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Summary This category deals with the study of a particular species of value. Moral worth can be defined as a particular way in which an action or an agent are valuable, or deserve credit (or deserve discredit). A central thought about moral worth is that it involves the agent's motives for acting: intuitively, an action is morally worthy when and to the extent that it is performed for the right moral reasons. The moral worth of an action then should not be identified with its value in producing good consequences or preventing bad ones (including the very performance of the act). A central task for moral philosophy is to establish what counts as the right moral reasons for performing an action, and particularly whether these include the thought that 'the action is right', even when that is true. Another central task is to define the conditions that make an agent praise- or blameworthy in view of her actions and omissions (e.g. ignorance, effort, etc.). Yet another question is what is the relation between moral worth of an action and the action's being right/wrong. Intuitively there is a difference between being morally good and merely conforming to (even correct) moral standards. Philosophers like W.D.Ross claimed that a wrong action can be morally worthy or good, and a right one can be morally unworthy or bad. The same view is often taken by utilitarians. Kantians and virtue ethicists typically do not separate rightness and worthiness as sharply, when not reducing the former to the latter. Yet another recent area of research concerns the empirical study of intuitive judgments of praise/blame, with a view to bringing out possible inconsistencies and biases in our spontaneous judgments of moral worth.
Key works Ross 2002 provides, in the opening pages, a sharp distinction between moral worth and rightness. In Ross 1939 however Ross attenuates the dichotomy, holding that an action done from the best motives cannot fail to be right: the best motives will include a due appreciation of all the right-making considerations in the right degree. That is partly due to his revised philosophy of action. For the 'reasons-approach' to moral worth, see Markovits 2010. For an overview and a distinctive take on moral worth within Kantian ethics, see Stratton-Lake 2000. For a view within virtue ethics, see Arpaly 2003. The debate often takes its examples from literature, for a recent paper in this vein see Montmarquet 2012. (There is a whole side-literature on the philosophy of Huckleberry Finn.) For the question of whether explicitly moralized motives contribute or rather detract from moral worth, see Sorensen 2004. For an experimental philosophy approach to judgments of moral worth, see Knobe 2003.
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  1. Nomy Arpaly (2003). Unprincipled Virtue: An Inquiry Into Moral Agency. Oxford University Press.
    Nomy Arpaly rejects the model of rationality used by most ethicists and action theorists. Both observation and psychology indicate that people act rationally without deliberation, and act irrationally with deliberation. By questioning the notion that our own minds are comprehensible to us--and therefore questioning much of the current work of action theorists and ethicists--Arpaly attempts to develop a more realistic conception of moral agency.
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  2. Nomy Arpaly (2002). Moral Worth. Journal of Philosophy 99 (5):223-245.
    I argue that a right action has moral worth if and only if it is done for the right reasons - that is, for its right-making features. The reasons the agent acts on have to be identical to the reasons for which the action is right. I argue that Kantians are wrong in thinking that a right action has moral worth iff it is done because the agent thinks it is right, giving examples of morally worthy actions that are done (...)
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  3. Neera Badhwar (1993). Altruism Versus Self-Interest: Sometimes a False Dichotomy. Social Philosophy and Policy 10 (1):90-117.
    In the moral philosophy of the last two centuries, altruism of one kind or another has typically been regarded as identical with moral concern. When self-regarding duties have been recognized, motivation by duty has been sharply distinguished from motivation by self-interest. I think this view is wrong: self-interest can be the motive of a moral act. My chief concern is to argue that self-interested action -- i.e., action motivated by rational self-interest -- can be moral, but the data I use (...)
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  4. Kurt Baier (1970). Moral Value and Moral Worth. The Monist 54 (1):18-30.
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  5. Elizabeth Lane Beardsley (1957). Moral Worth and Moral Credit. Philosophical Review 66 (3):304-328.
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  6. Jonathan Bennett (1974). The Conscience of Huckleberry Finn. Philosophy 49 (188):123-134.
    In this paper1 I shall present not just the conscience of Huckleberry Finn but two others as well. One of them is the conscience of Heinrich Himmler. He became a Nazi in 1923; he served drably and quietly, but well, and was rewarded with increasing responsibility and power. At the peak of his career he held many offices and commands, of which the most powerful was that of leader of the S.S. - the principal police force of the Nazi regime. (...)
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  7. Paul Benson (1987). Moral Worth. Philosophical Studies 51 (3):365 - 382.
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  8. Janet Borgerson (2005). Addressing the 'Global Basic Structure' in the Ethics of International Health Research Involving Human Subjects. Journal of Philosophical Research 30:235-249.
    The context of international health research involving human subjects, and this should appear obvious, is the human community. As such, basic questions of how human beings should be treated by other human beings, particularly in situations of unequal power – e.g., in the form of control, choice, or opportunity – lay at the foundations of related ethical discourse when ethics are discussed at all. I trace a narrative that follows upon a recent revision process of international guidelines for biomedical research (...)
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  9. Richard B. Brandt (1941). An Emotional Theory of the Judgment of Moral Worth. Ethics 52 (1):41-79.
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  10. Mark Anthony Dacela, (Inter) Subjective-Situated Moral Ought: Zahavi’s Reconstruction of Husserl’s Metaphysics of Intersubjectivity and its Ethical Implications.
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  11. Norman O. Dahl (1986). Obligation and Moral Worth: Reflections on Prichard and Kant. Philosophical Studies 50 (3):369 - 399.
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  12. Thomas Douglas (2014). Enhancing Moral Conformity and Enhancing Moral Worth. Neuroethics 7 (1):75-91.
    It is plausible that we have moral reasons to become better at conforming to our moral reasons. However, it is not always clear what means to greater moral conformity we should adopt. John Harris has recently argued that we have reason to adopt traditional, deliberative means in preference to means that alter our affective or conative states directly—that is, without engaging our deliberative faculties. One of Harris’ concerns about direct means is that they would produce only a superficial kind of (...)
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  13. Thomas Douglas (2014). The Relationship Between Effort and Moral Worth: Three Amendments to Sorensen's Model. [REVIEW] Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 17 (2):325-334.
    Kelly Sorensen defends a model of the relationship between effort and moral worth in which the effort exerted in performing a morally desirable action contributes positively to the action’s moral worth, but the effort required to perform the action detracts from its moral worth. I argue that Sorensen’s model, though on the right track, is mistaken in three ways. First, it fails to capture the relevance of counterfactual effort to moral worth. Second, it wrongly implies that exerting unnecessary effort confers (...)
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  14. J. Gert (2012). Moral Worth, Supererogation, and the Justifying/Requiring Distinction. Philosophical Review 121 (4):611-618.
    Julia Markovits has recently argued for what she calls the ‘Coincident Reasons Thesis’: the thesis that one’s action is morally worthy if and only if one’s motivating reasons for acting mirror, in content and strength, the reasons that explain why the action ought, morally, to be performed. This thesis assumes that the structure of motivating reasons is sufficiently similar to the structure of normative reasons that the required coincidence in content and strength is a genuine possibility. But because motivating reasons (...)
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  15. Barbara Herman (1981). On the Value of Acting From the Motive of Duty. Philosophical Review 90 (3):359-382.
    Richard Henson attempts to take the sting out of this view of Kant on moral worth by arguing (i) that attending to the phenomenon of the overdetermination of actions leads one to see that Kant might have had two distinct views of moral worth, only one of which requires the absence of cooperating inclinations, and (ii) that when Kant insists that there is moral worth only when an action is done from the motive of duty alone, he need not also (...)
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  16. Jill Hernandez (2010). Impermissibility and Kantian Moral Worth. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 13 (4):403 - 419.
    Samuel Kerstein argues that an asymmetry between moral worth and maxims prevents Kant from accepting a category of acts that are impermissible, but have moral worth. Kerstein contends that an act performed from the motive of duty should be considered as a candidate for moral worth, even if the action's maxim turns out to be impermissible, since moral worth depends on the correct moral motivation of an act, rather than on the moral lightness of an act. I argue that Kant (...)
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  17. Thomas E. Hill (2002). Human Welfare and Moral Worth: Kantian Perspectives. Oxford University Press.
    Thomas Hill, a leading figure in the recent development of Kantian moral philosophy, presents a set of essays exploring the implications of basic Kantian ideas for practical issues. The first part of the book provides background in central themes in Kant's ethics; the second part discusses questions regarding human welfare; the third focuses on moral worth-the nature and grounds of moral assessment of persons as deserving esteem or blame. Hill shows moral, political, and social philosophers just how valuable moral theory (...)
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  18. Thomas E. Hill (1998). Punishment, Conscience, and Moral Worth. Southern Journal of Philosophy 36 (S1):51-71.
  19. Robert Johnson (2009). Good Will and the Moral Worth of Acting From Duty. In Thomas E. Hill (ed.), The Blackwell Guide to Kant's Ethics. Wiley-Blackwell.
    The first section of the Groundwork begins “It is impossible to imagine anything at all in the world, or even beyond it, that can be called good without qualification— except a good will.”1 Kant’s explanation and defense of this claim is followed by an explanation and defense of another related claim, that only actions performed out of duty have moral worth. He explains that actions performed out of duty are those done from respect for the moral law, and then culminates (...)
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  20. Alessandro Lanteri (2009). Judgements of Intentionality and Moral Worth: Experimental Challenges to Hindriks. Philosophical Quarterly 59 (237):713-720.
    Joshua Knobe found that people are more likely to describe an action as intentional if it has had a bad outcome than a good outcome, and to blame a bad outcome than to praise a good one. These asymmetries raised numerous questions about lay moral judgement. Frank Hindriks recently proposed that one acts intentionally if one fails to comply with a normative reason against performing the action, that moral praise requires appropriate motivation, whereas moral blame does not, and that these (...)
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  21. Julia Markovits (2012). Saints, Heroes, Sages, and Villains. Philosophical Studies 158 (2):289-311.
    This essay explores the question of how to be good. My starting point is a thesis about moral worth that I’ve defended in the past: roughly, that an action is morally worthy if and only it is performed for the reasons why it is right. While I think that account gets at one important sense of moral goodness, I argue here that it fails to capture several ways of being worthy of admiration on moral grounds. Moral goodness is more multi-faceted. (...)
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  22. Julia Markovits (2010). Acting for the Right Reasons. Philosophical Review 119 (2):201-242.
    This essay examines the thought that our right actions have moral worth only if we perform them for the right reasons. It argues against the view, often ascribed to Kant, that morally worthy actions must be performed because they are right and argues that Kantians and others ought instead to accept the view that morally worthy actions are those performed for the reasons why they are right. In other words, morally worthy actions are those for which the reasons why they (...)
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  23. Paul McNamara (2011). Supererogation, Inside and Out: Toward an Adequate Scheme for Common Sense Morality. In Mark Timmons (ed.), Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Volume I. Oxford University Press. 202-235.
    The standard analysis of supererogation is that of optional actions that are praiseworthy to perform, but not blameworthy to skip. Widespread assumptions are that action beyond the call is at least necessarily equivalent to supererogation ("The Equivalence") and that forgoing certain agent-favoring prerogatives entails supererogation (“The Corollary”). I argue that the classical conception of supererogation is not reconcilable with the Equivalence or the Corollary, and that the classical analysis of supererogation is seriously defective. I sketch an enriched conceptual scheme, “Doing (...)
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  24. Paul McNamara (2000). Toward a Framework for Agency, Inevitability, Praise and Blame. Nordic Journal of Philosophical Logic 5 (2):135-159.
    There is little work of a systematic nature in ethical theory or deontic logic on aretaic notions such as praiseworthiness and blameworthiness, despite their centrality to common-sense morality. Without more work, there is little hope of filling the even larger gap of attempting to develop frameworks integrating such aretaic concepts with deontic concepts of common-sense morality, such as what is obligatory, permissible, impermissible, or supererogatory. It is also clear in the case of aretaic concepts that agency is central to such (...)
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  25. Christopher Michaelson (2009). Meaningful Work and Moral Worth. Business and Professional Ethics Journal 28 (1/4):27-48.
    In general, meaningful work has been conceived to be a matter of institutional obligation and individual choice. In other words, solong as the institution has fulfilled its objective moral obligation to make meaningful work possible, it is up to the subjective volition of the individual to choose or not to choose work that is perceived to be meaningful. However, this conception is incomplete in at least two ways. First, it neglects the role of institutional volition; that is, it does not (...)
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  26. James Montmarquet (2012). Huck Finn, Aristotle, and Anti-Intellectualism in Moral Psychology. Philosophy 87 (01):51-63.
    Jonathan Bennett, Nomy Arpaly, and others see in Huckleberry Finn's apparent praiseworthiness for not turning Jim in (even though this goes against his own moral judgments in the matter) a model for an improved, non-intellectualist approach to moral appraisal. I try to show – both on Aristotelian and on independent grounds – that these positions are fundamentally flawed. In the process, I try to show how Huck may be blameless for lacking what would have been a praiseworthy belief (that I (...)
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  27. Reed Richter, DNA, Masterpieces, and Abortion: Shifting the Grounds of the Debate.
    Writers, philosophers, and theologians have oft made the comparison between being a mature human being and a masterpiece work of art or design. Employing the analogy between the creation of artistic value and the creation of full-fledged human value, this paper stakes out a middle ground between pro-choice and pro-life by considering a more general account of value and the relationship between being a potential X and a mature implementation of X's potential. I argue that the value of a potential (...)
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  28. R. F. J. Seddon (2011). The Ethical Patiency of Cultural Heritage. Dissertation, Durham University
    Current treatments of cultural heritage as an object of moral concern (whether it be the heritage of mankind or of some particular group of people) have tended to treat it as a means to ensure human wellbeing: either as ‘cultural property’ or ‘cultural patrimony’, suggesting concomitant rights of possession and exclusion, or otherwise as something which, gaining its ethical significance from the roles it plays in people’s lives and the formation of their identities, is the beneficiary at most of indirect (...)
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  29. Keith Simmons (1989). Kant on Moral Worth. History of Philosophy Quarterly 6 (1):85 - 100.
  30. Saul Smilansky (2005). The Paradoxical Relationship Between Morality and Moral Worth. Metaphilosophy 36 (4):490-500.
    If the social environment were arranged so that most people in the West could, with relatively little effort, be morally good to a reasonable degree, would this be a good thing? I claim that it is not entirely obvious that we should say yes. This is no idle question: mainstream Western social morality today seems to be approaching the prospect for a morality that is not taxing. This question has substantial theoretical interest because exploring it will help us understand the (...)
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  31. Saul Smilansky (1997). Moral Accountancy and Moral Worth. Metaphilosophy 28 (1‐2):123-134.
    People do good or bad things, and get or do not get good or bad credit for their actions, depending (in part) on knowledge of their actions. I attempt to unfold some of the interconnections between these matters, and between them and the achievement of moral worth. The main conclusion is that the heights of moral worth seem to appear in the oddest places.
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  32. Basil Smith (2001). Necessity, Volition, and Love Harry G. Frankfurt New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998, Xii + 180 Pp., $54.95, $17.95 Paper. [REVIEW] Dialogue 40 (02):411-.
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  33. Holly Smith (1983). Culpable Ignorance. Philosophical Review 92 (4):543-571.
  34. Holly M. Smith (1991). Varieties of Moral Worth and Moral Credit. Ethics 101 (2):279-303.
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  35. Holly M. Smith (1986). Introduction. Ethics 96 (3):471.
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  36. Kelly Sorensen (2010). Effort and Moral Worth. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 13 (1):89 - 109.
    One of the factors that contributes to an agent’s praiseworthiness and blameworthiness — his or her moral worth — is effort. On the one hand, agents who act effortlessly seem to have high moral worth. On the other hand, agents who act effortfully seem to have high moral worth as well. I explore and explain this pair of intuitions and the contour of our views about associated cases.
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  37. Kelly Sorensen (2004). The Paradox of Moral Worth. Journal of Philosophy 101 (9):465 - 483.
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  38. Uwe Steinhoff (ed.) (2014). Do All Persons Have Equal Moral Worth? On "Basic Equality" and Equal Respect and Concern. Oxford University Press.
    In present-day political and moral philosophy the idea that all persons are in some way moral equals is an almost universal premise, with its defenders often claiming that philosophical positions that reject the principle of equal respect and concern do not deserve to be taken seriously. This has led to relatively few attempts to clarify, or indeed justify, 'basic equality' and the principle of equal respect and concern. Such clarification and justification, however, would be direly needed. After all, the ideas, (...)
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  39. Philip Stratton-Lake (2000). Kant, Duty, and Moral Worth. Routledge.
    Kant, Duty and Moral Worth tackles the debate over whether or not Kant said moral actions have worth only if they are carried out from duty or whether actions carried out from mixed motives can be good. Stratton-Lake offers a unique account of acting from duty which utilizes the distinction between primary and secondary motives. He maintains that moral law should not be understood as normative moral reason but as playing a transcendental role. Thus, a Kantian account of moral worth (...)
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  40. Steven Sverdlik (2001). Kant, Nonaccidentalness and the Availability of Moral Worth. Journal of Ethics 5 (4):293-313.
    Contemporary Kantians who defend Kant''s view of the superiority of the sense of duty as a form of motivation appeal to various ideas. Some say, if only implicitly, that the sense of duty is always ``available'''' to an agent, when she has a moral obligation. Some, like Barbara Herman, say that the sense of duty provides a ``nonaccidental'''' connection between an agent''s motivation and the act''s rightness. In this paper I show that the ``availability'''' and ``nonaccidentalness'''' arguments are in tension (...)
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  41. Sharon E. Sytsma (1997). Compassion and Moral Worth. Dialogue 36 (03):583-.
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  42. Julia Tanner (2011). Moral Status of Animals From Marginal Cases. In Michael Bruce Steven Barbone (ed.), Just the Arguments: 100 of the Most Important Arguments in Western Philosophy. Wiley-Blackwell.
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  43. Julia Tanner (2008). Species as a Relationship. Acta Analytica 23 (4):337-347.
    The fact that humans have a special relationship to each other insofar as they belong in the same species is often taken to be a morally relevant difference between humans and other animals, one which justifies a greater moral status for all humans, regardless of their individual capacities. I give some reasons why this kind of relationship is not an appropriate ground for differential treatment of humans and nonhumans. I then argue that even if relationships do matter morally species membership (...)
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  44. Gary Watson (1983). Kant on Happiness in the Moral Life. Philosophy Research Archives 9:79-108.
    This paper is a study of the role of happiness in Kant’s theory. I begin by noting two recurrent characterizations of happiness by Kant, and discuss their relationship. Then I take up the general issue of the relation of happiness to moral virtue. I show that, for Kant, the antagonists are not morality and happiness, but the moral point of view and “self-conceit”, the inveterate tendency to elevate the concern for contentment or satisfaction of inclination to the status of a (...)
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  45. Michael Weber (2007). More on the Motive of Duty. Journal of Ethics 11 (1):65 - 86.
    A number of neo-Kantians have suggested that an act may be morally worthy even if sympathy and similar emotions are present, so long as they are not what in fact motivates right action–so long as duty, and duty alone, in fact motivates. Thus, the ideal Kantian moral agent need not be a cold and unfeeling person, as some critics have suggested. Two objections to this view need to be answered. First, some maintain that motives cannot be present without in fact (...)
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  46. Michael Weber (2003). The Motive of Duty and the Nature of Emotions: Kantian Reflections on Moral Worth. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 33 (2):183 - 202.
    As a result there is a considerable literature on the topic. I think, however, that the treatment in the literature is incomplete because there is a failure to examine the relevant emotions in significant detail, and in particular to consider their complexity and the conditions of their warrant. As a result, both defenses and critiques of the motive of duty in terms of reliability are inadequate as they stand.
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  47. Victoria S. Wike (1987). Kant on Happiness. Philosophy Research Archives 13:79-90.
    This paper explores Kant’s definition of happiness as it appears in the Groundwork and the Critique of Practical Reason. Three accounts of happiness are considered: contentment, the satisfaction of all one’s inclinations, and, the satisfaction of a system of inclinations. The paper discusses the extent to which there is textual evidence for each of these accounts and considers the arguments of Watson, Paton, Gregor, and Beck in support of these various accounts. It concludes by arguing that the first account of (...)
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