Philosophical Studies

, Volume 167, Issue 2, pp 431–451 | Cite as

The scope of instrumental morality

  • Michael Moehler


In The Order of Public Reason (2011a), Gerald Gaus rejects the instrumental approach to morality as a viable account of social morality. Gaus’ rejection of the instrumental approach to morality, and his own moral theory, raise important foundational questions concerning the adequate scope of instrumental morality. In this article, I address some of these questions and I argue that Gaus’ rejection of the instrumental approach to morality stems primarily from a common but inadequate application of this approach. The scope of instrumental morality, and especially the scope of pure moral instrumentalism, is limited. The purely instrumental approach to morality can be applied fruitfully to moral philosophy only in situations of extreme pluralism in which moral reasoning is reduced to instrumental reasoning, because the members of a society do not share, as assumed by traditional moral theories, a consensus on moral ideals as a basis for the derivation of social moral rules, but only an end that they aim to reach. Based on this understanding, I develop a comprehensive two-level contractarian theory that integrates traditional morality with instrumental morality. I argue that this theory, if implemented, is most promising for securing mutually beneficial peaceful long-term cooperation in deeply pluralistic societies, as compared to cooperation in a non-moralized state of nature.


Evolutionary morality Reasonableness (Moral) pluralism Instrumental rationality (Pure) moral instrumentalism Two-level contractarian theory 



I am very grateful to Jerry Gaus not only for helping me to understand his complex moral theory, but also for pressing me to formulate my own theory more carefully.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyVirginia TechBlacksburgUSA

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