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What matters and how it matters: A choice-theoretic representation of moral theories

Dietrich, Franz and List, Christian (2016): What matters and how it matters: A choice-theoretic representation of moral theories. Forthcoming in: Philosophical Review (2017)

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Abstract

We present a new “reason-based” approach to the formal representation of moral theories, drawing on recent decision-theoretic work. We show that any moral theory within a very large class can be represented in terms of two parameters: (i) a specification of which properties of the objects of moral choice matter in any given context, and (ii) a specification of how these properties matter. Reasonbased representations provide a very general taxonomy of moral theories, as di↵erences among theories can be attributed to di↵erences in their two key parameters. We can thus formalize several distinctions, such as between consequentialist and non-consequentialist theories, between universalist and relativist theories, between agent-neutral and agent-relative theories, between monistic and pluralistic theories, between atomistic and holistic theories, and between theories with a teleological structure and those without. Reason-based representations also shed light on an important but under-appreciated phenomenon: the “underdetermination of moral theory by deontic content”.

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