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II. Kagan’s two challenges

As part of this overall, two-pronged critique of moderate morality, Kagan devotes chapter four of The Limits of Morality to a sustained examination of the moderate’s endeavors to justify constraints on intending harm. Along the way, he points to several difficulties any such endeavor must face. The first one is the troublesome case of intending harm in self-defense. As Kagan points out, most – if not all – moderates who believe in a constraint against intending harm believe that legitimate exceptions to this constraint arise when intending harm becomes necessary for self-defense. But this is problematic for the moderate: how can these exceptions be justified? The constraint obviously must be modified. But as Kagan writes, “[M]aking the modification may be easy; defending it is not . . . for if the exception is not to be ad hoc, it will have to be

compatible with the grounds for the constraint itself. a very specific challenge:

7 He goes on to offer the moderate

[T]he question is whether the moderate can defend the suggestion that the reasons that normally oppose intending harm fail to be generated when I face Schmidt [an aggressor]. Obviously, the moderate cannot simply assert an exception for the guilty: he needs to show how the exception flows naturally from the account offered of how and why those reasons are normally generated in the first place. Thus the success of such a defense will depend on the particular account offered. 8

I will call this Kagan’s first challenge: the charge that any fully-articulated ‘moderate’ morality must, when necessary, allow for principled exceptions to constraints that are founded in the same principles that ground the constraints themselves.

However, Kagan does not want to claim that no such account could be offered. He immediately recognizes that either of two ‘indirect’ moral theories might provide just such a justification: the “two-level” (roughly, “rule-utilitarian”) approach, and the “contract” approach. Yet, as Kagan quickly points out, he has already demonstrated in chapter one of his book that either of these approaches serves ultimately to support an extremist morality.9 So Kagan’s first challenge still looms large before the moderate – in fact, it is made even tougher – when it is coupled with this charge. I will call this


Kagan 1989, p. 134.


Kagan 1989, p. 135.


See Kagan 1989, pp. 32 – 46.


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