The Motives for Moral Credit.

Author:Rozeboom, Grant J.

IN MANY CASES, WE CAN SEPARATE THE QUESTION of whether someone succeeded in performing an action of some kind from the question of whether they deserve credit for performing an action of that kind. This is clearly so when we morally evaluate what someone did: we can separate the question of whether what they did was morally right from the question of whether they deserve credit for having done what was right. (1) For instance, my neighbor has asked me not to make much noise past 10 p.m., since he has to leave early each morning for work. If I keep quiet past 10 p.m., then I do what is morally right. (2) But it is a further question whether I deserve credit for doing what is right. If I keep quiet just because I happen to be interested in reading my favorite politics blog around 10 p.m. each night, then I do not deserve any moral credit. (3)

This example highlights an important feature of deserving moral credit: one must act from certain kinds of motives and not others, what we can simply call "the right kinds of motives." The reason why I do not deserve credit in the example, it seems, is that I am moved only by my desire to read the blog and not by any concern to abide by my neighbor's request for more sleep. I do not act from the right kinds of motives. In this way, deserving moral credit contrasts with deserving other kinds of credit, such as credit for a piece of academic work or credit for completing a project for one's employer, which do not similarly require certain forms of motivation and not others.

What does it take, in general, to act from the right kinds of motives--those that are required (and perhaps sufficient (4)) for deserving moral credit? An answer to this question should account for how the right kinds of motives involve responding to both the morally relevant reasons (the reasons why one's action is morally right) and the morally relevant individuals (the people, animals, ecosystems, etc. implicated in one's action). Recent theories of the right kinds of motives have tended to prioritize responding to moral reasons. (5) They try to understand the response to individuals that moral credit requires in terms of responding to moral reasons. I want to propose looking at things the other way around--a theory that prioritizes responding to individuals, and thus accounts for how moral credit involves responding to moral reasons in terms of our proper response to individuals. (6)

At issue between these two views is the question of how our appropriate attitudes of regard for others (such as respect and care) figure into the right kinds of motives. (7) These attitudes are how we properly respond to individuals and, I will argue, they involve more than just responding to moral reasons. A reasons-first view must contend that these attitudes figure into the right kinds of motives only derivatively, i.e., only to the extent that they involve motivation by moral reasons. If we are moved by moral reasons without holding these attitudes toward others, we are no less deserving of moral credit. An individuals-first view denies this, and contends that our motives are lacking whenever we fail to be guided by these attitudes, even if we are yet moved by the moral reasons.

To evaluate the prospects of an individuals-first view, then, we need to focus on cases in which agents fail to be guided by appropriate attitudes of regard for others even though they are moved by moral reasons. (8) We need to consider whether their motives are ever lacking in these cases (for the purposes of deserving moral credit), which would support an individuals-first view and challenge a reasons-first view. And we need to consider whether their motives are ever adequate in these cases, which would support a reasons-first view and challenge an individuals-first view. As I discuss below, there seem to be compelling examples on both sides.

If that is right, then we need to figure out which view better deals with the cases that seem to challenge it. I will develop an individuals-first view, which I dub the "Moral Attitudes" account, and argue that it is more successful on this measure than the most promising reasons-first views, which I gather under the heading of the "Moral Reasons" account. In section 1, I explain the Moral Attitudes account, using a general picture of the psychology of individual-directed attitudes that draws on Stephen Darwall's (2002; 2006) work. This will allow me to clarify how being guided by appropriate attitudes of regard goes beyond being moved by moral reasons and, in turn, how the Moral Attitudes account contrasts with the Moral Reasons account. In section 2, I address the challenge for the Moral Attitudes account, using a case in which the motives of someone who is moved by the moral reasons seem sufficient for him to deserve moral credit even though he is not guided by any appropriate attitudes for others. I argue that our judgment that he deserves moral credit rests on the hidden presumption that he is guided by such attitudes, and that this presumption likely hides behind other, similar cases. (I also address the related worry that my account ignores those aspects of morality that are thought to be impersonal in light of the sorts of cases that generate the nonidentity problem). In section 3, I consider challenges for the Moral Reasons account, drawing on a case in which an agent's motives seem lacking because she fails to be guided by attitudes of care for others even though she is moved by the moral reasons. I argue that the Moral Reasons account's attempts to make sense of this case fall short, even when we make a friendly Kantian modification to the account. The Moral Attitudes account thus emerges as the most promising view of the right kinds of motives.

  1. To develop an account of the right kinds of motives, we need to specify a general form of motivation that is plausibly present in the wide range of cases in which individuals seem to deserve moral credit for what they do. In this section, I say a bit more about this general constraint on theorizing about the right kinds of motives, and I develop the Moral Attitudes account, which claims that an agent acts from the right kinds of motives to the extent that she is guided by morally appropriate attitudes of regard for those pertinently involved with her actions. (9)

    A theory of the right kinds of motives is, first and foremost, a theory of a certain way of being motivated. In theorizing about the right kinds of motives, we thus cannot appeal to such things as an agent's physiological states (such as hunger) or moods (such as sadness). But we can appeal to such things as his desires and intentions. (10) A general principle that seems to capture the relevant distinction is this: if something serves as the right kind of motive for some given action, then it figures into the "rationalizing" explanation of that action--the explanation of why the agent acted as he did that renders his action intelligible from his point of view. An agent's hunger and moods do not help constitute his rationalizing point of view, at least not directly, while his desires and intentions do (along with his attitudes of regard for others, as I argue below). (11) Thus the latter, but not the former, can rationalize his action and serve as its motives. (12)

    It is also now commonly accepted that a theory of the right kinds of motives should not require an agent to believe that her action is morally right, contrary to some ways of understanding the Kantian ideal of acting "from duty." Consider the commonly discussed case of Huck Finn: despite thinking that he will have hell to pay, Huck helps the runaway slave, Jim, to escape, apparently out of a sense of sympathy for Jim. Huck seems to fully act from the right kinds of motives--more so, anyway, than if he had helped Jim to escape simply to make Jim feel burdened to repay the favor--even though he thinks that he is acting wrongly. This suggests that we can act from the right kinds of motives even if we do not think that our action is right. (13) While more could be said about this case and what follows from it, I am going to accept this verdict as it stands, since (as I discuss later on) it is an important part of what motivates the Moral Reasons account.

    With those two constraints in mind, let us explore the central ideas of the Moral Attitudes account. (14) Begin with the idea of being motivated by individual-directed attitudes of regard. To explain this idea, we should first clarify what goes into maintaining these attitudes and then consider how they can motivate our actions (i.e., how they can figure into the rationalizing explanations of our actions). What is distinctive about these attitudes is that they are ways of valuing or appreciating objects without turning them into objects of desire. We value and appreciate people, works of art, the wilderness, nonhuman animals, institutions, and much more. In so valuing these things, we do not thereby desire them--to possess or realize them in some way. (15) Instead, we are disposed to think, act, and feel about the objects in various ways, which may involve desiring certain outcomes for the objects but also involves a wider constellation of thoughts, motives, and feelings about them (Scheffler (2010)). For any given attitude, this constellation of thoughts, motives, and feelings is unified by its focus on some object and is explained by the underlying psychological state that the attitude consists in, i.e., this underlying state explains why the attitude disposes us to think, feel, and act in certain ways toward its object.

    To illustrate these points, let us consider how Darwall characterizes interpersonal respect and care. Attitudes of interpersonal respect consist in the psychological state of authority-focused norm acceptance, i.e., the acceptance of norms that call for heeding someone's authority (Darwall (2006, ch. 7)). The more general state of norm acceptance...

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