Are there any good reasons that could be offered to someone who claimed not to see why he ought to be moral?

If the person who claims not so see why he ought to be moral is simply claiming not to see how or why your shared moral code applies, then the problem is reduced to a simple disagreement over the facts of the circumstances.  The more interesting situation is if the person claims not to accept your concept of morality, and for that reason maintains he does not see why he ought to be moral according to your judgment.  So I will assume that is what is being referred to in the essay title.

A "reason", therefore, would be a motive, an argument in favour of, or a justification for being moral that this person would accept as motivating and justifying.   If someone thinks you have offered a "good reason" for being moral, it means that in their mind you have offered a motive that makes sense.  The emphasis is thus not on a standard of "good" according to the system of morality of the person offering the reasons.  That would be quite circular.  It would not convince or motivate anyone who did not already accept that system of morality.  For example, it would not be a "good reason" for someone who did not accept the principles of Utilitarianism, to offer as a reason for being moral that it would maximize the utility for the greatest number.  So what is being requested here is a "good reason" according to the person being addressed, for accepting as motivating the moral principles being argued for.  It is, therefore, requesting a motivating reason for a person who claims not to find it motivating to be moral according to your moral judgement.

In other words, what is being asked is whether there are any reasons that can be offered to justify some system of morality that do not already presuppose that system of morality.  Or, equivalently, whether there are any non-moral reasons that can be offered in support of some system of morality.  And if there are, is there any extra-moral standard by which such reasons might be classed as "good" or "bad".

For most theories of morality, the answer to the title question would have to be "No!"  Most moral theories distance themselves from the natural world.  They separate the universe of "moral" from the universe of "prudential".  Consider the most common form of moral system -- an Authoritarian Rule morality.  Here what is moral is defined by the rules that some authority has decreed.  The authority involved might be a God, as in the Jewish-Christian-Islamic moral code; or it might be the accepted code of some social group, as in Cultural Relativism; or it might be the recorded words of some respected guru, as in Confucianism, Buddhism, Maoism, or Marx-Leninism.  Obviously, if one does not already accept the decrees of the designated authority as authoritative, one will find no motivating reason for being moral.  Consider also the many forms of non-cognitivist or anti-realist moral theory.  Here, moral language is not factual.  So again, there would be nothing that you could offer in moral language that could possibly be motivating for someone who did not consider your opinion in these matters worthy of concern.  Even amongst the cognitive moral theories, many of them rely on the dictates of reason to justify their moral principles.  Consider Kant's Categorical Imperatives, or Klempner's morality of dialog.  Their justifying rational is that their particular moral principles would be the inevitable conclusion of a rational person properly considering the matter.  Unfortunately, most people would rather "go with their feelings" than follow their rational dictates.  So if a person does not already see why he ought to be rational, there is nothing in such justifications that would be considered a motivation to be moral. 

The only moral theories from which a person could offer "good reasons" to be moral to someone who does not already see why he ought to be moral, are the theories that are ultimately based on the moral agent's self-interest.  For if a person does not already accept your particular moral theory -- and your judgements of what actions are moral -- then the only leverage you can find is that person's desires and preferences.  Everybody finds their own self-interest motivating.  Human beings are an evolved species, and as such have evolved a deep personal interest in their own self-interest, their own personal welfare, the satisfaction of their own desires and preferences.  If a person claims that he does not see his own self-interest as motivating, we question not his morality but his sanity (or honesty, or language competence). 

The essay's title question comes down to whether, from some particular moral theory, there can be any self-interested reasons to offer to someone who claims not to see why he ought to be moral.  Only if you can argue that being moral is in that person's own self-interest can you offer any reasons that person need accept why he ought to be moral.  And this severely narrows the kind of moral theory from which "good reasons" can be offered.  Only those consequentialist moral theories that collapse the distinction between "moral" and "prudential", that see moral properties in the real world facts of the matter, can hope to offer such "good reasons".  As an example, consider Hare and Singer's preference utilitarianism.  Right moral actions are defined as those that maximally fulfill the interests (preferences) of those persons involved.  As long as a person has any preferences, no matter how "strange", you may be able to offer "good reasons" for that person to be moral.  And such reasons promise to satisfy that person's preferences, such "good reasons" would automatically be motivating for that person to be moral -- at least according to preference utilitarianism.  Other realist consequential moral systems would have their own basis for providing self-interest based "good reasons" for being moral. 

 

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