This essay presents a new “reason-based” approach to the formal representation of moral theories, drawing on recent decision-theoretic work. It shows that any moral theory within a very large class can be represented in terms of two parameters: (i) a specification of which properties of the objects of moral choice matter in any given context, and (ii) a specification of how these properties matter. Reason-based representations provide a very general taxonomy of moral theories, as differences among theories can be attributed to differences in their two key parameters. We can thus formalize several distinctions, such as between consequentialist and nonconsequentialist theories, between universalist and relativist theories, between agent-neutral and agent-relative theories, between monistic and pluralistic theories, between atomistic and holistic theories, and between theories with a teleological structure and those without. Reason-based representations also shed light on an important but underappreciated phenomenon: the “underdetermination of moral theory by deontic content.”

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