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Moral Lumps
Ethical Theory and Moral Practice (2006)
  • Samantha Brennan, University of Western Ontario

Can all goods or bads be broken down into smaller and smaller pieces? Can all goods or bads be added together with some other good or bad to get a larger amount? Further, how does moral significance track the disaggregation and the aggregation of moral goods and bads? In Part 1, I examine the limits placed on aggregation by moderate deontological moral theories. This paper focuses in particular on the work of Judith Thomson and T.M. Scanlon as well as on some of my own past work on the question of aggregation in the context of overriding rights. In Part 2, I examine consequentialist criticism that harms and benefits can be broken down into smaller pieces than the deontological theory allows and the argument that the moderate deontological view is too permissive since it allows aggregation of benefits within a single person's life. In Part 3 I suggest how a moderate deontological moral theory might respond to the criticisms. I cast my answer in terms of the existence of lumpy goods and bads. I argue that consequentialist critics of deontology are wrong to insist that all goods and bads can be disaggregated and aggregated at will. Instead, I offer the suggestion that most, or many, goods and bads come in morally significant lumps. That said, it will not always be obvious what those lumps are. Determining the texture of moral value is a substantive project in normative ethics. All I have hoped to do in this paper is suggest that two standard positions on how to group moral value are mistaken and give hope that we need not adopt one of the two. Part 4 of the paper responds to an objection and sets the stage for further work in value theory.

  • complexity of moral goods,
  • moral goods,
  • consequentialism,
  • lumpy goods,
  • moderate deontology,
  • No lives for headaches
Publication Date
June, 2006
Citation Information
Samantha Brennan. "Moral Lumps" Ethical Theory and Moral Practice Vol. 9 Iss. 3 (2006)
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