Definitions. Let the initial "objects" of moral judgment be moral problems. I don't want to say practical problems insofar as instrumental reasoning can be seen as solving practical problems by identifying actions as those solutions, yet "merely" instrumental reasoning doesn't cover moral reasoning through and through. I also hesitate to say normative problems, although the gist of the idea I have in mind is along the lines of Christine Korsgaard's cartographic disanalogy between concept-application, as theoretical reasoning, and practical reasoning (c.f. Onora O'Neill, and even H. A. Prichard, on why moral judgment might not best be construed as applying moral concepts to already-given particulars so much as constructing those concepts "over" particulars). At any rate, allow the possibility of a Moore/Ross faculty of deontic intuition, not as justifying our beliefs directly in specific moral answers so much as in justifying our gloss of specific practical problems as the moral ones.
Then list the following relations between actions and such problems:
- An action that solves the problem.
- An action that doesn't solve the problem, but doesn't make it harder to solve either, but which is not irrelevant to the problem (it is, let us suppose, such as merely sustains the problem on some current difficulty level).
- An action that aggravates the problem (makes it harder or perhaps even impossible to solve).
- An action that has no relevance to the problem.
We will define a right action as one that just is a case of (1), a wrong action as a case of (3), a differently permitted action as a case of (2), and an indifferently permitted action as a case of (4).
The occurrent problem. There does not seem to be room, in this scheme, for talk of "doing the right thing in the wrong way." Yet Kant opened the door to such talk with his doctrine of the motive of duty: albeit in the Groundwork/second Critique, he does not avow that fulfilling a duty from a lesser motive is a bad thing, yet by the time he goes over the levels of radical evil in Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, he seems to countenance such talk rather clearly. This is bad for my thesis, seeing as my thesis is so well-inspired, here, by the neo-Kantian corpus (at least modulo Korsgaard, O'Neill, and even Susan Neiman).
The Aristotelian clause. What hath Athens to do with Königsberg? I'm having an intuition that phronetic logic (not so-called) in Aristotle's philosophy, might be caught up with an erotetic definition of deontic operations as per (1) through (4), but so I wonder how to situate the possibility or impossibility of "doing the right thing in the wrong way" vs. Aristotle's ethical theories. There is a similarity between the idea of a "golden mean" and the possibility in question; but there is a dissimilarity, too, in that again, it is hard to credit talk of "too much of a good thing" when the kind of goodness at issue is the goodness of right actions, supposing these to have some rightness that is not just a function from how they support or produce more static or objectual value. Perhaps the erotetic construction, in action-theoretic space, of the deontic operations, is out of line with both Kant and Aristotle. Does that tell against the construction, or against these elder luminaries? If the latter, nevertheless, I am sensitive enough to the parameters of John Rawls' method of reflective equilibrium to desire an explanation as to why Aristotle and Kant got this question wrong.
A Kantian way out? A biting-the-bullet idea that comes to my mind is: Kant could be comfortable with (1) through (4), and have it, then, that no action sufficiently satisfies (1) unless it comports directly with the motive of duty. That is, to actually, completely (we must not say "properly") solve a moral problem, one must perform the relevant action from the motive of duty as well. This motive, as itself enacted, is part of the greater action-theoretic solution-context. Such a Kantian "way out" is tempting to me, but not compelling enough quite yet, because not really clear enough to me, yet, either.