Is there a term for the claim that: Smith is permitted to do something iff his reasons that he is so permitted are more compelling than his reasons that he is not so permitted, regardless of what Smith believes?

It seems like relativism, is it?

Is that meta-ethical view linked at all with moral particularlism? I ask because if Smith is just motivated by principle (whatever these are) then it seems to me that given the above Smith is always morally perfect.

I'm just trying to work out the terminology for my basic pre philosophical meta-ethical views, I hope it's not a nuisance.

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    I find the claim hard to understand. "his reasons that he is" need clarification about what he is reasoning about. – Dave May 12 '15 at 18:26

I don't think it is necessarily relativism.

The way I've heard this discussed before is that the virtue of Prudence mediates between two desirable things that are in conflict - this is something that all ethical frameworks must deal with. A specific example I've heard: (this is from a talk by Robert Barron, can't claim credit)

  • It is good to go to work
  • It is good to take care of your children when they are sick

What happens when these two things come into conflict (i.e., your children are sick on a day you are supposed to go to work)? Clearly, everyone must decide one or the other, whether that person is a moral relativist or a moral absolutist; the question is how is one to decide. It is in the mechanism of how one decides that one becomes a moral relativist or not.

  • It is in the mechanism of how one decides that one becomes a moral relativist or not... OK i can maybe buy that ! – user6917 May 12 '15 at 22:18
  • actually i don't know, is relativism defined as how we resolve moral dilemmas rather than e.g. whether the solution is assumed to be universally true – user6917 May 13 '15 at 0:10
  • My point is: Robert Barron, who is a Catholic priest and therefore not a relativist, raises the issue of how one must decide which of two mutually exclusive decisions has reasons that "are more compelling." Therefore, as I said, all ethical frameworks, relativist or not, must deal with the issue you raise. – James Kingsbery May 13 '15 at 19:03
  • yes but like Dave i'm not sure how much that answers my question. i tried below to spell out some reasoning, but it's difficult to know how water tight i've been – user6917 May 13 '15 at 21:02

I think the answer is "no", but the reason is obscure. The condition you give is that "his reasons that he is so permitted are more compelling than his reasons that he is not so permitted, regardless of what Smith believes", thus his arguments for X outweigh his arguments against X. Although we are comparing his own reasons, Smith himself cannot be the arbiter of compellingness ("regardless of what Smith believes"). Such a judgment of compellingness does not automatically present itself once the list of reasons is enumerated -- some standard of judgment is required. However, thanks to the "regardless" clause, you have rejected a particular standard.

The crux of moral relativism is that the concept of correctness does not apply to standard of moral judgment. By excluding Smith's own judgment, you have excluded a possible standard as "incorrect". Thus I conclude that the theory you described is incompatible with moral relativism.

  • without supporting quotes for e.g. defining relativism in terms of there being no incorrect moral judgments, i don't think i can +1. – user6917 May 13 '15 at 17:28

The issue in the claim is not relativism/objectivity but rather rationality/irrationality.

When Smith's reasons do not align with his beliefs seems like a quintessential example of irrational behaviour: Smith has good reasons to believe X, and I infer (though it is not specified in the OP) no countervailing reasons to not believe X (or believe not X), yet does not believe X. There is a disconnect between his reasoning and his beliefs.

I hedged a bit just because rationality is so hard to define.

  • i only downvoted cos i haven't a clue what you mean and / or it doesn't seem to address the question i MEANT to ask – user6917 May 12 '15 at 18:45
  • ok i get what you mean now - how you were replying to the question, but supposing smith is being irrational (and i dunno if he is) - is the thesis an expression of relativism ? it would maybe help to say what i might have this belief, but that's not so related to the question :) – user6917 May 12 '15 at 18:57
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    @MATHEMATICIAN OK I get that this answer isn't helpful to you. But I do believe that Smith acting irrationally (which occurs when his beliefs do not align with his reasons) is hard to diagnose in terms of relativism, since it is hard to make sense of any of the mental considerations of an irrational agent. – Dave May 12 '15 at 19:08
  • world's full of irrational agents IMHO – user6917 May 12 '15 at 19:15

Metaethical Moral Relativism (MMR). The truth or falsity of moral judgments, or their justification, is not absolute or universal, but is relative to the traditions, convictions, or practices of a group of persons.

I was supposing that Smith's justification can be incorrect, but it is still relativism... that a person justifies a moral judgment with "X" isn't just how they got to know if something is justified, but what the fact that makes their justification successful or not is relative to; and so that fact is not absolute.

As to the second puzzle, if a moral principle is invariant, then that they justify something with "X", must include the relevant principle, and the fact making them right or wrong is always relative to the principle. So (in this meta-ethics) I can no more reject someone's justification on the grounds of their principles, than that they justified it with "X" (i.e. I cannot deny the success of some justification with the charge of incompleteness - counter-reasons against the moral judgment); only e.g. inconsistency of reasoning, false assumptions, or insensitivity to social reality (which would probably amount to the intuition that something is amiss in the the stages they go through in their attempted justification).

  • yes this seems a little wrong, and will likely be edited – user6917 May 14 '15 at 0:24
  • seeeeems to be ok now ! – user6917 May 14 '15 at 0:42

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