Kagan’s second challenge: namely, the charge that, since “the moderate . . . cannot turn to these theories now in support of self-defense, [as] such an appeal would undermine the moderate’s larger defense of ordinary morality,”10 she must either avoid appealing to two-level or contract approaches, or else show that such an appeal will not – despite Kagan’s arguments to the contrary – lead to extremism.
Kagan offers these two specific challenges as part of his larger, overall attack on moderate morality. In this thesis, I shall take up these two specific challenges as part of a larger, overall defense of moderate morality. Specifically, I want to explore the resources offered by a particular contract-based approach to morality that I believe not only grounds constraints and their principled exceptions in a common source – thereby meeting Kagan’s first challenge – but also leads to options, and thus to a genuinely ‘moderate’ morality – thereby meeting Kagan’s second challenge as well. By offering a specific response to two of Kagan’s specific challenges in The Limits of Morality, I hope to point towards a more general defense of moderate morality in response to the more general criticism of it that is motivating Kagan’s two challenges. That is, I hope to argue for a consistent, contract-based, moderate morality in the face of Kagan’s charge that any form of moderate morality is incoherent and collapses into one of its two, more extreme alternatives.
Some may wonder if these two challenges of Kagan’s are even worth taking up. Many people, for example, may want to dismiss Kagan’s first challenge as unreasonable: it simply is not the case, they might say, that one must show that constraints and their exceptions flow from a common principle. Thinking otherwise places too much of a burden upon moral philosophy; we should not expect it to be as unified and cohesive as are our theories in, say, physics. However, I think that it is worthwhile to take up this challenge. If we can do so successfully, we will have met Kagan’s challenge on his own terms, rather than having simply avoided it. Furthermore, in the process, we will have arrived at a more robust, fully-articulated understanding and defense of our ordinary, moderate morality. While it indeed may not be the case that such a theory crumbles if it cannot meet Kagan’s first challenge head on, it certainly seems that such a defense – if
Kagan 1989, p. 135