Monthly Archives: May 2009

Preferences and Morality

I was prompted to this particular area by reading this post on a friend’s blog. At the risk of misunderstanding part of that post, what I mainly seek to comment on is the relationship between preferences we have as individuals and the judgments of morality.

I would think that expressed moral judgment would indeed require or rely upon expressed or latent preference, whether that preference is indeed for something that we judge good for ourselves or bad for ourselves. We can easily have a preference for something that “hurts” us in a sense if we feel that it is the more “moral” choice–in the most extreme case, take the example of an aged invalid who kills himself in order to free up more resources for the community. If he prefers for his community to prosper, and regards himself as too-heavily a net consumer of resources, then his preference would dictate that the moral judgment is not to go on living. On the other side of the coin, we may certainly reject what ┬ácan be perceived as “good for us” as immoral based on preference–one only needs to look at people who choose to vote in favor of increasing their own taxes. The individual would benefit from having more money, but his preference for society to provide more services requires him to reject such a benefit as too self-serving.

In the absence of any preferences, I’d think that it would be impossible to form a moral judgment–how could one express what should be done without having a perception of, and desire for, the results of whatever it is that should be done? The very concept of normative argumentation, or arguing for what should be, requires expressing a preference for or against a proposition.

Certainly not all preferences lead to moral considerations: my preference for mint-chocolate-chip ice cream really does not lead me to make any moral judgment of other ice creams or other people. That, however, argues from the wrong direction: not all preferences must lead to moral considerations, but all moral considerations would seem to have their roots in expressed or latent preferences, even (and especially) those preferences wherein the individual in question “loses” but others have the opportunity to gain.