SHOULD THE CHOICE OF A MORAL SYSTEM BE IMPARTIAL?
The paper proposes as a to-be-recommended meaning for “A is wrong”: “A would be prohibited by any moral code or system which all rationa1 persons would prefer to any other moral system, or to none, for a society in which they believed they and/or their children would spend their lives”. The term “rational” is to mean “vividly aware, over a period of time, so as to influence desires”. It is not contended that this proposal expresses what people actually mean by their moral terms; it is suggested that people would respect moral claims if moral statements were so construed.
Some philosophers sympathetic with this kind of proposal might wish to modify it by introducing the notion of impartiality. They might wish to replace “all rational persons” by “all informed persons without particu1ar desires” (viz., desires the objects of which must be explained by use of indexicals or proper names). Others might wish to replace the same phrase by “all rational persons choosing without any particular knowledge, viz., without knowledge other than that of the general statements of science”. A disadvantage of the first proposal is that personal security and advantage seem to be legitimate reasons for choosing a moral system of a certain kind. A disadvantage of the latter proposal is that it arbitrarily makes too strong a restriction on knowledge. The former fails to secure unanimity in choice of a moral system; and if the latter succeeds, it is because of an arbitrary decision about what “rationality” of a choice among moral systems is to mean.
The question is then raised whether the original definition of “morally wrong”, as what is prohibited by any system which all rational persons (not stipulated to be impartial in one of the above senses) would prefer, is such that the predicate is applicable. Or, in other words, can all rational persons agree on any moral system? It is suggested that the answer is affirmative if, for the sake of agreement, no one presses claims in his own interest of a kind to which he is not responsive when they are made by others in their own interest. It is admitted that this condition of agreement is somewhat like a requirement of impartiality.