UPB: Criterion for ethics. Universally preferable behavior, which is the core concept of Molyneux’s ethical speculations, is not an easy theory to wrap one's head around. It is not always clear what Molyneux means by it. Consider the ambiguity which clings to the terms of the following passage:
We all have preferences – from the merely personal (“I like ice cream”) to the socially preferable (“It is good to be on time”) to universal morality (“Thou shalt not murder”).
There is little point writing a book about personal preferences – and we can turn to Ann Landers for a discussion of socially preferable behaviour – here, then, we will focus on the possibility of Universally Preferable Behaviour. (50)
Note how Molyneux goes from “personal” preferences to “social” preferences to “universal morality.” Interpreted in one sense, Molyneux seems to be suggesting a relation between personal and social preferences on one side and “universal morality” (presumably Universally Preferable Behavior) on the other. But this transition is not well explained. It’s as if Molyneux wants us to think of universal morality as a preference, but not a preference in the same way as a sweet tooth for chocolate can be a preference. What precisely is the difference? How does one transition from “I prefer chocolate” to “thou shalt not murder”? How are those two statements both preferences?