Edited by Francesco Orsi (University of Tartu)
|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 1930 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 Arpaly 2002 and Arpaly 2002 and Markovits 2010. For an overview and a distinctive take on moral worth within Kantian ethics, see Stratton-Lake 2000. A classic in Kantian scholarship is Hill 2002. The debate has often taken 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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