Fully rational morality and evaluation of public decisions : with action research case study : a local planning controversy and residents' appeal to a public inquiry and to national and international courts

Norderhaug, Arne

July 1999

Thesis or dissertation

© 1999 Arne Norderhaug. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

The impetus for my deliberations arises from the need to establish which proposals and decisions by social institutions to approve. This seems to come down to much the same as considering which alternatives are the better in a moral sense, but, unfortunately, there is no general agreement as to which of numerous proposed moral systems is apt, and the long and tortuous history of ethics indicates very poor prospects for such agreement. If at the outset I had been more conversant with that and the argument that the notion of a 'right' or 'objective' morality is tautological, nonsensical and/or incoherent, I would probably have thought it ridiculously ambitious to seek the basis of morality and would probably not have embarked upon the theoretical parts of this thesis. However, occasionally something is gained by attempting the impossible, and, while I certainly do not claim to have found the (morally) right morality, I suggest that I come at least very near to establishing how to ascertain what rules for behaviour are fully rational.

Whether fully rational rules (FRM) are the same as 'moral' ones is arguably essentially a semantic question. However, I suggest that our definition of 'moral' is doomed to be a minority quest of marginal significance in reasonably rational societies if it entails rules which are notably at variance with those which are the most likely to be adopted by reasonably rational people as the general expectation and/or requirement in a maximally rationally structured society (arguably a 'true' democracy).

Evaluation is hardly fUlly rational unless it is practicable. I have therefore included an attempt to apply FRM to the complex real situation which my Walton Street 'action research' examines and which comprises a number of decisions of a type crucial to the working of modem societies (e.g. those of pressure groups, local authorities, the press, public inquiries and national and international Courts).

My 'action research' concerns the insistence by the authorities that the poor housing in the Walton Street area in Hull must be dealt with by total clearance under the Housing Act 1957 rather than by the partial clearance and Housing Action Area treatment which was facilitated by the Housing
Act 1974 and was overwhelmingly preferred by the residents. In their bid to change the authorities' plan the residents exhausted all means of appeal, and in view of the evidence regarding the quality of the houses and cost calculations submitted on behalf of the residents, it was accepted (e.g. by the Court of Appeal) that the residents' alternative was both feasible and cheaper in the short term (and there were no long term assessments). Nevertheless, neither local, nor central, government would accept that the residents' proposal constituted the most satisfactory method of dealing with the conditions - seemingly for rather dubious reasons.

Department of Philosophy, The University of Hull
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