Fall 2018 Colloquium Series - 5 October
Jorah Dannenberg, Stanford :: Everywhere Chimerical
Friday, October 5 2018
Abstract: This paper advances a view of moral obligation and how it moves us that runs counter to mainstream thought in ethics. Many assume, with Kant, that to count as an instance of genuine moral obligation, one must be subject to some truly unconditional constraint. Following in Hume’s footsteps, I suggest viewing our paradigmatic moral obligations as instead deriving from the rules of important social practices, which we follow out of a sense of devotion or regard. A familiar objection to this idea involves the charge of “rule-worship.” When the values that underwrite a practice would be better served by violating its rules rather than following them, observance may seem irrational. I attempt to disarm this objection, through exploring three issues. The first concerns how the rationale for a practice relates to the justification of action within it. The second concerns deliberation, and whether it should be understood in terms of determining what one’s “real” moral obligation is. The third concerns the possibility of irresolvable conflict between a person’s obligations and her other values or concerns. I argue that, once these issues are worked through, the image of ourselves as people who “worship” certain rules is an ethically attractive one.