Moral Uncertainty and Its Consequences

By Ted Lockhart | Go to book overview

but it is likely that neither of the two alternatives that she is considering would come close to producing such a state of affairs. Either would probably produce consequences that would be significantly closer to the best that she could produce than to the worst that she could produce. Therefore, it seems conservative to suppose that m3 > .5. Thus the information about the magnitudes of m1, m2, and m3 that we shall use in our analysis may be summarized as follows: .5 < m3 < m1 < m2.

In order to apply PR5 to the agent's decision, we compute the mean value of EM(A) - EM(not-A) over the region defined by the constraints on p1, p2, p3, p4, m1, m2, and m3. If the mean value is positive, then this shows that EM(A) probably exceeds EM(not-A) and thus the "abortion" alternative is recommended. If the mean value is negative, then the "no abortion" option is prescribed. Computations reveal that the mean value of EM(A) - EM(not-A) is approximately -.383, a negative number. 18 Hence, for the measurements given, PR5 prescribes the "no abortion" alternative by a relatively wide margin.

The reader may not be satisfied with the result just obtained and may have additional or different constraints in mind for the ps and the ms in our example. And, of course, different results are to be expected when different individuals assess the magnitudes of various nebulous quantities or recognize different moral considerations. However, our analysis has confirmed the practical significance of degrees of moral rightness, since including them has reversed the prescription. When we assumed the binary hypothesis, we concluded that the "abortion" alternative was likelier to have maximum expected moral rightness. However, as we have just seen, assuming a many-valued conception of moral rightness produces the opposite result. Degrees of moral rightness makes a difference in how we should (rationally) make moral decisions.


Conclusions

If the arguments of this chapter are sound, then we have shown that, contrary to Hudson's claims, moral hedging is possible for a variety of ethical decisions. The linchpin of my argument against Hudson is the PEMT, which allows us to make sufficient connections among disparate moral theories to determine which of our decision alternatives have, or are most likely to have, maximum expected moral rightness. However, as we have seen, those connections may be quite loose and do not require of moral agents superhuman powers of moral discrimination.

Except for bolstering the claim that rational decision-making can take place under conditions of profound moral uncertainty, the most important result of this chapter is that we have proposed and justified a conception of degrees of moral rightness. We have shown that such a conception is not only coherent but also essential to rational decision-making. This notion of degrees of moral rightness, while it has been occasionally hinted at by ethicists, has not been systematically developed or supported by argument. More significantly, its importance for moral decision-making has not been recognized, probably because ethicists have not seen moral uncertainty as an important consideration in moral decision-making. I have

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Moral Uncertainty and Its Consequences
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Contents xv
  • One Decision-Making Under Moral Uncertainty 3
  • Two Principles for Decision-Making Under Moral Uncertainty 22
  • Three Abortion and Moral Uncertainty 50
  • Conclusions 72
  • Four Degrees of Moral Rightness 74
  • Conclusions 96
  • Five Shall I Act Supererogatorily? 98
  • Conclusions 110
  • Six Confidentiality and Moral Uncertainty 111
  • Conclusions 122
  • Seven a Decision-Theoretic Reconstruction of Roe V. Wade 124
  • Conclusions 140
  • Eight Long-Run Morality 143
  • Nine Retrospective 169
  • Appendix: Decisions with Uncertain Probabilities 171
  • Notes 177
  • Index 207
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