Maximalism and Moral Harmony

Research paper by Douglas W. Portmore

Indexed on: 16 Jun '16Published on: 15 Jun '16Published in: Philosophy and Phenomenological Research


Maximalism is the view that an agent is permitted to perform a certain type of action (say, baking) if and only if she is permitted to perform some instance of this type (say, baking a pie), where φ‐ing is an instance of ψ‐ing if and only if φ‐ing entails ψ‐ing but not vice versa. Now, the aim of this paper is not to defend maximalism, but to defend a certain account of our options that when combined with maximalism results in a theory that accommodates the idea that a moral theory ought to be morally harmonious—that is, ought to be such that the agents who satisfy the theory, whoever and however numerous they may be, are guaranteed to produce the morally best world that they have the option of producing. I argue that, for something to count as an option for an agent, it must, in the relevant sense, be under her control. And I argue that the relevant sort of control is the sort that we exercise over our reasons‐responsive attitudes (e.g., our beliefs, desires, and intentions) by being both receptive and reactive to reasons. I call this sort of control rational control, and I call the view that φ‐ing is an option for a subject if and only if she has rational control over whether she φs rationalism. When we combine this view with maximalism, we get rationalist maximalism, which I argue is a promising moral theory.