Philosophy Colloquium: Horacio Spector

Rethinking Justifications

In this paper I discuss the nature of moral and legal justifications to harm and kill (for instance, in self-defense, lesser-evil justifications, or just wars).  I reject a negative account of justifications (based on the absence of moral reasons), and hold that justifications entail positive permissions in that they are based on the existence of reasons.  The feature model of justifications, which regards them as reasons for action, leads to a permission paradox: why does the justification not entail the duty to perform the justified act (target alternative)?  (Similarly, the fact that supererogatory acts are morally praiseworthy originates the paradox of supererogation.)  Nonetheless, by considering justifications as double disablers and second-personal reasons, rather than as first-order first-personal moral reasons, it is possible to dispel the paradox.   This is a straightforward strategy to explain away the paradoxical character of justifications.   I contend that the strategy is unsuccessful.   Like duties, justifications have a dual mode of operation: under factual and normative certainty, they operate in the deontic mode, by disabling constraints and defeating accountability-based reasons. However, under uncertainty, rules cannot be just followed.  Acting in conformity with them requires exercise of moral judgement, and therefore we must treat rules as standards.   In such scenarios, an agent cannot follow a rule but only respond to it in the balancing mode, that is, by weighing the various background considerations.  Therefore, under factual or normative uncertainty justifications are scalar, and their strength depends on the underlying value-based reasons.  Naturally, the paradox of permission reappears.  If the act is justified under uncertainty, the value-based reasons underlying the justification are strong enough to disable the constraint.  But then how can these reasons not generate the duty to perform the target alternative?


3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 20, 2019


Maloney Seminar Room, Social Sciences 224.