The morality-welfare circularity problem
Various moral theories are essentially welfare-involving in that they appeal to the promotion or the respect of well-being in accounting for the moral rightness of at least some acts. Further, various theories of well-being are essentially morality-involving in that they construe well-being in a way that essentially involves morality in some form or other. It seems that, for any moral theory that is essentially welfare-involving and that relies on a theory of well-being that is essentially morality-involving, a circularity problem may well arise, one where moral rightness will end up being accounted for partly in terms of well-being, which itself is already being accounted for partly in terms of moral rightness. In this paper I will elaborate on this last point. Then I will examine five responses to the circularity problem at issue, and I will argue that one of them appears to be at least slightly better than all of the others.
KeywordsWell-being Moral rightness Circularity Act-utilitarianism Objective-list theory Qualitative hedonism
Two former students of mine at Chestnut Hill College, Nick Williams and Sarah Powitzky, had an in-class exchange regarding Mill’s qualitative hedonism that first prompted me to think about the morality-welfare circularity problem. Thanks to both of them. Also, for helpful comments, let me thank Stephen Campbell, anonymous reviewers from previous journals, and an exceptionally insightful anonymous reviewer from Philosophical Studies.
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