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Deontic Cycling and the Structure of Commonsense Morality

Tim Willenken
Ethics
Vol. 122, No. 3 (April 2012), pp. 545-561
DOI: 10.1086/664750
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/664750
Page Count: 17
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Deontic Cycling and the Structure of Commonsense Morality
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Abstract

A range of extremely plausible moral principles turn out to generate “deontic cycling”: sets of actions wherein I have stronger reason to do B than A, C than B, and A than C. Indeed, just about anything recognizable as commonsense morality generates deontic cycling. This matters for two reasons. First, it creates a problem for the widely held view that agent-centered rankings can square consequentialism with commonsense morality. Second, it forces a choice between some deeply plausible views about rationality—wherein someone cannot have stronger reason to do A than B, B than C, and C than A—and commonsense morality.

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