The theory of rational decision and the foundations of ethics
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The primary concern of this thesis is to investigate what light (if any) the theory of rational decision can throw on certain problems in first-order ethics. In particular, it examines whether given a correct theory of decision we can determine which of the two major rivals in the field of contemporary ethics, utilitarianism and contractarianism, is the more adequate moral theory. I begin by outlining what I call orthodox decision theory and note from this theory together with a minimal characterization of what it is to make a moral judgement we can deduce utilitarianism. The apparent conflict between utilitarianism and our moral intuitions is then examined. I criticize a common response made by utilitarians to this conflict, namely, their recourse to the distinction between rule and act utilitarianism. But I then ask the question of whether this conflict really matters? I conclude that in a sense it does not. I then turn from a consideration of the implications of utilitarianism to its foundations, particularly, its foundations in orthodox decision theory. I attempt to establish that orthodox theory has empirical content and that it has been falsified. I also consider the theory from the normative standpoint and construct a prima facie case against it. I now consider the dispute between the contractarian and the utilitarian and note that it is essentially decision theoretic in character. From a consideration of what was found to be mistaken about orthodox theory I now argue for a defence of the selection rule for rational choice presupposed by contractarianism and thereby offer a (partial) defence of a contractarian theory of justice.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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