David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Social Philosophy and Policy 27 (2):29-63 (2010)
In his 1958 seminal paper “Saints and Heroes”, J. O. Urmson argued that the then dominant tripartite deontic scheme of classifying actions as being exclusively either obligatory, or optional in the sense of being morally indifferent, or wrong, ought to be expanded to include the category of the supererogatory. Colloquially, this category includes actions that are “beyond the call of duty” (beyond what is obligatory) and hence actions that one has no duty or obligation to perform. But it is a controversial category. Some have argued that the concept of supererogation is paradoxical because on one hand, supererogatory actions are (by definition) supposed to be morally good, indeed morally best, actions. But then if they are morally best, why aren't they morally required, contrary to the assumption that they are morally optional? In short: how can an action that is morally best to perform fail to be what one is morally required to do? The source of this alleged paradox has been dubbed the ‘good-ought tie-up’. In our article, we address this alleged paradox by first making a phenomenological case for the reality of instances of genuine supererogatory actions, and then, by reflecting on the relevant phenomenology, explaining why there is no genuine paradox. Our explanation appeals to the idea that moral reasons can play what we call a merit conferring role. The basic idea is that moral reasons that favor supererogatory actions function to confer merit on the actions they favor—they play a merit conferring role—and can do without also requiring the actions in question. Hence, supererogatory actions can be both good and morally meritorious to perform yet still be morally optional. Recognition of a merit conferring role unties the good-ought tie up, and (as we further argue) there are good reasons, independent of helping to resolve the alleged paradox, for recognizing this sort of role that moral reasons may play.
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References found in this work BETA
Jonathan Dancy (1993). Moral Reasons. Blackwell.
Michael Huemer (2005). Ethical Intuitionism. Palgrave Macmillan.
Douglas W. Portmore (2011). Commonsense Consequentialism: Wherein Morality Meets Rationality. Oxford University Press.
Joshua Gert (2007). Normative Strength and the Balance of Reasons. Philosophical Review 116 (4):533-562.
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Citations of this work BETA
Alfred Archer (forthcoming). The Supererogatory and How Not To Accommodate It: A Reply to Dorsey. Utilitas:1-10.
Alfred Archer (2013). Supererogation and Intentions of the Agent. Philosophia 41 (2):447-462.
Dale Dorsey (2013). The Supererogatory, and How to Accommodate It. Utilitas 25 (3):355-382.
Alfred Archer & Michael Ridge (2015). The Heroism Paradox: Another Paradox of Supererogation. Philosophical Studies 172 (6):1575-1592.
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