Inconsistency in Ethics
Consistency is usually seen as one of the hallmarks and a cardinal virtue of moral theory, as well as of any defendable real-life moral perspective. In everyday life a consistent set of moral beliefs is conductive to moral clarity, communicability, responsibility and responsiveness. But this is just one side of the story. In this paper I argue that inconsistency, properly understood, is a productive and constructive aspect of both moral philosophy and our day to day moral lives. The argument proceeds in three steps. First, I discuss the philosophical importance of paying heed to inconsistencies in our moral lives, which often, due to philosophers’ normative commitment to consistency, are prematurely pruned from moral philosophy, leaving us with a stunted understanding of the complexities of real-life morality. Second, I discuss the moral role of inconsistency in terms of responsiveness to different values, needs and concerns that call upon our attention in day to day life. Third, I argue that moral inconsistencies constitute a dimension of moral life which is necessary for adapting our moral understandings to changing conditions.