Acting for the Right Reasons
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This essay examines the thought that our right actions have moral worth only if we perform them for the right reasons. On the face of it, views about the conditions of moral worth seem independent of what first-order moral views we hold. That is, we can debate what else must be true of right actions for them to count as morally worthy without first settling the question of what it takes for them to be right. My initial aim will be to identify the conditions under which right actions have moral worth, and I believe the intuitive appeal of my account of moral worth and the force of most of the arguments I marshal in its support are independent of our adopting any particular first-order ethical standpoint. Nonetheless, the view of moral worth I defend turns out to have implausible implications when held in conjunction with any of a class of first-order ethical views that includes utilitarianism. Because utilitarians would, I think, be hardpressed to come up with an account of moral worth as independently plausible as the one I defend, my argument for this account turns out to provide an objection to utilitarianism. Thinking about moral worth may tell us something about which actions are right after all.
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Linguistics and Philosophy
Duke University Press
Markovits, Julia "Acting for the Right Reasons." Philosophical Review, Vol. 119, No. 2 (April 2010).
Author's final manuscript