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Morality is necessary for happiness

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Abstract

An argument for the eponymous conclusion is given through a series of hypothetical syllogisms, the most basic of which is as follows: morality is necessary for self-respect; self-respect is necessary for happiness; therefore, morality is necessary for happiness. Some of the most obvious objections are entertained and rejected.

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Notes

  1. The first quote is from Psalm 37, the second is from Williams (1985, p. 46).

  2. Psychopaths will be left out of the picture. Generally, we take mental illness to be exculpatory of immorality. Perhaps there are ways to argue that psychopaths are culpable for their immoral behavior, but unless we deny their condition, we must accommodate it one way or another in our judgment of them. Such complications go beyond the intent of the argument at hand.

  3. Contemporary assumptions of the social conception of morality are found in Stevenson (1937, p. 31), Baier (1954), Telfer (1968), Harman (1975), Scanlon (1982, 2000), Wolf (1982), Gauthier (1986), Nagel (1991), Kagan (1991), Hills (2003), Darwall (2006), Joyce (2006) and Finlay (2008), Parfit (2011). For less stringent views, see Scheffler (1982, 1992). For further discussion see Bloomfield (2014).

  4. For the term “Holy Grail of moral philosophy” see Blackburn (1984, p. 222) and Hills (2010, p. 1). For a different dialectical set-up but a more developed treatment, see my (2014). A different, more Aristotelian argument for a similar conclusion is given by Badhwar in her (1997, 2014). A different more Parfitian argument for a similar conclusion is given by Brink (1990).

  5. Strawson (1962).

  6. Crisp (2014).

  7. On thinking about one’s life as a whole, see Annas (1993).

  8. This is intended to understand subjectivism in a way consistent with how Sumner construes it, as “preserving a subject-relative or perspectival character”, and he takes Shelly Kagan to make a similar point. See Sumner (1996) and Kagan (1992).

  9. Foot (1958–59).

  10. Hill (1973).

  11. There are, by the way, interesting connections inherent between “is” and “ought” here: from the premise that this case is like that one, we can immediately infer the conclusion that they ought to be treated alike. “Treat like cases alike” is really elliptical for the claim “if cases are alike, they ought to be treated alike”. If this bridges a putative gap in logic which Hume and many others have thought they have seen, there nevertheless seems to be no way to coherently deny that like cases ought to be treated alike.

  12. Dillon’s reading of Kant runs in a similar fashion. On this view, immorality is caused by arrogance, which involves a double self-deception: one fools oneself into thinking one deserves more than others and also fools oneself into thinking one’s judgments about desert have rectitude. See Dillon (2004).

  13. It is my sense that similar reasoning is behind Fricker’s (2007) claim that justice is a hybrid, ethical-intellectual virtue.

  14. Thanks especially to Erasmus Mayr and Roger Crisp for their discussions with me about ethical egoism.

  15. For further “objections and replies” to similar lines of argument, see section 1.7 of Bloomfield (2014).

  16. “…who is there, or whoever was there, of avarice so consuming and appetites so unbridled, that, even willing to commit any crime to achieve his end, and even though absolutely secure of impunity, yet would not a hundred times rather attain the same object by innocent than by guilty means?” (Cicero 1914).

  17. Drafts of this paper were read at the Oxford University Moral Philosophy Seminar and at the University of Missouri and I thank the audiences for helpful discussion. At the 2015 APA Pacific Division meeting, Anne Baril and Jennifer Baker were my commentators. I thank them and the audience there for the discussion as well. Finally, thanks to Heather Battaly for her comments on the final draft.

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Bloomfield, P. Morality is necessary for happiness. Philos Stud 174, 2613–2628 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-016-0729-9

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