Does morality override self-interest? Or does self-interest override morality? These questions become important in situations where there is conflict between the overall verdicts of morality and self-interest, situations where morality on balance requires an action that is contrary to our self-interest, or where considerations of self-interest on balance call for an action that is forbidden by morality. In situations of this kind, we want to know what we ought simpliciter to do. If one of these standpoints over-rides the other, then there is a straightforward answer. We ought simpliciter to act on the verdict of the overriding standpoint.
For purposes of this essay, I assume that there are possible cases in which the overall verdicts of morality and self-interest conflict. I will call cases of this kind “conflict cases.” The verdict of morality in a conflict case would be a proposition as to what we ought morally to do, or as to what we have the most moral reason to do; the verdict of self-interest would be a proposition as to what we ought to do in our self-interest, or as to what action is best supported by reasons or considerations of self-interest. These propositions are action-guiding or normative in a familiar sense. The conflict between morality and self-interest in conflict cases is there-fore a normative conflict; it is a conflict between the overall verdicts of different normative standpoints. I take it that the question of whether morality overrides self-interest is the question of whether the verdicts of morality are normatively more important than the verdicts of self-interest. In due course, I will explain the idea of normative importance as well as the ideas of a normative proposition and of a reason.