Moral Differences

Moral Differences: Truth, Justice, and Conscience in a World of Conflict

Richard W. Miller
Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 406
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  • Book Info
    Moral Differences
    Book Description:

    In a wide-ranging inquiry Richard W. Miller provides new resources for coping with the most troubling types of moral conflict: disagreements in moral conviction, conflicting interests, and the tension between conscience and desires. Drawing on most fields in philosophy and the social sciences, including his previous work in the philosophy of science, he presents an account of our access to moral truth, and, within this framework, develops a theory of justice and an assessment of the role of morality in rational choice. In Miller's view, we are often in a position to claim that our moral judgments are true descriptions of moral facts. But others, relying on contrary ways of moral learning, would reject truths that we are in a position to assert, in dissent that does not depend on irrationality or ignorance of relevant evidence or arguments. With this mixed verdict on "moral realism," Miller challenges many received views of rationality, scientific method, and the relation between moral belief and moral choice. In his discussion of justice, Miller defends the adequacy, for modern political choices, of a widely shared demand that institutions be freely and rationally acceptable to all. Drawing on social research and economic theories, he argues that this demand has dramatically egalitarian consequences, even though it is a premise of liberals and conservatives alike. In the final chapters, Miller investigates the role and limits of morality in the choice of conduct, arguing for new perspectives on reason and impartiality.

    Originally published in 1992.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6276-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-2)
    (pp. 3-9)

    This book is about the conflicts that trouble morality—confrontations between contrary moral convictions, conflicts of interests that we seek to resolve justly and conflicts between the demands of one’s conscience and what one would do, conscience to one side. These are the differences that add most pain to moral living. People look to moral philosophy for help in easing the pain, but they are disappointed in their most urgent hopes. I believe that this disappointment is not inevitable. Moral philosophy fails to help because of two kinds of self-confinement that should be ended: distorting views of rational inquiry in...

    (pp. 10-43)

    In philosophy these days, disputes about ‘realism’ are at the center of most stages. In particular, attention is fixed on disputes over topics entitled “scientific realism” and “moral realism,” respectively. In the former, people discuss what justification, if any, we have for supposing that science reveals the existence of kinds of things that could not be known to exist without the aid of scientific theories. In the moral realism dispute, the direct concern of the first part of this book, people discuss what kinds of justification, if any, we have for supposing that moral inquiry reveals to us objective moral...

  5. Chapter Two MORAL TRUTH
    (pp. 44-81)

    Often, an argument that an alien, contrary moral framework does not depend on ignorance or unreason has been a first step toward denying that moral judgments are ever justified true beliefs. This is, I think, a step in just the wrong direction. In our disagreements with Chenge about treatment of wives and strangers and our disagreements with Aristotle about hierarchies, our beliefs are true and theirs are false. In making these claims as to truth, we are not dogmatic. We can point to features of the case at hand that justify our judgments, i. e., our judgments of right and...

  6. Chapter Three LIMITLESS DISSENT
    (pp. 82-113)

    We are justified in moral truth-claims. But sometimes we could not justify these claims to everyone, even if each were to respond rationally to all relevant evidence. For our justifications of some moral truth-claims depend on principles that others would reject in spite of rationality and shared evidence. How common and how important are disagreements among actual people that reason and evidence could not resolve? My few illustrative cases do not remotely answer this question. They are concerned with relatively limited disagreements dividing people in advanced industrial societies from the long-dead or the few and far-away. Later, I will offer...

    (pp. 114-145)

    There are many reasons to suppose that the mixed verdict on moral realism is mixed-up. According to many theories of meaning, one person cannot affirm, as a true description of objective facts, what another denies, if both are responding rationally to the same evidence. Their different responses to the evidence in the case at hand are due to fundamentally different ways of responding to evidence, and this divide (the semantic theories tell us) prevents them from addressing the same proposition, which one affirms, the other denies. Indeed, the charge of incoherence is the outcome of all current general theories that...

    (pp. 146-184)

    For all their enormous differences, the theories I have surveyed rely on similar conceptions of content. The ascription of content is taken to be a way of explaining how individual language-users arrive at their verbal conclusions when their processing of information satisfies general standards of good functioning. The differences among the theories are differences in the kind of explanation of processing that is thought to be revealing. For the positivists, it is the description of a chain of inferences of the appropriate standard form. The goal for Harman is a description of the internal states producing input-output connections; further questions...

    (pp. 185-238)

    The institutions of a society are just if and only if they could not be rejected, freely and rationally, by anyone living in the society who desires such acceptability on the part of all who share this desire. The requirement of rational acceptability is met only if rejection is precluded by some relevant rationale that does not depend on ignorance. In the moral defense of a social system, it would be no better than a vicious pun to say, “They are in no position to complain. For they are taught that what they do is virtually worthless—which is, of...

  10. Chapter Seven INEQUALITIES
    (pp. 239-282)

    Suppose that in any capitalist economy inequalities of lifetime economic success typically, substantially exceed differences in contribution due to different degrees of willingness to work and different innate productive capacities. Suppose, in addition, that the different prospects of those with the same willingness and innate talent are typically due, to a significant extent, to inequalities in competitive resources. Finally, suppose that those who do suffer the most serious competitive burdens would, typically, suffer the most serious competitive burdens if any feasible capitalist alternative were instituted. Then, at least among capitalist alternatives, the difference between the two perspectives concerning innate ability...

  11. Chapter Eight THE SCOPE OF JUSTICE
    (pp. 283-306)

    For all their assertiveness concerning economic justice, the previous arguments from the minimal specification have been modest, in several ways, in their guidance for institutional choice in an advanced industrial setting. First, I have not considered two familiar topics in debates over laws and policies: the extent to which civil and political liberty should be protected and the proper role of attention to aggregate welfare, the weight of numbers. Second, I have not considered the capacity of justice as social freedom to justify rules for coping with those who reject this very outlook as inappropriate for social choice. The arguments...

  12. Chapter Nine MORAL BURDENS
    (pp. 307-325)

    “I wish I could do something else in good conscience.” Someone who can tell the difference between right and wrong might, conceivably, never need to say this. But probably, no one has ever been so lucky. Morality is sometimes a burden.

    Should the burden be lifted, at least at some significant points, so that people who are now inhibited by their knowledge that a choice is morally wrong would sometimes be unconstrained? In one way, the answer is obviously “yes.” A world in which morality never requires self-sacrifice, in which everyone could painlessly live up to everyone’s justified moral expectations...

  13. Chapter Ten NORMAL MORALITY
    (pp. 326-376)

    None of our findings about reasonableness settles the questions about wrongness, above all, the question, “Is it ever not wrong to do what is morally wrong?” This question will turn out to shed much light on the nature of rational deliberations about what morality demands, as the others shed light on the relation between the demands of morality and rational deliberations about what to do. In the final analysis, the difficulties in affirming that what is morally wrong is always wrong will turn out to be a symptom of standard false connections between morality, personhood and deliberation. In standard moral...

  14. Chapter Eleven LIVING AS ONE SHOULD
    (pp. 377-392)

    An assessment of the demands of morality is incomplete if it is limited to questions of wrongness. For a characteristic charge of those who criticize the demands of morality, or of modern versions of morality, is that there is too much emphasis on questions of obligation in the deliberations morality prescribes as decisive. This is one of Williams’ central criticisms of “the morality system,” and one of Stocker’s reasons for supposing that modern styles of ethical thinking are psychologically distorting or incomplete.¹ An exclusive concern with questions of wrongness is apt to mirror the emphasis on obligation which they think...

  15. INDEX
    (pp. 393-396)