No Demand Morality

We have heard from Peter Vallentyne that consequentialism without rules has problems.  One problem of particular note is the problem of “maximizing” demands.  If consequentialism is true, then we must always and forever act in such a way that the greater good is served, but this moral demand is too restrictive, confining, and demanding.  It mandates sacrifice always.


Alisdair Norcross, in his article “Reasons Without Demands: Rethinking Rightness,” takes issue with this brand of consequentialism.  He attempts something of a “demandectomy” on the body of consequentialism, taking out the moral imperative to sacrifice.  Norcross, instead, argues for providing good reasons for actions, but then he insists that we not issue demands or grant permissions from those good reasons.  If everyone is demanded to sacrifice in other forms of consequentialism, in Norcross’ system, no one is.  As Norcross says, “We should reject the notion that morality issues demands at all.”


Norcross argues that we can retreat to a form of satisfactory utilitarianism, that is, that the scale of right and wrong can be “at some point short of the best.” In other words, we should seek to take actions that bring about the best consequences, but the best consequence is not there to burden us; there are lesser options that are still, in a sense, “good,” which is to say, “acceptable.” These acceptable options are satisfactory.  They are good enough for reasonable people.  Norcross calls this system Scalar Utilitarianism.  Norcross rejects an all or nothing line between right and wrong, opting instead for a scale of goodness or badness to a given action.


Norcross’ system answers the problem of maximizing inherent in consequentialism, but it does not leave every question answered.  Norcross’ system leaves us with questions like, Why be moral at all?  How can we live by a moral system that makes no moral demands?  How can such a system guide our moral actions? 


Norcross answers these questions.  Whether he answers them sufficiently is another question altogether.  He says this, “Unless one does espouse a simple form of divine command theory, according to which the deity’s commands should be obeyed just because they are the deity’s commands, it seems ta the main justification for the imperatival model of morality is pragmatic.  After all, if we don’t have the justification that the commands issue from a deity, it is always legitimate to ask what grounds them.”

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