Moral and Legal Reasoning by Samuel Stoljar (auth.)

By Samuel Stoljar (auth.)

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Sample text

MORAL AND PRUDENTIAL CONSIDERATIONS 27 Many, perhaps most, of our actions are never completely 'prudent' to the extent of being strictly fool-proof; if things had to be done with complete security, we could never prudently travel by car, or plane, taking into account the (statistically) by no means negligible possibility of death or injury such means of transport entail. Similarly to invest money, though sometimes a hazardous enterprise, becomes an acceptable risk if undertaken with care. Not that even a prudent investment will always succeed; it may turn out badly because of bad luck or because of unforeseeable circumstances which intervene, yet we would still describe it as a 'reasonable' or prudent action, if the risk taken is acceptable according to the conventional wisdom by which these things are judged.

To act rationally or prudentially is then to act with due regard to available means as these relate to achievable ends, just as to act without such regard is to act irrationally or imprudently as well as imperfectly or unwisely or foolishly. But the words 'prudential' and 'rational', though often used interchangeably, do not always mean quite the same. While every prudential action is also rational, not every rational action is prudent as well. If'rational' thus is the wider notion, what does it denote more specifically?

This heteronomous element also explains why in judging the grievance we have to look at it not alone from the point of view of A's complaint, but no less from the side ofB; for the part of the rule containing the action-guiding 'ought' is directed to B as it is B's actions that have to be guided if the purpose is to protect A's rights. This is why moral or, for that matter, legal rules usually fasten on actions, the rule rather concentrating on what a duty-bearer should or should not do. 1 Of course these actions, too, have to be depersonalised or universalised to function as moral rules.

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