone Kant’s kind that are only mentally imposed. Although they can continue to use ethical intuitions, they need both a naturalistic account of the intuitions and a defense of their reliance on intuitions. This is awkward because a principle’s most obvious defense might well be utilitarian, and a naturalistic account would sometimes enable you to show that it couldn’t survive critical scrutiny or, as I say, be subjectively rational. A desire or a decision is subjectively rational if you would approve of it after critical scrutiny based on any a priori or empirical considerations that could influence it, plus as vivid an appreciation as possible of the matter in question.[3]
As Robert Almeder (2000) observes, an intuitionist could argue in response “that such-and-such is wrong and that she knows that it is wrong, but she does not know how she knows that it is wrong.... The knowledge does not come in any usual way and the property so apprehended is not definable and hence not a natural property.”
There are, however, three rejoinders to his response. First, for her to know that it was wrong it would have to be an objective fact that it was wrong. But since there are neither natural nor non-natural ethical qualities, ethical intuitions as well as reflective judgments are based instead on approval or disapproval, even though this also leaves room for the objective components of the method that requires critical scrutiny. Second, the claim that we do not arrive at intuitions in any usual way is surely ad hoc rather than empirically justified. Third, denying that an intuition can be influenced even in a limited way by any usual mode of reasoning including the consideration of consequences does not do justice to actual intuitions.
2.     A second problem for deontologists is that since they don’t recognize that self-evident principles should apply to all possible worlds they don’t consider objections to ethical principles that are suited to some worlds but not others. For instance they would treat it as self evident that harming is worse than not helping, while rule utilitarians can give a utilitarian justification by observing that while the reverse would hold in a possible world where it was harder to refrain from harming than to provide help, and it was more important to be helped than not to be harmed, this does not apply to our world.
3.     Furthermore, deontologists disagree about many important moral beliefs, and since the beliefs are supposed to be self-evident they don’t have an effective way of resolving their disagreements. These include among others abortion, the proper treatment of homosexuals, the rights of animals especially those on factory farms, and current interests vs. obligations to future generations.[4] Though deontologists grant that basic disagreements cannot be adjudicated, they can respond that the test for a moral theory is whether it is true to our actual experiences in considering moral issues. But while this theory may apply to the experiences of some people all of the time, to some most of the time, and to the rest when they don’t take time to be reflective, it doesn’t follow that a method that didn’t enable us to resolve the kinds of disagreements I’ve cited is even an approximation of the best method. Deontologists might respond that if there are irresolvable basic disagreements the best lesson we may learn from ethics is tolerance for disagreements. If so, this would be a sad portrayal of ethics.
4.     A common reason for conflicts is that our intuitions often fail to take account of the full effects of adherence to a moral principle and that the number of factors relevant to ethical intuitions is indeterminate and often very large.[5] This applies both to the pros and cons of abortion and the complex question of when lying is permissible, as in lying to prevent a sensitive child from being punished with undue severity, or even obligatory, as in lying to keep a Nazi from finding a Jew to have him or her sent to a concentration camp. But while intuitions about ethical principles can be influenced by utilitarian considerations without taking them into account explicitly, this would limit the scope of the considerations, and listing them and their various weights would not be in accord with deontologists’ methodology.

Accordingly, whenever a deontologist does not take account of the full effects of adherence to a rule it is as though he or she holds in effect that the rest doesn’t matter. Furthermore, though a deontological alternative that did allow listing and weighing would leave more room for resolving disagreements, the disagreements would still be intuitive.

Another problem is that attitudes are often influenced by indoctrination. A more sophisticated form of deontology could take account of this to evaluate intuitions and sometimes resolve disagreements, but while both this and the preceding change would be improvements they would require considerable deviations from the traditional kind of deontology. In contrast, an account of the full effects of adherence to a moral principle is essential to a rule utilitarian’s assessment of the principle.
5.     Some deontologists hold that a just economic distribution would favor the lower classes. Others disagree, but both would regard their positions as self-evident. In contrast rule utilitarians can reach agreement by granting the need for differences to provide incentives but use the law of diminishing returns to justify giving the interests of the lower classes more weight than in any society that I know of, and they can add education to enable them to use their funds in the ways most conducive to their welfare.
6.     Most deontologists regard it as self evident that rewards and punishments should be retributive instead of only based on the need to encourage good behavior and discourage bad behavior. This is inconsistent with our lack of ultimate responsibility for our actions. Since an uncaused action would not be free, indeterminism as well as determinism is incompatible with the ultimate kind of freedom needed to justify retribution. Nevertheless, to be fair I grant that this is not a necessary feature of deontology.
7.     While deontologists also regard both rights and the duty to respect them as self evident, rule utilitarians recognize that duties depend in part on whether rights are established, and if so whether they are ideal, or if they are less than ideal, whether they are still worth respecting. There are also candidate rights (rights that may be established later),[6] rights that couldn’t be fully established, and rights that could only be established in an ideal world.
8.     Deontologists’ need to choose rules intuitively instead of by their utility would make it hard for them to defend the most beneficial morality. However, most deontologists don’t claim that theirs is the most beneficial sort of morality and would defend their position on the grounds that adherence to their moral principles is more important.

The rule utilitarian alternative to irresolvable intuitive disagreements about abortion and homosexuality
The main reason that intuitive disagreements are usually irresolvable is that they are likely to be limited to individual issues such as, for abortion, whether the mother’s right to control of her body should take precedence over the fetus’s right to survive instead of taking account of the full effects of adherence to a principle. I use the highly controversial issue of abortion as my main example, but I also consider the equally controversial issue of homosexuality.

In contrast with a deontological approach, though I defend abortion, I recognize that the issue is complex and agree with its opponents that there is a strong case against it[7] because some abortions prevent the existence of persons whose lives would be worth living.

First, however, there are a number of unsuccessful defenses of abortion. A common response to the negative aspect of those abortions that would prevent the existence of persons whose lives would be worth living is that while you ought to prevent the existence of a miserable person because the person will be sorry if you don’t, preventing the existence of a happy person is morally neutral because there won’t be a person to be sorry that you did. But if you don’t prevent it the person will be glad, and if being sorry counts negatively by showing that the outcome is bad, being glad should count positively by showing that the outcome is good.

Another unsuccessful defense is that, as Peter Singer (2010) holds, to have a right to something you must not only exist but have an interest in it, and that a conceptus is not interested in surviving, so it is not in its interest to survive, and therefore lacks even a lesser claim to survive. But you can have an interest in something without being interested in it. For instance, an infant can have an interest in both its financial security and provisions for its future education long before it is interested in financial security or education.[8] Furthermore, a similar response applies to Michael Tooley’s (1972) claim that in order to possess a serious right to life, an organism must have the concept of a self as a continuing subject of experiences as well as other mental states.

Still another unsuccessful defense is Marry Anne Warren’s (1978) argument that you must be a person to have rights including the right to life, and that since an embryo isn’t a person, an embryo does not have a right to life.

If she limited this to a right I would agree to the extent that for the reasons I’ll give an embryo does not have a right to life. I suspect, however, that she would also hold that an embryo cannot even have a claim to life, and here as in the previous unsuccessful defense of abortion, I would respond that in cases where it is in the interest of an embryo to survive, it does have not only a claim but also a serious claim to survive.

There is also the widespread belief that early abortions are permissible but that late ones, particularly “partial birth abortions” are only justified in extreme circumstances if at all. I grant that the case against late abortions is somewhat stronger than that against early ones. It is commonly supposed that this is because the increased development is important in itself,[9] but it is rather because increased development tends to increase the potential for surviving and having a life worth living. Survival because miscarriages are far less common in the later stages of pregnancy; having a life worth living because we can be more sure that the conceptus would be free of physical and mental defects. For here as elsewhere the case against abortions should be based on the potential rather than the actual characteristics of a conceptus. Zygotes tend to have the least to lose, embryos more, and fetuses, particularly late ones, the most. Thus, though late abortions are justifiable, the case against them is somewhat stronger than the case against early ones. I say somewhat stronger since if the stage of development was decisive instead of relevant to future prospects, it would be worse to abort a fetus even if owing to genetic factors and/or negative factors concerning the way in which it would be raised, a given zygote or embryo would probably become a far happier person.

There are in addition the differences in appearance between a zygote and an embryo and between an embryo and a fetus, but while these are bound to impress us intuitively, their significance is often exaggerated. Furthermore, those, including many deontologists, who rely mainly on “picture thinking” seldom consider enough pictures. For instance, those who oppose abortion are likely to picture the fetus and its death but rarely relevant scenes from the life it would otherwise have or the altered lives of parents with an unwanted child, let alone the effects of overpopulation.

Turning to a far more promising defense of abortion, though it is widely held that abortion is only justifiable if the mother’s life is at stake or there is a major threat to her health, this fails to take account of the full effects of a ban. First, there may be other serious losses for the mother and losses for those fathers who accept their responsibility. Second, there are the poor prospects of children of single, impoverished, or unwilling parents. Third, many women would have happier children if they waited until they were better equipped to care for them. Fourth, many women would lead more useful lives if they didn’t have children. Fifth, and this one is decisive, banning abortion would lead to a rapid increase in the population of an already overpopulated world and entail an increase not only in poverty and starvation but in the already daunting threat of global warming.

Though the issue of homosexuality is equally controversial intuitively, it is easier to defend than abortion because I can neither think of, nor know of, a strong case against it. A number of arguments are designed to show that it is immoral, but none of them are successful. Though it would take too much space to consider all of them, the most common objection, namely, that it is unnatural, fails because the percentage of homosexuals in roughly the same in all cultures; and though it is unusual, an unusual characteristic needn’t be bad, and many unusual characteristics including genius are good. Suppose too that homosexuality was learned instead of innate. It wouldn’t follow that it would be wrong. Furthermore, the condemnation of homosexuals harms them in a variety of ways, and a ban on marriage encourages promiscuity and the spread of AIDS.

Another objection is that homosexuals don’t have children, but here too it is instead very important to reduce reproduction in an overcrowded world. It may seem misguided to use overpopulation to defend the rights of homosexuals because rights should only be based on the interests of their holders, but it is worth adding anything that strengthens a right, and it is worth much more if the right is challenged. In short, the immorality lies instead in the condemnation of homosexuality.

Practical deontology: the use of utility to resolve conflicts and reach some agreement with rule utilitarians
Though most deontologists hold, like rule utilitarians, that consequences should be considered when the rules conflict or adherence to a rule would have bad consequences, they aren’t entitled to consider consequences in determining the nature of supposedly self evident principles. Nevertheless, despite this they are surely influenced by consequences. Accordingly, a utilitarian code with strict rules against such things as violating promises and harming innocent persons, with graded demands for most kinds of help and the avoidance of harmful side effects, and only a limited area requiring optimific behavior would fall within the range of all but the most extreme deontological codes[10] And since the same holds for actual moralities, my reluctance to accept rules that all societies would reject but freedom to take sides when they disagree leads me to regard this as a decided advantage. For instance, I can accept the nearly universal view that killing is worse than letting die (most of the exceptions are philosophers[11]), but, unlike deontologists, I can, as in the case of abortion and homosexuality, use utilitarian considerations to take sides on controversial issues without defending views that all actual moralities would reject.

Nevertheless, most deontologists not only ascribe considerable weight to utility in judgments about particular cases, but also in determining the nature of rights and obligations in general. For instance, most deontologists would agree on allowing relief from contracts in bankruptcy, a practice whose justification is surely that it is beneficial; and the same holds for relief from the marriage contract by divorce. Furthermore, this clearly applies to the use of utilitarian considerations in determining what limitations we should place on property rights, particularly on the use of property in ways that threaten the environment. If it is granted in these cases deontologists are not entitled to object on principle to its application to other cases.

Another kind of practical deontology: different priorities for different periods and different cultures
An additional possibility for resolving conflicts is for deontologists to observe that principles and their ranking can be accepted during some periods but not others and vary in different parts of the world. But while their status depends on a contingent component, the time and the part of the world, since it is always satisfied for us now in this part of the world, they could be treated as if they were absolute, or, as I say, as quasi-absolute. Note too that they might find a kind of rule utilitarianism with rules that were for most part either strict or left room for self interest more agreeable.[12] Nevertheless, abandoning the requirement for self evident rules would be such a marked deviation from traditional deontology that the kind in question would need a new name, say practical deontology.

Disagreements between rule utilitarians and practical deontologists
There would, of course, also be disagreements between rule utilitarians and practical deontologists, but instead of being between all of them and all rule utilitarians, practical deontologists would tend to disagree with one another as often or almost as often as with rule utilitarians. The key difference is rather that when rule utilitarians disagree the requirement for subjective rationality provides a method for resolving the disagreements.
Both kinds of ethicists would accept the change from one location or period to another including the fact that threats to the environment have become so great that we now need rules regarding harmful environmental side effects. But while both could use consequences to determine which rules should sometimes be broken, and both could give some rules priority over others, it would be awkward for deontologists to rely on consequences to justify the changes from one location or period to another.

Also while many traditional deontologists and more practical deontologists would agree that you should lie or even steal to save someone from being killed, some would not, and practical deontologists would still be limited in their ways of resolving disagreements within the culture or period in question, since it would be hard for even practical deontologists to take the further step of also using utility to resolve the disagreements and defend their principles.

Agreement on conclusions vs. agreement on methods
It has been said that ethicists tend to agree on their conclusions more than on their methods of arriving at them. If so, disagreements on method would be less important because there would be fewer disagreements about conclusions. But while there is some truth in the claim, ethicists’ conclusions differ on a considerable number of important issues. These include among others abortion, homosexuality, our treatment of animals, retribution vs. utility in determining rewards and punishments, whether it would be wrong to prevent the existence of future generations, obligations concerning environmental side effects, plus a number of disagreements about the distribution of goods. These include the views that distribution should be based on desert, that we should aim instead at equality of distribution, and if so, that equality is valuable as an end in itself, or instead only as a means to the maximization of happiness. However, in the case of equality vs. maximization, even though the need for incentives would lead you to favor a distribution that was not equal, the law of diminishing returns would justify favoring the disadvantaged to a greater extent than, as I have observed, in any society that I know of.

As for method, the main contenders are rule utilitarianism and the two kinds of deontology. While rule utilitarians have a way of resolving such disputes, even practical deontologists would sometimes simply be confronted with conflicting intuitions. Also, since deontologists as well as laymen tend to ignore other possible worlds even practical deontologists may regard principles that are contingently true in all parts of this world as absolute instead of only quasi-absolute.

Possible worlds objections to deontology
Worlds where the institution of promising would not be beneficial
This institution would not be beneficial in a world where promises were broken too often for people to rely on their fulfillment. Note too as a further objection to self evidence that while the obligation to keep promises may seem to be self evident, cultures vary on the kinds of promises that are binding, and though most cultures allow for violations, they vary in the kinds of violations they allow. Further, as in the case of bankruptcy and divorce, the allowances often reflect utilitarian considerations instead of being self-evident.[13]

Worlds where the institution of private property would not be beneficial
There would be no need for private property in a world in which everything that people cared about was readily available.

Worlds where helping would be more important than not harming
Also, as I have observed, helping would be more important in worlds where it was more important to be helped and it was easy to help but hard to refrain from harming. Consider for example a world where the only help you needed was to be patted on the shoulder once a day but most kinds of behavior would be harmful. This suggests that the moral distinction’s basic justification is utilitarian and that it just happens to be more important not to be harmed and harder to help than to refrain from harming.

Intuition as a practical guide rather than the apprehension of synthetic a priori ethical truths
Nevertheless, many deontologists have more confidence in their method as a practical guide than as a source of synthetic a priori ethical truths. Thus, a very different response is in order to deontologists who explain moral intuitions naturalistically and reject self-evident moral principles along with ethical qualities. Since their principles needn’t, like self-evident ones, even be trans-cultural, they can be far more precise. But for the same reason they are far more vulnerable to criticism, since you would have to be a cultural relativist to deny that the ethics of some cultures are superior to those of others.

Thus, while Thomas Nagel (1987) is right that a society’s intuitive principles often reflect non-utilitarian considerations, it doesn’t follow that the principles are justifiable. Consider first, as an extreme case, the unusual practice of genital mutilation and then the more important fact that far more societies and members of most societies approve of retribution even though indeterminism as well as determinism is incompatible with the ultimate kind of freedom needed to justify it. It is recognized that determinism in incompatible with that kind of freedom, but indeterminism wouldn’t help since an uncaused action would not be free. Accordingly, as Nagel would agree[14] we can only have the kind of freedom needed for a utilitarian justification of punishments. Punishment should be sanctioned instead as deterrence, as an evil to prevent a greater evil.

Deontology applied to particular cases: medical ethics
Similar objections apply to the kind of deontology according to which our trust should be in intuitions about particular cases. Understandably physicians find this view attractive, but it is also tied to cultural relativism[15] since, despite the novelty of the cases, doctors are still bound to be influenced by the mores of their culture. Further, the implicit rejection of expertise in ethics would be hard to defend. While physicians are experts in predicting and describing the outcomes of possible treatments, they are not, as in the case of abortion or assisted suicide,[16] experts in making ethical judgments. In the latter case it is about the value of a suffering person’s survival and whether it is permissible to end the life of a person who would prefer to be dead and has good reasons for the preference. As for the latter, setting aside the effects of others, this would apply not only if the person would prefer to spend the rest of his or her life in dreamless sleep but if the negative value of the bad days would exceed the positive value of the good ones.

Deontology’s role in deep reflective equilibrium
Deontology’s reliance on intuitions may, however, still be defended on the grounds that they could survive the test of deep reflective equilibrium. But while this test allows for scientific and philosophical input as well as intuitions, the focus is on weighing intuitions against one another rather than subjecting them to critical scrutiny. You can point out conflicting intuitions and see which should be modified or sacrificed and you can add factual considerations, but both procedures still ascribe considerable force to the intuitions. Also, neither involves examining an intuition’s sources as in the case of speciesism or the influence of our reactive attitudes on the desire for retributive rewards and punishments as ends in themselves even though they are compatible with neither determinism nor indeterminism.[17] Nor does either procedure involve evaluating or even considering the principles in terms of the utilities that may influence us in accepting them, such as evaluating the principle that harming is worse than not helping in terms of possible worlds where they would lack utilities they posses in this world. Nor does testing for equilibrium leave room for considering modifications of principles in societies with different conditions than ours, as in the case of infanticide and requiring men who can no longer hunt to commit suicide by going out into the cold. And while these practices are justified in the cultures in question, as Richard Brandt (1979) and Michael Phillips (1995) have noted, this method excludes them because the equilibrium needn’t be between principles that other cultures would accept.

A consideration of deontologists’ reaction to a kind of utilitarianism that isn’t vulnerable to their main objection
Nevertheless, setting aside the problem of cultural differences, deontology is still attractive because the rules of most kinds of deontology are preferable to those of common kinds of rule utilitarianism. But the kind whose rules are for the most part either strict or only fractionally demanding and seldom require optimific behavior should be more attractive. And since the task of defending synthetic a priori ethical truths against the objection that there are neither natural nor non-natural ethical qualities is surely daunting, it isn’t its meta-ethical aspect that makes deontology attractive. It is rather that it provides a basis for rejecting the other kinds of rule utilitarianism. However, the lack of this advantage over other kinds of rule utilitarianism plus deontology’s meta-ethical vulnerability might perhaps lead some deontologists to abandon their view in favor of the kind of rule utilitarianism in question.

Almeder, Robert F. 2000. Human Happiness and Morality: A Brief Introduction to Ethics. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books.
Bennett, Jonathan. 1998. The Act Itself. Oxford: Clarendon.
Bok, Sissela. 1989. Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life. New York N.Y.: Vintage Books.
Boonin, David. 2003. A Defense of Abortion. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Brandt, Richard B. 1979. A Theory of the Good and the Right. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Nagel, Thomas. 1987. What Does It All Mean?: A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press.
–––. 1995. Other Minds: Critical Essays, 1969-1994. New York: Oxford University Press.
–––. 2010. “What Peter Singer Wants of You.” The New York Review of Books 57, no. 5: 24-26.
Philips, Michael. 1994. Between Universalism and Skepticism: Ethics As Social Artifact. New York: Oxford University Press.
Singer, Peter, and Helga Kuhse. 2002. Unsanctifying Human Life: Essays on Ethics. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
Strawson, Peter. 1949. “Ethical Intuitionism.” Philosophy 24, no. 88: 23-33.
–––. 1974. Freedom and Resentment, and Other Essays. London: Methuen.
Sumner, L. W. 1981. Abortion and Moral Theory. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Tooley, Michael. 1972. “Abortion and Infanticide.” Philosophy and Public Affairs 2, no. 1: 37-65.
Warren, Mary A. 1978. “Do Potential People Have Moral Rights?” Chap. 2 in Obligations to Future Generations, edited by R. I. Sikora and Brian Barry. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

[1]I mean truths that are objective rather than, like Kant’s, mentally imposed and limited to phenomena. I share this take with (among others) Edmund Husserl, Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell, A.C. Ewing, Roderick Chisholm, Arthur Pap, Barry Smith, and Laurence BonJour. It is worth adding that while some synthetic a priori truths are only interesting because of their epistemic status, there are also a great many important ones.
[2]For Peter Strawson’s critique of non-natural ethical qualities see (1949).
[3]I once assumed that, despite my use of a different term, my concept of subjective rationality was the same as Richard Brandt’s (1979) concept of cognitive psychotherapy but I was mistaken. Brandt held in effect that a desire that can survive cognitive psychotherapy isn’t vulnerable to criticism. This would, however, include, for example, the innate desire for retribution. Though it is vulnerable to criticism you are likely to retain the desire to at least some extent even though you disapprove of it because the desire isn’t subjectively rational. Let me add that there are many respects in which I admire Brandt’s work, and, like Peter Singer, I believe that he was America’s and probably the world’s foremost ethicist.
[4]This issue is addressed in (Warren 1978).
[5]This provides still another objection to intuitions of synthetic a priori ethical truths since synthetic a priori truths involve very few factors, as in seeing that a hue must have some degree of saturation, brightness and extension.
[6]The case for respecting candidate rights is complex. Failure to respect them is unlikely to frustrate expectations, but they need to be respected some of the time to become established rights.
[7]Though I differ in this respect from David Boonin (2003), his book merits serious consideration.
[8]Though I disagree with Singer in this respect, I am indebted to him for showing me that since we don’t regard a person's level of intelligence as relevant to the importance of his or her pleasure or pain, the same should hold for the pleasure and pain of animals regardless of their level of intelligence. In the case of distress this applies particularly to the enormous number of chickens and hens on factory farms.
[9] For an example of this view see (Sumner 1981).
[10]This explains why this form of utilitarianism is closer to most deontological codes than to Act Utilitarianism. This includes that of D.G. Brown from whom I have benefitted by many years of discussions including those when I was still an act utilitarian.
[11]Though an example is Jonathan Bennett’s (1995), in which he argues that killing is on a par with letting die I’ve learned a lot from his work including the one in question.
[12]I argue in a work in progress that though the most beneficial kind of morality would include very strict rules against, among other practices, breaking promises, stealing, and harming even if you would gain more than the person would lose, it would also include rules regarding help that allowed you to count your own interests more than those of others because a morality that allowed less room for self interest would not be viable. Surprisingly, however, though my motivation is utilitarian, the scope of the requirement for very strict rules would be too broad to leave room for optimific behavior except in our treatment of animals and members of our families.
[13]Truth telling is also based on an institution, this time language, but the situations that justify lying are even more varied than those for breaking promises.
[14]Though Thomas Nagel is opposed to utilitarianism he makes this point, and his book (1987), on the whole, is an excellent introduction to philosophy.
[15]Though Bernard Williams accepts a moderate form of cultural relativism, it is worth noting that the disadvantages he cites of criticizing a culture’s mores are largely utilitarian even though he is not a utilitarian. For Thomas Nagel’s additional objections to this view cf. “Williams: Resisting Ethical Theory” in (1995).
[16]For a justification of the view that assisted suicide is permissible see (Singer 2002).
[17]For a defense of reactive attitudes of see (Strawson 1974).