7th Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Gowder

Paul Gowder

Strategic Morality and Para-Ideal Theory

This paper considers situations of collective moral obligation, particularly the sorts of moral obligations attributed to political communities, such as the achievement of justice and the common good. I argue that in such situations our evaluations of the duties of individual members of those communities, as well as the communities as wholes, must be carried out with respect to the strategic nature of such collective obligations. I begin by arguing that we may helpfully understand the basic problem of an agent who wants to do the morally right thing, all things considered, as “moral maximization,” in that such an agent, like a utility maximizer in economics, ought ordinarily to be motivated to bring about the morally best behavior under his control. I then argue that the obligations of morally maximizing agents in situations of collective moral obligation are strategic, in that agents’ moral options are interdependent: my best moral option depends on what you do, and vice versa. In virtue of that strategic character and the claims made in the first section about moral maximization, such problems can be analyzed using tools imported from strategic problems in economics, particularly game theory. Finally, I argue that this reveals a false dichotomy between “ideal theory” and “non-ideal theory.” I articulate a notion of para-ideal theory, to describe moral Nash equilibria in which each person is making her best moral choice, but the community is unable to achieve the ideal moral result. Finally, I suggest that a major task of politics is to improve moral conditions in para-ideal circumstances.