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Moral Equivalences and Ethical Theories

Lecture by Thomas Schmidt (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), organized by the Department of Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy

In everyday moral thinking and talking, as well as in ethical theorizing, we often invoke judgements with the content that there are no morally relevant differences between two actions – or, as I will be saying, that the actions in question are morally equivalent. My overall aim in this talk is to show that moral equivalence judgements are independent both from singular moral judgements and from moral principles, and that this makes them a distinctive and interesting resource in ethical theorizing, the theoretical power of which has been underestimated in the literature.

First, equivalence judgements are a remarkable tool in first-order ethical theorizing. As I will show, noting certain equivalence judgements entailed by an ethical theory can help to make explicit possibly controversial normative commitments that one needs to take on board when accepting the theory. This is why moral equivalence judgements can helpfully add to other sorts of moral judgements figuring in reflective equilibrium reasoning. Moreover, it will turn out that that equivalence judgements can take over the role of moral principles at least in certain episodes of reflective equilibrium reasoning. Thus, somewhat surprisingly, reflective equilibrium does not require principles.

Second, equivalences judgements also are interesting in more meta-theoretical respects. The content of an ethical theory can, as I will argue, be represented, to a considerable extent, in terms of the moral equivalence classes (MECs) induced by the theory, i.e. the way in which the set of actions is carved up into actions that are, as entailed by the theory, morally equivalent. Structural properties of MEC representations of ethical theories will be shown to correspond in illuminating ways to structural properties of the theories themselves.

When & where?

Wednesday, 11 October 2017, at 3.15pm
Faculty of Philosophy, Room Omega

All are cordially invited!

Last modified:11 September 2017 3.47 p.m.