The following are excerpts from a new essay by Simon Knutsson:
I explain parts of my moral view briefly. I also talk about some arguments for and against my view. The basics of my moral view include that one should focus on reducing severe suffering and behave well, and these basics get us pretty far in terms of how to act and be in real life.
My moral view is suffering-focused in the sense that it emphasises the reduction of suffering and the like. My view might differ from other suffering-focused views in the following ways:
- I do not pick or try to formulate an overarching moral theory. Instead, my moral view is intentionally fairly non-theoretical.
- I think of ideas about how one should be, such as the idea that one should be considerate, as more primitive and fundamental to morality than some others seem to think of them. Many others agree that one should be like that, but perhaps for different reasons, such as that being like that has the best consequences.
- My take on what should be reduced for its own sake is perhaps unusually pluralistic—it is most important to reduce extreme suffering, but it also makes sense to reduce, for example, gruesome violence, ruined lives and life projects, and acts such as ignoring harms.
- My view could be labelled a pitch-black philosophical pessimism located towards the end of a philosophical optimism–pessimism spectrum. In my view, there is no positive value and no positive quality of life, and there are no positive experiences. An empty world is the best possible world, the world is terrible, and the future will almost certainly be appalling. (Of course, we should still try to make the world and the future less awful.)
- I am sceptical of categorical notions such as ‘good’ and ‘positive value’, and I instead prefer comparative notions such as ‘better’ and ‘worse’.
- I don’t think much in terms of uncertainty about moral principles or evaluative judgments; rather, I tend to think in terms of to what extent I accept or agree with specific ideas about morality and value.
I think that the following are some of the advantages of my moral view: By being light on theory, it avoids pitfalls that high-level moral theories can have. It also takes suffering seriously, is overall reasonable, and lacks implausible implications such as when a view recommends that a clearly immoral act should be carried out. And my moral view is quite action-guiding in real life. This talk about advantages may sound like academic niceties, but most of the points have great practical importance. For example, it is crucial to direct one’s attention and efforts to those who are or will be extremely badly off.
Disadvantages of overarching moral theories
I don’t identify as a particularist or antitheorist, but I doubt the importance of overarching moral theories, and at least some of them seem to have drawbacks. That is, it seems we can do without high-level moral theories, and the following are three disadvantages that high-level moral theories can have (a caveat is that some high-level theories might be innocuous, and almost all examples of disadvantages I have observed concern consequentialist moral theories).
The first disadvantage is when someone accepts a problematic implication of their favourite moral theory with the justification that “all moral theories have counterintuitive implications”. The person holds that something is permissible even though one would normally think of it as immoral or even monstrous. But if all existing moral theories are so problematic, we need not choose any of them. Such acceptance of a theory’s problematic implications might be due to mistakenly thinking there is a great need to pick one of the existing moral theories.
The second disadvantage is that some people seem to internalise the moral theory and come to view the immoral acts as appropriate and desirable, period, and act accordingly. In contrast, one may view the actions as merely undesirable prescriptions of the most promising but still unsatisfactory moral theory.
The third disadvantage is that some have passive, wavering stances and behaviour on plain moral issues seemingly at least in part because their moral theory does not prescribe the obvious answer. For example, it is very difficult to assess the overall consequences of some behaviour that is usually considered clearly immoral, and the consequentialist remains agnostic and passive.