What are moral reasons?
I don't want to say "moral reasons trump". That's misleading. Deontic constraints do trump, by definitions, but not all moral reasons are deontic constraints. Imperfect duty reasons are "moral" but don't trump.
One can roughly delineate a family of reasons that roughly corresponds with the ordinary notion of "moral reasons". Some of the reasons in the family always trump (namely, the deontic constraints). Others don't (e.g., imperfect duties; promises on some views). When I think about the variety of reasons to put in this family (e.g., reasons arising from promise-like speech acts, needs to prevent the pain of others, deontic constraints, etc.), I really doubt that there is a natural kind that covers these reasons.
There are some natural distinctions among reasons:
- Those that always trump and those that don't.
- Those that concern the flourishing of other persons and those that don't.
- Those that concern the flourishing of persons and those that don't.
- Those that concern the flourishing of conscious things other than self and those that don't.
- Those that concern the flourishing of conscious things and those that don't.
Here's another argument. A reason is something that connects an action with a good, as furthering the good, respecting the good, detracting from the good, etc. One would expect natural kinds of reasons to be delineated in one of two ways (or a combination): by kind of good and by the nature of the relation to the good. But no natural delineation of either variety sorts the reasons into the moral and non-moral, as per the ordinary notion. And I bet no combination does either.
Rather than taking the messy family to be the "moral reasons", it strikes me as a better way to talk to say that all reasons are moral reasons. Each reason has the property that one fails in the love of God when one knowingly fails to follow the reason in the absence of sufficient countervailing reason. To fail act in accordance with a reason, absent sufficient countervailing reason, is to be bad qua person. If I make something ugly, when at insignificantly higher cost I could have made it prettier, I thereby failed to glorify God in creation as I should have. And so I failed as a person.