The Unified Account of Moral Assessment

PhD Thesis – Sherri Lynn Conklin



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Dido and Aeneas Meet


Introduction

These wonderful narrations inspired me with strange feelings. Was man, indeed, at once so powerful, so virtuous and magnificent, yet so vicious and base? He appeared at one time a mere scion of the evil principle, and at another as all that can be conceived of noble and godlike. — Mary Shelley, Frankenstein.

I present a menu of prima facie inconsistent moral phenomena and suggest that the apparent tensions instead provide evidence for an underlying unification to our patterns of moral judgments. I aim to explain the underlying unification by presenting a new moral framework.

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The Possibility of Permissible-Wrong Action

It was as if she had been made afresh out of new elements, and must perforce be permitted to live her own life and be a law unto herself without her eccentricities being reckoned to her for a crime.  — Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

I defend both the possibility of Permissible-Wrong Actions – actions that are morally permissible and nonetheless morally wrong – and the philosophical utility of recognizing this possibility, as the first step to resolving the apparent tensions described in the Introduction.

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The Unified Moral Framework

I outline the framework underpinning the moral phenomena described in the Introduction, and begin explaining how this framework helps to resolve the apparent tensions.

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The Adequacy Account of Moral Justification

If there be any in this assembly, any dear friend of Caesar’s, to him I say, that Brutus’ love to Caesar was no less than his. If then that friend demand why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer: Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more. — Brutus (Julius Caesar, 3.2)

To make sense of Permissible-Wrong Action as the solution to the tensions described in Chapter 1, I present a novel account of moral justification, which rejects objective accounts of moral justification and proposed that moral justification is non-vindicatory.

Download partial paper presented at the 2018 APA Pacific. Contact for full-length draft.



Second-Order Moral Assessment

He that is proud eats up himself: pride is his own glass, his own trumpet, his own chronicle; and whatever praises itself but in the deed, devours the deed in the praise. — Agamemnon (Troilus and Cressida, 2.3)

I explain the relationship between assessments of moral permissibility and praiseworthiness and blameworthiness, arguing that a hybrid account of moral permissibility is theoretically necessary for explaining our patterns of assessing praise and blame.

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Visit this page if you are looking for my research with the Demographics in Philosophy Project.