There is a difference between a pluralistic system of ultimate values or intrinsic right-duty constellations and a monistic system of the same values or intrinsic right-duty constellations which are not claimed to be ultimate. Take, for example, a normative system with only well-being or beneficence and truth as ultimate values, and compare such a system with a utilitarian one in which individual well-being and truth are derivative values, that is, are derived from the ultimate value of utility. What happens if in a particular situation being beneficent and telling the truth are incompatible? Such a problem may arise when in a country with a dictatorial regime, for instance, the authorities ask someone whether there are people living in 'er house or neighborhood who belong to a particular persecuted minority, and when this is indeed the case. If the person interrogated says "yes", 'e tells the truth, but is maleficent or cooperates with people who are; if 'e says "no", 'e lies, but is beneficent or at least not maleficent. On the monistic account the person interrogated should simply calculate what act will yield more utility or happiness on the whole and in the end, taking into consideration all short- and long-term consequences. Assuming that such a calculation is feasible, and assuming that the moral decision maker finds it plausible that saying "no" will yield a greater utility, 'e ought to say "no". By saying "no" 'e then does the right thing, and nothing wrong at all, nor anything 'e should regret. Also on the pluralistic account the person interrogated has to choose. But now 'e is forced to do something wrong. If 'er answer is in the affirmative, 'e contributes to 'er interrogators' maleficence; and if 'er answer is in the negative, 'e lies. 'E must then try to choose the lesser of two evils.

In a case like the one above ethical theorists say that the conflict between the two moral judgments has a contingent basis. On the one hand a person ought to tell the truth, because truth is a value or telling the truth a duty; on the other, a person ought to be beneficent (and in this case not to tell the truth), because beneficence is a value or being beneficent a duty. It has been argued that the decision 'to act on one of the oughts in a moral conflict does not necessarily involve deciding that the other had no application'. Thus, if one decides to lie in order to save another person's life, such does not imply that the duty not to lie would not actually have applied at all. Even when deciding to lie, the truth-related ought does not have to be totally rejected. This also means that regret --as the ethical argument runs-- is a very appropriate reaction in such circumstances. When a person faced with a conflict of duties has acted for the best, 'e will, from a moral point of view, still have 'er 'regrets about the rejected course of action'. It may be added that such regret will be weak when the ought of the action taken did appear much stronger than that of the action rejected and that the regret will be profound when the decision was a difficult one to take. In this respect conflicts between moral judgments resemble conflicts of desires -- it has been pointed out. That is, by taking a decision none of the conflicting items is necessarily eliminated, at least not on a pluralistic construction. On an entirely monistic construction a conflict of (nonultimate) duties is like a conflict of descriptive beliefs. Just as one of the beliefs is completely abandoned when solving a conflict of beliefs, so one of the duties is on such a construction completely abandoned when solving a conflict of duties.

In principle conflicts of ultimate duties or values can never be adequately solved, for if they could, there would be a 'really ultimate' value comprising both lower-level values believed to be 'ultimate'. It does not help to call the ultimate duties of a pluralistic doctrine "prima facie" when not applied to a particular situation and "actual" when still effective in a particular situation, because the problem is then that there is no standard procedure to determine whether a prima facie duty is also an actual one. If it could be exactly assessed what to do when the prima facie duty not to lie and the prima facie duty to be beneficent, for instance, conflict, there would be a superordinate duty related to this assessment itself. There cannot be such a superordinate duty, because the duty to be beneficent is founded in a ground-norm and the duty not to lie in a norm of correspondence. Hence, knowing that conflicts of truth-related and neutral-inclusive duties cannot be adequately solved, the adherent of the DNI should do everything possible (and acceptable) to avoid them. 'E ought not to get into situations in which conflicts between ultimate moral judgments do, or are likely to, arise. Only with such a strategy can 'e continue to pay full respect to the different ultimate values of 'er denominational doctrine.

In the event that a conflict of duties is not the result of recognizing different ultimate values like truth and neutrality, but of recognizing different derivative values subordinate to the same ultimate value, such a conflict does not have to be avoided. It is then solvable in principle. This is not to say that it could not be a very hard problem in practise. An example is the potential conflict between overall well-being and interpersonal equality. Since complete interpersonal equality need not always serve overall well-being, some interpersonal inequality may have to be accepted if people's well-being will benefit from it. In such a case we need not regret the inequality, provided that the decision taken can be defended on neutralist grounds. But how does one weigh equality against well-being? To be able to weigh them at all, the equality itself must be one in well-being. One can also weigh equality against happiness or nanhappiness, but then the equality must be one in happiness-catenality. In accordance with the principle of indifference the answer is that one should assign the same weight to the attempt to attain a neutral state of well-being or happiness-catenality as to the attempt to attain the smallest possible average inequality, unless there is in the situation concerned another neutralist reason to assign more weight to the one than to the other.

Not only should we apply a principle of indifference to conflicts between nonultimate neutralist duties, we should also apply this principle to conflicts between different ultimate duties of the DNI. Thus when a duty of telling the truth conflicts with a duty of beneficence, we must in the first instance not consider the one duty more important than the other. This is the reason why such a conflict is possible. If we knew beforehand, for example, that the duty to tell the truth is always overruled by the duty to be beneficent, there would be no conflict in the first place. The special problem with a truth-related duty is tho, that it does not admit of degrees in the way a catenical duty does. One cannot balance truth against well-being in the same way as one can balance equality (of well-being) against well-being. But we must always ask ourselves whether the moral conflict between truth and well-being as it seems to exist on certain occasions is a purely doctrinal conflict, or even a doctrinal conflict at all.

In the example of information which is used to persecute a certain group of people it is probably not merely their well-being as such which is at stake but their rights of personhood. When looking at the situation from this metadoctrinal perspective there is no conflict between normative judgments. One should then simply not infringe other people's right of personhood, nor assist at such infringements. When this implies that one must say "no", one should say "no", even when the true answer is in the affirmative. Such does not create a conflict on this level, because it is a right of personhood that --so far as the content is concerned-- one may say whatever one likes. No person can, metadoctrinally speaking, require from another person that 'e tell the truth only, since truth is a doctrinal value and the normative principle of truth a doctrinal principle. Of course, the DNI still forbids us to say anything which is false, but if the basis of a moral conflict is metadoctrinal, or if it is created by people with other or no doctrinal convictions, there is a good reason to argue that in such a context metadoctrinal considerations take precedence over doctrinal ones. This means that we should then primarily look at the matter as a metadoctrinal affair. In that light there is no moral conflict, and we have only to make sure that everyone's rights of personhood are protected. Altho it is not well-being as such which is the value pursued, this protection will probably be experienced as part of one's well-being. That is why it looks as tho it is a doctrinal scale which is turned in favor of well-being at the expense of truth. The reason that this doctrinal scale seems to be turned that way is then not that truth was deemed less important than well-being, but that doctrinal considerations were deemed less appropriate than metadoctrinal ones.

©MVVM, 41-70 ASWW

Model of Neutral-Inclusivity
Book of Fundamentals
The Doctrine of Neutral-Inclusivity
The DNI, the Adherent and Conflicting Duties