Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 703–716 | Cite as

Direct Moral Grounding and the Legal Model of Moral Normativity

  • Benjamin Sachs


Whereas most moral philosophers believe that the facts as to what we’re morally required to do are grounded by the facts about our moral reasons, which in turn are grounded by non-normative facts, I propose that moral requirements are directly grounded by non-normative facts. This isn’t, however, to say that there is no place in the picture for moral reasons. Moral reasons exist, and they’re grounded by moral requirements. Arguing for this picture of the moral sphere requires playing both offense and defense; this article provides the defense. I defend this view against the objections (1) that it must deny that one is generally blameworthy for having violated a moral requirement, (2) that it implies the existence of genuine moral dilemmas, (3) that it runs counter to an obviously true view of how moral deliberation should work, and (4) that it cannot explain why it feels as though figuring about what one is morally required to do often takes the form of thinking about what one’s moral reasons are.


Moral reasons Moral requirements Grounding Blameworthiness Moral deliberation Reasons-first 



Previous versions of this paper were presented at the University of Sheffield, University of Glasgow, and the British Society for Ethical Theory annual conference. Thanks to Douglas Portmore, John Broome, Russ Shafer-Landau, Brian McElwee, Toni Ronnow-Rasmussen and Justin Snedegar for reading a previous draft of the paper. And for helpful conversation on the topic I’m also grateful to Hallie Liberto, Pekka Väyrynen, Martin Rendall, Ulrike Heuer, Anna Burkard, Jonathan Way, Benedict Rumbold, Tristram McPherson, Daniel Viehoff, and Miranda Fricker.


  1. Baier K (1958) The moral point of view. Cornell University Press, IthacaGoogle Scholar
  2. Brink D (1994) Moral conflict and its structure. Philos Rev 103:215–224CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Broome J (1999) Normative requirements. Ratio 12:398–419CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Conee E (1987) Against moral dilemmas. In: Gowans CW (ed) Moral dilemmas. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 239–249Google Scholar
  5. Dahl NO (1996) Morality, moral dilemmas, and moral requirements. In: Mason HE (ed) Moral dilemmas and moral theory. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 86–101Google Scholar
  6. Dancy J (2004) Ethics without principles. Clarendon, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Darwall S (2006) The second-person standpoint. The Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  8. Gert J (2005) A functional role analysis of reasons. Philos Stud 124:353–378CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Hare RM (1981) Moral thinking. Clarendon, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hooker B (2002) Intuitions and moral theorizing. In: Stratton-Lake P (ed) Ethical intuitionism: re-evaluations. Clarendon, Oxford, pp 161–183Google Scholar
  11. Kagan S (1988) Normative ethics. Westview Press, BoulderGoogle Scholar
  12. Kagan S (1989) The limits of morality. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  13. Kearns S, Star D (2009) Reasons as evidence. In: Shafer-Landau R (ed) Oxford studies in metaethics, vol 4. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 215–242Google Scholar
  14. McConnell T (1996) Moral residue and dilemmas. In: Mason HE (ed) Moral dilemmas and moral theory. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 36–47Google Scholar
  15. McMahan J (2000) Moral intuitions. In: Lafollette H (ed) The blackwell guide to ethical theory. Blackwell Publishers, Malden, pp 92–110Google Scholar
  16. McNaughton D (2002) An unconnected heap of duties? In: Stratton-Lake P (ed) Ethical intuitionism: re-evaluations. Clarendon, Oxford, pp 76–91Google Scholar
  17. Nagel T (1986) The view from nowhere. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  18. Oberdiek J (2004) Lost in moral space: on the infringing/violating distinction and its place in the theory of rights. Law Philos 23:325–436Google Scholar
  19. Portmore D (2011) Commonsense consequentialism. Oxford University Press, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Rachels J (1999) The elements of moral philosophy. McGraw-Hill, BostonGoogle Scholar
  21. Richardson HS (1990) Specifying norms as a way to resolve concrete ethical problems. Philosophy Public Affairs 19:279–310Google Scholar
  22. Ross WD (1988) The right and the good. Hackett, IndianapolisGoogle Scholar
  23. Sachs B (2013) Reasons consequentialism. J Moral Philos 10:671–682Google Scholar
  24. Scanlon TM (2014) Being realistic about reasons. Oxford University Press, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Schroeder M (2007) Slaves of the passions. Oxford University Press, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Shpall S (2014) Moral and rational commitment. Philos Phenomenol Res 88:146–172CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Sinnott-Armstrong W (1988) Moral dilemmas. Basil Blackwell, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  28. Smith M (1996) Normative reasons and full rationality: reply to swanton. Analysis 156:160–168CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Thomson JJ (2008) Normativity. Open Court Publishing, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  30. Urmson JO (1974) A defence of intuitionism. Proc Aristot Soc 75:111–119Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of St AndrewsSt Andrews FifeUK

Personalised recommendations