Review Of "Innocence Lost: An Examination Of Inescapable Moral Wrongdoing" By C. W. Gowans

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Gowans argues that we cannot always avoid moral wrongdoing despite our best intentions. It does not follow that all deliberate outcomes are equally good or bad. But in doing the morally best thing, one still often does wrong, in that one transgresses some moral value--as moral distress accompanying inescapable wrongdoing reveals. Both Utilitarians and Kantians deny the possibility of inescapable wrongdoing because, unlike Gowans, they deny that our ultimate moral responsibilities are to specific persons. Gowans proceeds by defending a version of John Rawls's method (in A Theory of Justice, CH, Sep'72), which he calls "reflective intuitionism." From this he develops a "phenomenological argument" for his inescapability thesis, building on intuitions of moral distress (regret, remorse, and guilt) even when we believe that we have done the right thing. For we may still have wronged individuals to whom we have special moral responsibilities. Gowans defends the insights of Bernard Williams (Moral Luck, CH, Jun'82) and Michael Walzer ("Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands," in Philosophy and Public Affairs, 1973) against both Utilitarians (e.g., R.M. Hare, Moral Thinking, CH, Sep'82) and Kantians (e.g., Alan Donagan, The Theory of Morality, CH, Mar'78). He concludes with a discussion of moral tragedy and the problem of "dirty hands." This well-argued, valuable book is recommended for upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty.


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