Friday, September 17, 2004

Becoming an ethical werewolf

Suppose I had the opportunity to drink a potion that would change me into a different kind of creature. I'd lose any cognitive capacities above those of a dog, my linguistic capacity and most of my conceptual capacities, and my higher-order desires. But my desire to do things that caused pleasure to other beings would be greatly strengthened, and my aversion to events that caused pain to other beings would also be strengthened. I would also gain amazing physical powers. And when I was turned loose on the world, I would be even more successful in maximizing aggregate utility than I would have been in my human form. I would rescue people in distress, intimidate villains, and do amazing works for the world.

First, would I be morally justified in drinking the potion? Second, would the creature I became count as a morally good agent?

I think the answer to both questions is yes. The first one is simple, if you're a utilitarian. As to the second one, my intuitions support reducing morally good agency to desiring the good. Being a morally bad agent is desiring the bad. For a utilitarian, pleasure is the good while pain is the bad, but I imagine that someone who accepted some other ethical theory could replace pain and pleasure with the things valued under that theory.

As per David Sosa's distinction, I evaluate the moral worth of agents separately from the goodness of the events that are their acts. If you live in a bizarre world where you are thoroughly deluded about the effects of your actions, you can be a good person and do only bad acts, or vice versa. So the stuff above about morally good agency being reduced to some desire-state shouldn't be taken as a denial of consequentialism about the goodness of everything else.

Note: The notion of ethical werewolfhood employed in this post is different from the notion employed in my first post.

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