Perhaps the most common and forceful criticism directed at absolutist deontological theories is that they allow for the occurrence of morally catastrophic events whenever such events could only and certainly be prevented by the violation of a deontological constraint. Some deontologists simply bite the bullet, accept this implication of their theory, and give their best arguments as to why it does not undermine absolutism. Others, I think more plausibly, opt for an alternative deontological theory known as ‘moderate deontology’ and are thereby able to evade the criticism since moderate deontology permits violations of constraints under certain extreme circumstances. The goal of this thesis is to provide a defense of moderate deontology against three worries about the view, namely, that it is more accurately interpreted as a kind of pluralism than as a deontology, that there is no non-arbitrary way of setting thresholds for deontological constraints, and that the positing of thresholds for constraints would lead to some problematic results in practice. I will respond to each of these worries in turn. In particular, I will argue that moderate deontology is properly understood as a deontological theory despite its partial concern for consequentialist considerations, that thresholds for deontological constraints can be successfully located without arbitrariness by democratic appeal to people’s commonsense moral intuitions, and that the alleged problematic results of positing thresholds for constraints can be effectively explained away by the moderate deontologist.
- Three worries about moderate deontology