Date of Award
Dissertation - Restricted
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
An oft heard defense of behavior is 'What's wrong with what they're doing? They're not hurting anyone.' The reasoning behind this defense or, perhaps, dissemblance seems to be this. Unless one is hurting another, then one cannot be doing anything morally wrong. The theory apparently is that 'morally wrong' means causing pain and suffering to others.
Of those who have thought about the matter perhaps none would deny that the prevention of unnecessary suffering is one of the benefits of moral action. However, there are some who would argue that prevention of suffering is the entire purpose of morality. It is with some of the latter sort that this dissertation deals~ namely, the "Good Reasons" school of analytical ethics.
The name "Good Reasons" is appropriate. The main concern of the school is ''what is a good reason in ethics?' What they are after really is a test for evaluating the arguments or reasons given in support of a response to 'What ought I do?' The "Good Reasons" school contends that the basic and best test is one based on the very function of ethics. And the function of ethics, or so they say, is to prevent unnecessary suffering. If one's reason for doing an action is that he action will result in less suffering than will any other action, then one has a good reason for doing the action.
The "Good Reasons" school was started by Stephen Toulmin in 1950 with publication of his An Examination of the Place of Reason in Ethics. He was joined by Patrick Nowell-Smith who published Ethics in 1954. Kurt Baier became the third major member of this group when he published The Moral Point of View in 1958. Over the years others came to be associated
with these three. To list all who could accurately be described as "Good Reasons" ethicians would be to list a fair number of those publishing today's articles and books in ethics.
This dissertation is not concerned with all "Good Reasons" ethicians. It is concerned primarily with Stephen Toulmin and with Baier and Nowell-Smith inasmuch as they develop points assumed by Toulmin. The reasons for the restriction were considerations of time and space certainly, but the main consideration was a thematic one. I wanted to examine a moral philosophy which argues that the prevention of suffering is the sole ethical criterion. In other words, I wanted to
take a long look at a theory which says 'What's wrong with what they're doing? They're not hurting anyone.' Toulmin's theory was the most explicit one I could find. Baier's and Nowell-Smith's theories were the only other "Good Reasons" theories touching either on the point in which I was most interested or on closely related issues.
Perhaps I could have been less critical of Toulmin, Baier and Nowell-Smith. Perhaps more criticism is justified . Be that as it may, the criticism that follows is intended to advance moral knowledge and reasoning. It is not intended to belittle anyone's contribution.