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June 07, 2008

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This is a nice way of framing the objection, Doug. Actually, I think you've drawn out an interesting ambiguity. Many conceive of the objection in sense (2). I certainly do: my first worry about Singer's famine argument is that it simply asks more of us than we could give. On the other hand, some conceive of it in sense (1), and some seem to slide between the two senses. Hooker's "Rule-Consequentialism" (1999) might be an example of one that slides, but I'm not sure.

Re: cases where common sense morality is too demanding, here's a view that I've often heard w.r.t. the Terri Schaivo incident: common sense required that her feeding tube be removed, but it was asking too much of her parents to consent to have it removed (do you remember hearing that?). Most thought the tube should be removed because she had indicated (albeit only verbally) that she didn't want to be kept alive in a persistent vegetative state, and after 15 years in that state there was no discernable hope that she might regain consciousness. But her parents shouldn't be expected to acquiesce, many said, because it was natural for them to hope beyond hope that she might recover.

I must have heard variants of this view dozens of times—in the news and elsewhere. And I'm sympathetic to it. I'm not sure I could have consented to have the tube removed either, if it were my daughter.

First, I'd think that a more natural version of the second version of the objection would involve replacing "sufficient" with "decisive". That is, people who make the too demanding objection may agree that we have sufficient reason to act as utilitarianism demands, (setting aside constraints for now) but may think that utilitarianism goes wrong in thinking that we're required to act in that way (i.e., that we have decisive reason to act in that way).

Now, it's hard to imagine somebody who thinks of the too demanding objection as a significant objection to utilitarianism, and thinks it applies in sense (1) but not in sense (2). As I understand things, somebody who thinks that utilitarianism asks more of us than commonsense demands, but not more of us than reason demands, is just be a utilitarian who thinks that commonsense morality is wrong.

That's not to say that some people don't think that utilitarianism is too demanding in both senses. But I'd think that if it's too demanding in sense (1), you should only think that's a strike against it if you think the fact that it's too demanding in sense (1) provides some reason to think that it's also too demanding in sense (2). That is, if you think it's too demanding in sense (1), but you also think commonsense morality tends to be right, then you'll think it's too demanding in sense (2), and you'll have an objection to utilitarianism. But there aren't really two, independent versions of the objection-any version of the objection has to go through sense (2).

Peter Unger believes that we are morally required to give as much as utilitarians like Peter Singer believe we morally ought to. But Unger, unlike Singer, believes the requirements we have are requirements of common sense morality. So, if (a) Unger is right about what common sense morality demands and (b) others are right that Singer’s theory demands too much, then it follows that common sense morality itself is overdemanding.

Doug,

Perhaps there's a third interpretation: (3) a moral theory is too demanding if it demands more of us than morality does, that is, if what the theory says we are morally required to sacrifice is greater than what we are in fact morally required to sacrifice. This is distinct from your (1), because commonsense morality might be mistaken. Whether is is distinct from (2) may be more thorny. What do you think?

Thanks everyone for the comments thus far.

Daniel: Yes. Many hold the stronger claim that if S is morally required to do x, then S has decisive reason to do x. This entails the weaker claim that if S is morally required to do x, then S has sufficient reason to do x. I think that the weaker claim is sufficient to show that act-utilitarianism is false and that we should not rely on stronger claims than we need to. Act-utilitarianism requires me to resign from my job (a job that I love and have struggled to get) if my doing so will result in someone else's getting my position and their having the job will produce one utile more than my having it will. But surely I have decisive reason not to resign from my job. Who will pay my mortgage and feed my family? Also, act-utilitarianism requires that I kill my daughter so that her heart could be donated to someone else if the result of my doing so would be that there will be more utile overall. But surely I have decisive reason not to kill my daughter.

Campbell: Clearly, to say that a moral theory is too demanding as opposed to saying merely that it is extremely demanding is to say that it demands more than morality in fact requires us to give. So to be clearer I should have asked why do those who object to act-utilitarianism (or any other moral theory) as too demanding think that it demands more than we're required to give. One reason is (1). Another reason is (2). Which is the better reason?

Doug,
A few points to chew on:

1. There's one more sense to the 'too demanding' objection: It's actually impossible for people with relatively normal psychologies (i.e., levels of moral awareness, sympathy, etc.) to act as AU requires them. I've observed that this is the first 'demandingness' move that students and non-philosophers like to make when they have AU explained to them.

2. As far as the demandingness of common sense morality (CSM): I think CSM is often pretty demanding with respect to filial and familial obligations. I certainly encounter people espousing the idea that I have obligations to support my ill or aged parents even if it bankrupts me; that I have an obligation to do whatever would enhance my children's chances of future success in life; etc. I'm not sure if people really believe these claims, but they're pretty common.

3. On (1) vs. (2): (1) seems to imply a very conservative view about the methodology of moral theories, namely, that any theory that implies a demand stronger than any demand of CSM should be rejected. I think even those with methodologically conservative instincts would allow that a plausible moral theory could ask more than CSM does. I'd say (2) is thus the more formidable version of the objection.

Hi Mike,

Thanks for these. I'm, in general, sympathetic with your third point, although I think that (1) is more charitably interpreted as giving a pro tanto, and not necessarily decisive, reason for rejecting views such as AU. Thus, it doesn't necessarily presuppose a methodology that's any more conservative than wide reflective equilibrium is.

I'm less sympathetic with your first point. You write: "It's actually impossible for people with relatively normal psychologies (i.e., levels of moral awareness, sympathy, etc.) to act as AU requires them." As I understand AU, AU holds that you are morally required to perform x iff, of all the acts that it is possible for you to perform, x is the one that produces more utility than any of the others. So AU never requires you to act in a way that it is actually impossible for you to act. You may say that you could, as AU requires, perform one self-sacrificing altruistic act after another for a few days, but after a time you would burn out and no longer be capable of further self-sacrifice. Well, in that case, I suspect AU would tell you not to act so as to become burned out, and, even if it did, it wouldn't require to continue to sacrifice after becoming burned out if you are incapable of sacrificing.

Doug,

Okay, I think I've got it now. There aren't really two senses in which a moral theory might be said to be too demanding. There's only one sense: the theory demands more than morality does. But there are two different arguments one might give to show that a theory is too demanding. One argument has (1) as a premise; the other has (2) as a premise.

But now there's something else I don't get. How is the observation that commonsense morality is itself too demanding supposed to count in favour of the second argument? I take it the idea is that it speaks against the first argument and these are the only alternatives. But then I don't see how it speaks against the first argument.

The argument, I assume, goes like this:

(1a) A moral theory is too demanding if it demands more than commonsense morality demands.
(1b) Utilitarianism demands more than commonsense morality demands.
Therefore,
(1c) Utilitarianism is too demanding.

Now suppose commensense morality is itself too demanding. This doesn't undermine (1a). If anything, it does the opposite. Surely, if X is too demanding and Y is more demanding than X, then Y is too demanding. So the claim that commonsense morality is too demanding implies (1a). But it doesn't seem to undermine (1b) either.

Campbell,

Fair enough. I agree that I was wrong to suggest that there were two senses and that I was, consequently, wrong to suggest that the observation that commonsense morality is too demanding counts in favor of the second sense (for there is no second sense). I'll we can say is that there are, at least, two different kinds of reasons for thinking that a given theory is too demanding, and that if we think that AU and commonsense morality are both too demanding and for the same reason, then that reason can't be (1).

Campbell, you write:

There aren't really two senses in which a moral theory might be said to be too demanding. There's only one sense: the theory demands more than morality does.

Demanding more than morality does seems to be a necessary but insufficient condition for a theory to count as overdemanding. The theory must also, I believe, make demands on us that are in some sense unreasonable. Suppose, for example, that morality in fact only requires of you that you refrain from directly and intentionally causing harm to others. And suppose that, on my theory, you are also required to assist others when doing so imposes no unreasonable costs on you. I claim that this theory, while demanding more than morality does, would not as such be overdemanding.

The same applies, I think, to both of Doug's proposed criteria. Even if common sense morality requires less of you than my theory does, in order for my theory to demand too much in the relevant sense it must also impose on you demands that are unreasonable. And even if I don't have sufficient reasons to give, my theory can only be plausibly claimed to demand too much if it is also unreasonable for you to give what the theory demands.

But isn't unreasonableness itself a sufficient condition for overdemandingness? Suppose you complain that act utilitarianism is too demanding on the grounds that it imposes unreasonable demands on you. And suppose I could convince you that AU is in fact the true moral theory, that the requirements of AU coincide with those of common sense morality, and that it is not true that you lack sufficient reasons to give. You may then still complain that AU demands too much, but you could not, I think, present this as an objection to the theory. So the theory would not really be overdemanding in the sense which philosophers have in mind when they talk about the 'overdemandingness ojection'.

To sum up, we have four relevant claims here:

(1) a moral theory demands more of us than commonsense morality demands of us. [Doug's first claim]

(2) a moral theory demands more of us than we have sufficient reason to give. [Doug's second claim]

(3) a moral theory demands more of us than morality does. [Cambell's claim]

(4) a moral theory demands more of us than it is reasonable for us to give. [my claim]

What I am saying is that the truth of either of these claims is individually insufficient to make a theory overdemanding, and that it is the combination of (1), (2) or (3) with (4) that may provide a jointly sufficient criterion for overdemandingness. I'm inclined to think that (3) and (4) provide the right criterion, that (1) provides only epistemic reasons to believe that claim (3) is true, and that (2) looks plausible only insofar as it approximates (4).

Pablo,

This is very interesting. Here's an example that helps me to see your point more clearly. AU requires that, other things being equal, you eat for breakfast the available option that would benefit you the most. Now suppose that morality in fact never requires you to act so as to benefit yourself when you are the only person who would benefit from your so acting. In that case, although your choosing the less enjoyable option for breakfast would, perhaps, be stupid or foolish, it would not be wrong. Thus, in requiring you to choose the most enjoyable option for breakfast, AU requires more than morality requires. But from this alone, it doesn't follow that AU is too demanding. A moral theory is too demanding only if the demands it makes are unreasonable. But it is reasonable to demand of you to choose the most enjoyable option; after all, you have good reason to do so.

I have a question for you (Pablo), though. What do you see as being the difference between (4) and (2)? I would have thought that a demand to give x is unreasonable iff there is insufficient reason to give x.

I wonder what options taste like in the morning?

Paul Hurley suggests the second of your two takes on the Objection in an Ethics paper from 06. I take issue with that view in a recent thing in Phil Imprint. I do not know of a mainstream philosophical account of practicals reason such that many of the attempts to solve the Objection would jibe with our reasons. Rule consequentialism or satisficing consequentialism or Scheffler's hybrid, etc. do not look plausibly to fit with any account of reasons I know of. They look like attempts to bring the cost down to the agent of compliance with morality, but not necessarily so as to comply with any popular account of reasons.

Hi Dave,

Why not say: "so much the worse for mainstream philosophical accounts of practical reason"? If you explain to the ordinary person on the street what act-utilitarianism requires and what rule-consequentialism requires (use Hooker's view as the exemplar here), I suspect that he or she will tell you that AU, but not RC, requires them to act in ways that are contrary to reason (i.e., objectively irrational).

So can you give an example where RC (or, better yet, commonsense morality if you think RC conflicts with it) requires us to act in a way that intuitively we think is contrary to reason? I can't. If it turns out that no mainstream philosophical account can accommodate our intuitions about what is and isn't contrary to reason, then perhaps we should keep looking for a better theory. In my paper "Imperfect Reasons and Rational Options," I offer a framework (although not a substantive account) of objective rationality that will likely (once given substance) render the verdict that what AU requires, but not what commonsense morality requires, is contrary to reason.

Hi Doug,

When is a demand unreasonable? You propose:

(a) A demand to give x is unreasonable iff there are insufficient reasons to give x.

This proposal is, I think, open to some counterexamples. For instance, although you have sufficient reasons to throw yourself over a grenade if this is necessary and sufficient to save the lives of your comrades, it is still unreasonable to demand that you do so.

An alternative proposal is

(b) a demand to give x is unreasonable iff you have sufficient reasons not to give x.

However, this proposal is also inadequate, because it fails to discriminate between reasons of different kinds. It seems to me that only partial reasons—those rooted in your own well-being, or in the well-being of those to whom you have close ties—are relevant for determining whether a demand is unreasonable.

We could try instead:

(c) a demand to give x is unreasonable iff you have sufficient partial reasons not to give x.

But this won’t do either. The moral demand to save the child that is about to drown in the pond doesn’t become unreasonable by virtue of my having sufficient partial reasons to avoid getting my clothes dirty. There must be some kind of proportionality between the moral reasons that demand something of me and the partial reasons that I have for not give this thing.

So we could try:

(d) a demand to give x is unreasonable iff you have sufficient partial reasons not to give x, and these partial reasons are proportional to the moral reasons grounding the demand.

I am sorry to say that I don’t know how to make the notion of ‘proportionality’ more precise. Perhaps we could learn here from the work done in just war theory, which relies on this notion in formulating one of the conditions that have to be met for a war to be just.

Pablo,

I was thinking as follows.

A moral theory's demanding more than morality demands is sufficient to make the theory false. A moral theory purports to state the requirements of morality (as opposed to, say, an etiquette theory, which purports to state the requirements of etiquette). If the requirements stated by the theory are more demanding than those of morality, then the theory is false because it demands too much; the theory is too demanding to be true. So demanding more than morality demands is sufficient for being too demanding.

Now suppose morality is itself unreasonable, in the sense that the requirements of morality are excessively demanding. Then a true moral theory will also be unreasonable; it will state excessively demanding requirements. But the theory would not be too demanding. It may be the case that, in order to be reasonable, the theory would need to be less demanding. But it's not trying to be reasonable; it's trying to be true.

Doug,

On your breakfast example. It might be said that the demandingness of a theory is measured by the sacrifices it requires of you. But eating a tasty option for breakfast is no sacrifice.

Campbell,

I agree that unreasonableness is insufficient for overdemandingness. As I wrote above, in order to be overdemanding a theory must both (4) demand more than is reasonable for us to give and (3) demand more than morality requires. Now, you claim that (3) is sufficient, and consequently that (4) is unnecessary. But I think the example I gave above casts doubt on this claim. The example was:

Suppose, for example, that morality in fact only requires of you that you refrain from directly and intentionally causing harm to others. And suppose that, on my theory, you are also required to assist others when doing so imposes no unreasonable costs on you.
Do you think we could say of my theory that is overdemanding in the sense of that term which describes a standard objection to utilitarianism?

Pablo and Campbell,

Points taken.

Pablo: How's about the following? A moral theory's requiring an agent, S, to perform a self-sacrificing act, x, is unreasonable (i.e., too demanding) iff S has decisive reason not to perform x.

Can you think of any counterexamples?

Doug, I think your definition is too strong. Although I don't have decisive reasons not to throw myself over the grenade when that will save the lives of several other people, it is still unreasonable to demand that I do so. More generally, we sometimes have sufficient reasons to make things go best and also sufficient reasons to do what's best for us (cf. Sidgwick's dualism of practical reason). When these reasons are in proportion to each other, I think a moral theory requiring that we make things go best would demand more than we can reasonably give. But, since we would still have sufficient reasons to do as morality requires, it cannot be true that we also have decisive reasons not to comply with these moral requirements. (I'm assuming we can't have sufficient reasons to act contrary to what we have decisive reasons to do.) Thus, in all these cases morality would be too demanding if it required that we make things go best, even though we would not have decisive reasons to act contrary to the requirements of morality.

Pablo,

Sorry. I messed up. My latest suggestion was just equivalent to what I had said earlier for S has sufficient reason to perform x iff S does not have decisive reason not to perform x.

What I meant (or, at least, should) have said was: A moral theory's requiring an agent, S, to perform a self-sacrificing act, x, is reasonable (i.e., not too demanding) iff S has decisive reason to perform x.

Since you don't have decisive reason to throw yourself on the grenade, it is unreasonable to require you to do so. You do have decisive reason to save the kid in the shallow pond at minimal cost. Hence, it is reasonable to demand that you make that small sacrifice.

Pablo,

One more thing: I don't see why (3) is necessary. If the correct moral theory requires us to make sacrifices that we don't have decisive reason to make (e.g., to jump on grenades to save more numerous others), then morality is, itself, too demanding.

So either moral rationalism (MR) is true or it is false:

MR: S is morally required to do x only if S has decisive reason to do x.

If MR is true, then the correct moral theory cannot be too demanding. If, however, MR is false, then the correct moral theory could be too demanding, and, if it is, then morality is itself too demanding. This is, I believe, the route that Sobel wants to take. He wants to admit that consequentialism is too demanding in the sense of requiring us to make sacrifices that we don't have decisive reason to make. But he doesn't think that this proves that consequentialism is false, for it might be that morality is itself too demanding (in the sense just defined). Thus, Sobel rejects MR.

After all, might we say that certain legal requirements are too demanding? For instance, one of them requires that I not steal a loaf of bread from a rich grocer even when that's the only way to save my own life. That seems too demanding.

So whether a system of norms (moral, legal, aesthetic, etc.) is too demanding is one thing. And whether the fact that a particular substantive normative theory is too demanding counts as a reason to reject that theory depends on whether MR (or its relevant counterpart in that realm) is true. This is Dorsey's point in the paper of his that we discussed recently here at PEA Soup. His point is that the too demanding objection relies on an implicit premise, viz., MR.

Pablo,

Do you think we could say of my theory that is overdemanding in the sense of that term which describes a standard objection to utilitarianism?

Yes, for the reason given in my previous comment: your theory is too demanding to be true.

I know that Pablo is busy at the moment with his BPhil Thesis and hopes to get back to us later. In the meantime, I should try to be a bit more clear on what my latest thinking is. What I think now is following:

A theory is too demanding iff it requires agents to make sacrifices that they don't have decisive reason to make.

So whereas, in my original post, I had talked about possible interpretations of the too demanding objection, I should have instead talked about possible interpretations of the claim that a theory is too demanding. There are, at least, three possible interpretations of the claim that a theory is too demanding: (1) it demands more from us than we have decisive reason to give, (2) it demands more from us than we intuitively think that we are required to give, and (3) it demands more from us than we are in fact required to give. I think that (1) is the best interpretation. One reason for thinking that (1) is better than (3) is that some philosophers (e.g., Sobel and Dorsey) agree that consequentialism is too demanding, but deny that this entails that consequentialism is false. If (3) were true, this makes no sense.

One reason to think that (1) is better than (2) is the fact that we think that a requirement of, say, law or etiquette can be too demanding even though we don't have any intuitions (only empirical judgments) about what law and etiquette require.

Doug,

There is a sense in which it is true that, as you claim, a requirement is too demanding iff it demands more than you have decisive reason to give. In this sense, the concept of overdemandingness has already absorbed, as it were, all the relevant considerations that determine what decisive reasons the agent has.

There is another sense, however, in which your proposal does not yield the right conclusions. A requirement can demand too much in this sense even if you have decisive reason to give what it requires. This is because, in this sense, the demandingness of a requirement is solely determined by the costs it imposes on the agent, even when there are other factors present which determine that the agent has decisive reasons to do what is costly. You may, for instance, have decisive reasons to give till it hurts, even if--because it hurts so much--requiring that you give would demand too much from you, in this relevant sense.

There is a middle ground between these two proposals. In saying that a theory is too demanding, we may be incorporating other factors besides the costs imposed on the agent, although these factors do not fully coincide with those factors that determine what the agent has decisive reason to do.

By way of illustration, suppose that people have decisive reason to give what minimizes the cumulative costs to the parties affected. And suppose that some theory requires of you what would impose significant costs on you, but would also relieve others of much greater burdens. On your view, this theory would not be too demanding, since you have decisive reasons to give. On the second view I considered, the theory would be too demanding, since giving imposes significant costs on you. On the third view, whether the theory is too demanding depends on the proportion that holds between the costs to you and the costs to others.

It is not clear to me to what extent there is a real disagreement here, and to what extent instead these different proposals are describing different senses with which the expression 'too demanding' is used in the philosophical literature.

(Thanks, incidentally, for the papers. They were quite useful.)

Campbell,

It might help to consider other requirements than those issued by morality. We can ask, for example, what the law requires. On what I take to be your view, a legal requirement is too demanding just in case it demands more than is required by the law. Now suppose the law requires you to give 50% of your income to the State, and suppose morality requires you to give only 10%. Suppose, furthermore, that a moral philosopher claims that morality requires you to give 50%. It follows from your position that, although the moral requirement to give 50% is overdemanding, the legal requirement to give that same amount is not. This conclusion is, I think, implausible.

Pablo,

"On the third view, whether the theory is too demanding depends on the proportion that holds between the costs to you and the costs to others."

Suppose that Theory X's only requirement is that you sacrifice your life to save another's if and only if that's what you promised to do (as where you've signed up to be on the President's secret service detail knowing that this means you have to take a bullet to save his or her life if necessary). On this theory, you should do this even if the overall cost to others in letting the President die is no greater than the cost to you in losing your life -- assume that the President is a pretty bad President and that the Vice President could be no worse. The ratio of cost to you versus cost to others, then, is 1:1.

Now consider Theory Y. Its only requirement is that you sacrifice your life if and only if you can save someone whose life is of no less value to others (counting this person as an other) than yours is to you. So you are required to shoot yourself in the head so as to render your heart transplantable if this would save someone whose life is of as much value to others as yours is to you. The ratio of cost to you versus cost to others, then, is also 1:1 on Theory Y.

It sounds like the third view entails that Theory X and Theory Y are equally too demanding or equally not too demanding. This seems quite implausible to me. Similar objections can be constructed against the second view as well.

I've always assumed that people who frame the objection in terms of common sense morality were simply people who by and large are adherents of common sense morality, so that at base they are simply claiming that act utilitarianism (say) requires more from us than we are in fact morally obligated to give. My sense is that I usually encounter this objection in the work of people with a pretty robust set of moral intuitions, who are confident that they know what morality does in fact demand from us in a wide range of circumstances even in advance of settling on a moral theory. (This is certainly true, for instance, of Tim Mulgan and Brad Hooker.) Some have intuitions that conform more closely to common sense than others. This approach always worries me, because I think that our intuitions are most suspect where they conform most closely to our interests, and so it seems to me that the intuition that it is morally permissible for us to buy luxuries while there are people in the world who are starving gives us very little reason to reject a moral theory which says that we are required to donate our money to Oxfam instead. It is just too easy to tell a story about where that intuition comes from that undermines it.

Given the way that I am used to seeing the objection deployed, though, I am not sure that it depends on a particular view about the relation between morality and reasons. Since it starts from the premise that we already know what morality demands from us in certain instances, it doesn't have to make any assertions about what we have reason to do in order to conclude that act utilitarianism is not an accurate account of morality.

Pablo,

On what I take to be your view, a legal requirement is too demanding just in case it demands more than is required by the law.

That isn't my view. The law might be too demanding in various ways, but being more demanding than itself isn't one of them.

Campbell, you write:

That isn't my view. The law might be too demanding in various ways, but being more demanding than itself isn't one of them.
I didn't say that, on your view, the law demands too much just in case it demands more than itself. Unless the law is inconsistent, this is logically impossible. So on this criterion no consistent legal system could ever demand too much. Certainly I don't think you or anyone else capable of believing such an absurdity.

My argument had instead the following structure. On your view, a moral requirement is too demanding iff it demands more than morality does. Similarly, a legal requirement should be too demanding iff it demands more than the law does. (Moral and legal requirements are here of course purported requirements--they are what certain false theories about morality or the law mistakenly claim morality or the law require.) But then if the law requires more than morality, a moral requirement demanding something from you could be too demanding even if a legal requirement demanding that same thing from you isn't.

Maybe you would want to deny the parallel I assumed between morality and the law (third sentence in the paragraph above). But I think the rationale you provided for your criterion earlier in this thread actually commits you to such a parallel. As you write:

A moral theory purports to state the requirements of morality (as opposed to, say, an etiquette theory, which purports to state the requirements of etiquette). If the requirements stated by the theory are more demanding than those of morality, then the theory is false because it demands too much; the theory is too demanding to be true. So demanding more than morality demands is sufficient for being too demanding.
This argument, formulated in terms of theories about moral requirements vis-à-vis morality, could be equally formulated in terms of any theory about requirements of a certain kind vis-à-vis the true requirements of that kind. So it could be formulated in terms of theories about legal requirements vis-à-vis the law.

Pablo,

Moral and legal requirements ... are what certain false theories about morality or the law mistakenly claim morality or the law require.

So a moral requirement is something which morality does not require? That's an odd use of the term. But, in any case, I think I understand your example now. It goes like this (correct me if I'm wrong). Suppose law requires you to give 50% of your income, but morality requires only that you give 10%. And suppose some legal theory L says you are legally required to give 50%, and some moral theory M says you are morally required to give 50%. Then, on my view, M is too demanding but L isn't. What M says you are morally required to give is greater than what you are in fact required to give. But what L says you are legally required to give is no greater than what you are in fact legally required to give. Therefore, whereas M is too demanding to be true, L is not.

That doesn't seem implausible to me at all.

Campbell,

Consider the beginning of the following dialogue between two people in a fictional country.

Theorist: As an adult, you are now required to work 18 hours per day, seven days per week, 365 days per year, for the rest of your conscious life, and donate 95% of your income to the state.

Agent: These requirements are way too demanding!

Theorist: What nonsense are you saying? How can you even say that a requirement is too demanding if you still don't know what sort of requirement it purports to be?

Now, which of the two possible endings below strikes you as the most plausible?
Agent: I'm sorry. Could you please tell me?

Theorist: These purport to be legal requirements.

Agent: Ah, then I retract what I said. Having recently read in the Constitution that adults have precisely the requirements you mentioned, I shouldn't have said that the requirements are too demanding. Silly me.

Theorist: Good.

-----------

Agent: I don't need to know whether something purports to be a requirement of this or that sort to know that it requires too much from me. The requirements you stated interfere with all my ground projects and personal commitments. They alienate me from my friends, my family and myself. They take from me the only life I have. This is enough to conclude that the requirements are too demanding.

Theorist: Your position is quite odd. It is no objection to a legal theory that it states requirements with the implications you mentioned. The legal theory purports to state the requirements of the law, and this is, in fact, what the law requires.

Agent: If a theory claimed that these are moral requirements, we may have reasons to reject the theory, since it is plausible to believe that morality does not demand too much from us. Since it is not plausible to believe the same about the law, we have no such reasons to reject a legal theory on similar grounds. But all this is besides the point. I can know that a requirement is too demanding even if, because it is stated by a legal rather than a moral theory, this fact gives me no reason to reject it.

Pablo,
Campbell will no doubt have a better answer than this, but doesn't your example just show that there are different contexts in which we might object to something as "too demanding?" One is when we are making a normative, possibly a moral or prudential, objection to the enforcement of some requirement. That is the sort of case you illustrated. Another, though, is when we are looking for a general theory to account for some set of obligations, and we object to a particular theory on the grounds that we know the obligations in question are not as stringent as the theory in question entails. The theory doesn't fit the "facts." You certainly could call the first objection "a demandingness objection," but isn't it the second that moral theorists typically have in mind when they talk about "*the* demandingness objection?"

So if you are presented, say, with a theoretical legal principle that entails that people have certain obligations and asked simply whether it is "too demanding," you would need for the question to be disambiguated before you could proceed. Are you being asked whether the principle is too demanding for people to be held to the requirements that it entails? This would be a moral or a prudential question, possibly. Or are you being asked whether it is too demanding to be accepted as an account of the obligations that people have under a certain body of laws? The answer to the second question would depend on the content of those laws. If they are sufficiently draconian, then a very demanding principle might be an entirely successful account of them.

Hi Dale. You write:

You certainly could call the first objection "a demandingness objection," but isn't it the second that moral theorists typically have in mind when they talk about "*the* demandingness objection?"
My impression was that, on the contrary, it is the first sense that philosophers have in mind when they raise the objection. I'm sure I'm less familiar with the relevant literature than either you or Campbell are, but I always understood the objection to have the following structure. First, the critic identifies certain features of the moral requirement under discussion in a way that is noncommittal about the truth of a particular moral theory. She may say, e.g., that the requirement threatens the autonomy of the moral agent, or that it conflicts with her projects and commitments, or that it lowers her wellbeing below a certain threshold, or some other claim along those lines, without making at that stage any assumptions about what morality requires. It is only at a logically posterior stage that the critic will argue that moral requirements do not plausibly have such features, and conclude as a result that the moral theory that implies such requirements should therefore be rejected.

The alternative approach would instead go like this. The critic will first defend a particular view about morality, and claim that morality requires certain things from us. She will then show that the rival moral theory requires more than morality does. She will finally conclude that the theory in question is false.

One reason to favor the first interpretation is that we seem to have a prior and independent understanding of what it is for a requirement to demand too much, and that it is this notion of overdemandingness that plays a role in explaining the falsity of those moral theories whose requirements are overly demanding. If instead Campbell's position is true, these features would not have any special explanatory significance: overdemanding theories are false simply because their requirements do not coincide with those of morality. There would be no interesting difference between a theory that demands too much and a theory that demands "too little", or more generally between any theory whose requirements differ from those of morality in some respect or another.

Consider an analogy. Suppose a community of economists is trying to estimate the cost of a some important project. Suppose, moreover, that a certain group within that community believes the cost of this project is 50 million dollars. Suppose finally that a rival group claims that the correct estimate is in the order of 100 million dollars. We could then imagine the first group criticizing the second group for "overestimating" the costs of the project. But this objection would have no significance beyond stating that these economists had incorrectly estimated the true costs. The "overestimation" objection is not supposed to attach any importance to the fact that the estimate erred by excess rather than by defect.

Campbell seems to think of the too demanding objection along similar lines. In doing so, I think he is missing what sets this objection apart from other standard criticisms of act utilitarianism. Those who raise this objection are not merely saying that the requirements of act utilitarianism fail to correspond to those of morality. They are saying that this is a special sort of failure, and that this failure illuminates something deeply wrong about this moral theory.

Needless to say, I'm not myself defending the objection. (How could I? I'm an incorrigible hedonistic utilitarian.) I'm rather defending what I take to be the interpretation of that objection which is most faithful to what critics of act utilitarianism have in mind when they reject this theory for being too demanding.

Pablo,
That helps to clarify your thinking, but I still lean toward thinking that in the moral theory literature the objection is at base of the second of the two types that I distinguished. I really don't think that the objection that a theory is "too demanding" is meant to have more force, or a different kind of force, from the objection that it is not demanding enough.

The way the objection is typically offered seems to me to come down to two steps:
1. The critic shows that a theory entails that we have a certain stringent obligation in particular circumstances.
2. The critic attempts to appeal to a moral intuition to the effect that in these circumstances we are not in fact obligated to sacrifice so much. In trying to convince readers that they have this intuition, the critic may of course talk about how complying with the putative obligation in question might threaten our autonomy, well-being, etc.
I'm not sure which of your two approaches this is more like. I'm also not sure how to support my claim that this is how the objection typically runs, short of trying to find suitable quotes from the literature---which sounds like a lot of work! :) But consider this... You write

Those who raise this objection are not merely saying that the requirements of act utilitarianism fail to correspond to those of morality. They are saying that this is a special sort of failure, and that this failure illuminates something deeply wrong about this moral theory.

Suppose that I can show that a moral theory does not in fact correspond to what we are certain are requirements of morality. That would seem to be an absolutely decisive objection to it... completely fatal. So what further significance could the fact that the theory erred in the direction of being too demanding rather than not being demanding enough have? If establishing either error shows that the theory absolutely must be rejected, then how does it make sense to say that one more than the other is a special sort of failure that illuminates something deeply wrong about the theory?

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