By Marcia S. Freeman

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Sample text

Establishing a convincing argument that human beings have the ability to apprehend or intuit the truths of morality, let alone providing an account of how this apprehension works, is notoriously difficult. And those who are predisposed to be skeptical of such an ability will be particularly difficult to convince. Nevertheless, in the absence of a knock-down argument to refute the skeptic, we can draw a distinction between the claim that we have no reliable access to truths about moral expectations and the claim that we have no perfectly reliable access to truths about moral expectations.

Sidgwick refers to the failure to carry out our moral expectations as a “disappointment of expectations,” a phrase also employed by John Stuart Mill (Mill, 1971, p. 55). When someone forms an expectation that a person will perform an action, the failure of the person to perform the action is a disappointment of the expectation which has been formed. Sidgwick declares that a utilitarian will regard any disappointment of expectations to be pro tanto an evil Reasonable, Social, and Failed Expectations 33 (Sidgwick, 1981, p.

As a young child Sam may have thought of expectations as relative to the persons expressing them. He may have been aware that his mother expected one thing, his father another thing, and so on. Then at a certain age Sam may have achieved the ability to recognize a truth to the matter about what he is expected to do. The skeptic, naturally, is happy to deny that people have the ability to learn about their moral expectations and that moral education is even possible. And this position might have an initial plausibility.

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Animal Lives by Marcia S. Freeman
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