About this topic
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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  1. Still Lives: The History and Philosophy of Mourning Texts.Veronica Alfano & Mark Alfano - forthcoming - Routledge.
    “Call no one happy until they are dead.” “Never speak ill of the dead.” If we still heed the injunctions of Solon and Chilon of Sparta, then obituaries, which represent a prominent way of expressing the human universal of grief, are a resource for philosophical anthropology. Philosophers have emphasized that we can determine what counts as a virtue for a given type of person in a given cultural context by analyzing what people say about the dead (Zagzebski 1996, p. 135). (...)
  2. Moral Worth.Nomy Arpaly - 2002 - Journal of Philosophy 99 (5):223.
    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 (...)
  3. Unprincipled Virtue: An Inquiry Into Moral Agency.Nomy Arpaly - 2002 - 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.
  4. Altruism Versus Self-Interest: Sometimes a False Dichotomy.Neera Badhwar - 1993 - 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 (...)
  5. Moral Value and Moral Worth.Kurt Baier - 1970 - The Monist 54 (1):18-30.
  6. The Identity-Enactment Account of Associative Duties.Saba Bazargan-Forward - forthcoming - Philosophical Studies:1-20.
    Associative duties are agent-centered duties to give defeasible moral priority to our special ties. Our strongest associative duties are to close friends and family. According to reductionists, our associative duties are just special duties—i.e., duties arising from what I have done to others, or what others have done to me. These include duties to abide by promises and contracts, compensate our benefactors in ways expressing gratitude, and aid those whom we have made especially vulnerable to our conduct. I argue, though, (...)
  7. Moral Worth and Moral Credit.Elizabeth Lane Beardsley - 1957 - Philosophical Review 66 (3):304-328.
  8. The Conscience of Huckleberry Finn.Jonathan Bennett - 1974 - 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. (...)
  9. Moral Worth.Paul Benson - 1987 - Philosophical Studies 51 (3):365 - 382.
  10. Addressing the 'Global Basic Structure' in the Ethics of International Health Research Involving Human Subjects.Janet Borgerson - 2005 - 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 (...)
  11. An Emotional Theory of the Judgment of Moral Worth.Richard B. Brandt - 1941 - Ethics 52 (1):41-79.
  12. Recognition and Personhood: A Critique of Bernstein's Account of the Wrongfulness of Torture.Johnny Brennan - forthcoming - European Journal of Philosophy.
    J. M. Bernstein argues that to capture the depths of the harm of torture, we need to do away with the idea that we possess intrinsic and inviolable worth. If personhood is inviolable, then torture can inflict only apparent harm on our standing as persons. Bernstein claims that torture is a paradigm of moral injury because it causes what he calls “devastation”: The victim experiences an actual degradation of his or her personhood. Bernstein argues that our value is given to (...)
  13. The Moorean Argument for the Full Moral Status of Those with Profound Intellectual Disability: A Rejoinder to Roberts.Benjamin L. Curtis & Simo Vehmas - 2016 - Journal of Medical Ethics 42 (4):266-267.
    In a recent paper we argued that a Moorean strategy can be employed to justify our continuing to believe the following proposition, even in the presence of philosophical views that entail it is false, without any philosophical argument against those views, and without any positive philosophical argument in its favour: -/- H>A: Humans have an equal moral status that is higher than the moral status of non-human animals. -/- The basic idea is that our confidence in the truth of this (...)
  14. Moral Worth and Severe Intellectual Disability – A Hybrid View.Benjamin L. Curtis & Simo Vehmas - 2013 - In Jerome E. Bickenbach, Franziska Felder & Barbara Schmitz (eds.), Disability and the Good Human Life. Cambridge University Press. pp. 19-49.
    Consider: You can save either a human or a normal adult dog from a burning building (with no risk to yourself and at little cost), but not both. However, the human is a human with a severe intellectually disability (or, as we shall say, a “SID”). -/- Which one should you save? There is disagreement in the literature about which this issue. Two opposing camps exist, which we call “the intrinsic property camp ” and “the special relations camp.” Those in (...)
  15. (Inter) Subjective-Situated Moral Ought: Zahavi’s Reconstruction of Husserl’s Metaphysics of Intersubjectivity and its Ethical Implications.Mark Anthony Dacela - manuscript
  16. Obligation and Moral Worth: Reflections on Prichard and Kant.Norman O. Dahl - 1986 - Philosophical Studies 50 (3):369 - 399.
  17. Achieving Moral Progress Despite Moral Regress.Ben Dixon - 2005 - Social Philosophy Today 21:157-172.
    Moral progress and some of the conditions under which groups can make it is the focus of this paper. More specifically, I address a problem arising from the use of pluralistic criteria for determining moral progress. Pluralistic criteria can allow for judgments that moral progress has taken place where there is causally related moral regression. Indeed, an otherwise well-argued pluralistic theory put forward by Michelle Moody-Adams allows for such conflicting judgments. I argue, however, that the way in which Moody-Adams handles (...)
  18. Enhancing Moral Conformity and Enhancing Moral Worth.Thomas Douglas - 2014 - 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 (...)
  19. The Relationship Between Effort and Moral Worth: Three Amendments to Sorensen’s Model.Thomas Douglas - 2014 - 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 (...)
  20. The Virtues of Happiness: A Theory of the Good Life. [REVIEW]E. Sonny Elizondo - 2016 - Philosophical Quarterly 66 (262):181-183.
    A Review of Paul Bloomfield's book _The Virtues of Happiness: A Theory of the Good Life_ (OUP 2014).
  21. Moral Worth, Supererogation, and the Justifying/Requiring Distinction.J. Gert - 2012 - 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 (...)
  22. Accepting Moral Luck.Robert J. Hartman - forthcoming - In Ian M. Church & Robert J. Hartman (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy and Psychology of Luck. New York: Routledge.
    I argue that certain kinds of luck can partially determine an agent’s praiseworthiness and blameworthiness. To make this view clearer, consider some examples. Two identical agents drive recklessly around a curb, and one but not the other kills a pedestrian. Two identical corrupt judges would freely take a bribe if one were offered. Only one judge is offered a bribe, and so only one judge takes a bribe. Put in terms of these examples, I argue that the killer driver and (...)
  23. On the Value of Acting From the Motive of Duty.Barbara Herman - 1981 - 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 (...)
  24. Impermissibility and Kantian Moral Worth.Jill Graper Hernandez - 2010 - 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 (...)
  25. Human Welfare and Moral Worth: Kantian Perspectives.Thomas E. Hill - 2002 - 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 (...)
  26. Punishment, Conscience, and Moral Worth.Thomas E. Hill - 1998 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 36 (S1):51-71.
  27. Good Will and the Moral Worth of Acting From Duty.Robert N. Johnson - 2009 - 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 (...)
  28. Judgements of Intentionality and Moral Worth: Experimental Challenges to Hindriks.Alessandro Lanteri - 2009 - 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 (...)
  29. Saints, Heroes, Sages, and Villains.Julia Markovits - 2012 - 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. (...)
  30. Acting for the Right Reasons.Julia Markovits - 2010 - 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 (...)
  31. Sosa on Epistemic Value: A Kantian Obstacle.Matthew McGrath - forthcoming - Synthese.
    In recent work, Sosa proposes a comprehensive account of epistemic value based on an axiology for attempts. According to this axiology, an attempt is better if it succeeds, better still if it is apt (i.e., succeeds through competence), and best if it is fully apt, (i.e., guided to aptness by apt beliefs that it would be apt). Beliefs are understood as attempts aiming at the truth. Thus, a belief is better if true, better still if apt, and best if fully (...)
  32. Supererogation, Inside and Out: Toward an Adequate Scheme for Common Sense Morality.Paul McNamara - 2011 - In Mark Timmons (ed.), Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Volume I. Oxford University Press. pp. 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 (...)
  33. Toward a Framework for Agency, Inevitability, Praise and Blame.Paul McNamara - 2000 - 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 (...)
  34. Meaningful Work and Moral Worth.Christopher Michaelson - 2009 - 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 (...)
  35. Huck Finn, Aristotle, and Anti-Intellectualism in Moral Psychology.James Montmarquet - 2012 - Philosophy 87 (1):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 (...)
  36. Huckleberry FInn Revisited: Inverse Akrasia and Moral Ignorance".Arpaly Nomy - 2015 - In Randolph Clarcke Michael Mckenna & Angela M. Smith (eds.), The Nature of Moral Responsibility. New York, USA: Oxford University Press. pp. 141-156.
    This paper argue that moral ignorance does not excuse. Nobody is off the hook for doing something bad simply because she did it believing ii to be right. The paper uses the Arpaly view that cases of Akrasia can be praiseworthy as one premise in the argument.
  37. Moral Worth and Normative Ethics.Arpaly Nomy - 2015 - Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics 5.
    According to Arpaly and to Markovits, actions have moral worth iff they are done for the reasons that make them right. Can this view have implications for normative ethics? I argue that it has such implications, as you can start from truths about the moral worth of actions to truths about the reasons that make them right. What makes actions right is the question of normative ethics. I argue from the moral worth view to a pluralistic view of ethics - (...)
  38. A Study in the Grounds of Ethical Knowledge: Considered with Reference To Judgments on the Moral Worth of Character.John Rawls - 1950 - Dissertation, Princeton University
  39. DNA, Masterpieces, and Abortion: Shifting the Grounds of the Debate.Reed Richter - manuscript
    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 (...)
  40. The Ethical Patiency of Cultural Heritage.R. F. J. Seddon - 2011 - 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 (...)
  41. Consequentialism and Moral Worth.Nathaniel Sharadin - forthcoming - Utilitas:1-20.
    Sometimes, agents do the right thing for the right reason. What’s the normative significance of this phenomenon? According to proponents of the special status view, when an agent acts for the right reason, her actions enjoy a special normative status, namely, worthiness. Proponents of this view claim that self-effacing forms of consequentialism cannot say this plausible thing, and, worse, are blocked from having a perspicuous view of matters by the self-effacing nature of their consequentialism. In this paper, I argue that (...)
  42. Kant on Moral Worth.Keith Simmons - 1989 - History of Philosophy Quarterly 6 (1):85 - 100.
  43. The Paradoxical Relationship Between Morality and Moral Worth.Saul Smilansky - 2005 - 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 (...)
  44. Moral Accountancy and Moral Worth.Saul Smilansky - 1997 - 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.
  45. Necessity, Volition, and Love Harry G. Frankfurt New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998, Xii + 180 Pp., $54.95, $17.95 Paper. [REVIEW]Basil Smith - 2001 - Dialogue 40 (2):411-.
  46. Culpable Ignorance.Holly Smith - 1983 - Philosophical Review 92 (4):543-571.
  47. Varieties of Moral Worth and Moral Credit.Holly M. Smith - 1991 - Ethics 101 (2):279-303.
  48. Introduction.Holly M. Smith - 1986 - Ethics 96 (3):471.
  49. Welfare, Meaning, and Worth.Aaron Smuts - 2017 - Routledge.
    _Welfare, Meaning, and Worth_ argues that there is more to what makes a life worth living than welfare, and that a good life does not consist of what is merely good for the one who lives it. Smuts defends an objective list theory that states that the notion of worth captures matters of importance for which no plausible theory of welfare can account. He puts forth that lives worth living are net high in various objective goods, including pleasure, meaning, knowledge, (...)
  50. Effort and Moral Worth.Kelly Sorensen - 2010 - 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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