chapter  3
4 Pages

Accidentalists embed morality in a social framework

Cognitivist necessitarians such as McNaughton, we have argued, take it that a moral action (like any other intentional action) can only be explained by showing it to be reasonable for the particular agent to perform it. Thus they consider it crucial to exhibit the action in a favourable or attractive light from her individual viewpoint. Such an explanation is therefore ‘subjective’. It is an explanation of her action, as McNaughton (1988: 123) explicitly puts it, ‘from the inside’. But when it is stressed that moral requirements are those which we must fulfil whatever our personal desires or feelings, the aim is precisely to lift them above the contingencies of any particular individual’s psychology or circumstances. Thus morality is often said to be authoritative in the sense of ‘necessarily giv[ing] reasons to any man’ (Foot, 1972: 161). If accidentalists are to respect this distinctive categoricity and universal relevance of moral judgements, it would seem that they will have to go beyond the discrete acts of decision-making of isolated individuals on which McNaughton and others focus.