UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Morality and rationality Browne, Katharine


Hobbes's Foole and Hume's knave raise the fundamental question of why one should be moral. They ask why rational persons should adhere to the rules of morality (or justice) when doing so is not to their immediate benefit. If rationality is understood as the pursuit of one's interest, and morality requires that one constrain that pursuit, then why should rational persons be moral? This essay looks at the attempts of Hobbes, Hume and Gauthier to solve the problem raised by the Foole and the knave. In Chapter 1,1 look at Hobbes's answer to the Foole's objection. Hobbes argues that the constraints characteristic of morality are to our advantage, and that one who violates the rules of morality is liable to forgo the benefits of social cooperation. I argue that Hobbes fails to show that this risk outweighs the benefits of selective violations, and thus that he has no answer to the Foole. In Chapter 2,1 examine Hume's reply to the sensible knave. Hume appeals both to prudence, as Hobbes does, and to moral sentiments (i.e., feelings of guilt generated by unjust acts) in his reply. I argue that neither of these appeals is able to support strict and inflexible adherence to justice, and that he is therefore unable to effectively reply to the knave's objection. Chapter 3 looks at Gauthier's solution. Gauthier argues that morality and rationality can be reconciled by appealing to dispositions rather than directly to actions. He seeks to show that it is rational, because it is advantageous, to cultivate a disposition of "constrained maximization" (i.e., of keeping one's agreements even when violating them would be in one's interest), and that non-maximizing actions which flow from that disposition are rational. I argue that Gauthier fails to show that constrained maximization is more utility maximizing than the actions recommended by the Foole and the knave and, thus, that he fails to show that it is rational to be a constrained maximizer. I conclude that Hobbes, Hume and Gauthier are all unable to reconcile morality and rationality, where rationality is understood as a pursuit of one's self-interest.

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