Generalization in Ethics: An Essay in the Logic of Ethics, with the Rudiments of a System of Moral Philosophy

By Marcus George Singer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
THE GENERALIZATION ARGUMENT

The generalization argument has the general form: "If everyone were to do x the consequences would be disastrous (or undesirable); therefore no one ought to do x." It will be convenient to refer to any particular argument of this or some equivalent form as an instance, or application, of the generalization argument. Any actual instance of this argument may of course appear with many variations of wording. One might merely ask the question, "What would happen if everyone did that?" or "How would you like it if everyone did that?" This sort of argument, however, underlies the use of such questions. But there is actually no great difficulty in identifying instances of this argument. The major problem is that of determining its national force, both in the general case and in particular applications.

As we have seen, there are certain conditions under which this argument is applicable, and certain conditions under which it is not. Some applications of this argument are fallacious, and some are not. Thus the basic problem about the generalization argument is to determine the conditions under which it is valid. To say that this argument is valid under certain conditions is to say that, under those conditions, the

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