The Neutrality of Rightness and the Indexicality of Goodness: Beyond Objectivity and Back Again
According to objectivist moral theories the questions "What should I do?" and "What is the right thing to do objectively speaking?" are one and the same question, the viewpoint normative for an individual person's deliberation, that is, must be the objective viewpoint. Critics have charged that purely objective reasoning is either impossible for subjective concerns driven creatures such as us, or else undesirable since a certain measure of "partiality" is part of what makes us human. I believe that objectivist moral accounts are misguided but not for the reasons pointed out by their critics. The questions "What should I do?" and "What is the right thing to do objectively speaking?" should be kept separate not because the standard implied by the latter question is impossible or undesirable but because the question itself is not, as it stands, a question about the individual me: the objectively right course of action is likely to require the efforts of others besides me. Others may, it is true, fail to perform what they should and if they fail, I may need to make up for that failure by taking on some of their duties so as to bring our collective behavior in line with objective rightness; but a decision to perform someone else's duties is not taken from an "objective viewpoint": no, because to fulfill someone else's duties is to do more than could be objectively required of a person. In this essay I argue that attempts to bridge the gap between what others should do and what they actually do are to be qualified as "virtue" and distinguished from acting on considerations of rightness. Relatedly, I hold that while rightness is "neutral", the right thing to do must be right period, virtue is "indexical" – the virtuous thing is always virtuous on someone's part.
Keywords: Objectivity, Rightness, Neutrality, Virtue, Subjectively normative reasons, Indexicality
Dr. Iskra Fileva
Graduate Student, Department of Philosophy, Boston University