Joe Horton’s all-or-nothing problem concerns a situation in which it is morally permissible to do nothing and to save two people but not to save only one. This description seems to entail that we should do nothing rather than save only one. I object to Horton’s solution and challenge a principle he draws attention to, which is required to generate the problem but which Horton regards as beyond dispute.
This paper presents what I call “the flowchart solution” to Joe Horton’s all-or-nothing problem. Rather than three options – don’t save any child, save one, or save two – there is a flowchart with a choice of don’t save or save, and then within save, save one or save two.
The all-or-nothing problem, formulated by Joe Horton, presents us with a situation in which you can do nothing or save one child or save two. It is dangerous to save any, making doing nothing morally permissible, but there is no extra danger in saving two, so it seems wrong to just save one. But then doing nothing is morally better than saving one. I present a solution in response to this problematic result, which is that doing nothing is not an (...) accurate description of a permissible option. (shrink)
When Milan Kundera introduces the concept of graphomania, he seems to register only two extremes: the person who writes for a few known people and the person who writes for a very large audience. Joe Horton’s all-or-nothing problem provides a way of making sense of this conceptualization of the situation, though in a way that breaks with Kundera’s emphasis on a writer’s craving for audience attention.
The question of the moral demands that humans, posthumans, and nonhumans in the Anthropocene put up on persons now living generally takes the form of supererogatory demands—that is, moral obligations with a perfectionist structure leading to obligations “above and beyond the call of duty” and extreme individual and collective sacrifice. David Roden construes this by deontology; Toby Ord, following Derek Parfit, by consequentualism. Such obligations are akin to the martyrdom of saints: but must our expectations of the Anthropocene necessarily lead (...) to this kind of moral obligation? Can it be mitigated and how? Meta-ethically, it is a highly externalist form of motivation with no concurrent rewards. In this respect, the inquiry is to be pursued through understanding how to align horizons of experience and of expectation. Normatively, it very much concerns how we define and regard persons—present and future, human and non-human, organic or artificial, conscious or not, intelligent or otherwise—since personhood and moral obligation are deeply connected concepts. In my conference paper I want to open and provoke discussion of the current and possible views of the supererogatory moral obligations in and toward the Anthropocene. (shrink)
The question “Why should I be moral?” has long haunted normative ethics. How one answers it depends critically upon one’s understanding of morality, self-interest, and the relation between them. Stephen Finlay, in “Too Much Morality”, challenges the conventional interpretation of morality in terms of mutual fellowship, offering instead the “radical” view that it demands complete altruistic self-abnegation: the abandonment of one’s own interests in favor of those of any “anonymous” other. He ameliorates this with the proviso that there is no (...) rational basis for morality’s presumption of precedence, leaving it up to each person to decide when and whether they prefer self-interested concerns to more stringent moral requirements. I counter Finlay’s radical altruism with fair egalitarianism, a more congenial interpretation of moral normativity that repudiates self-abnegation and holds instead that ceteris paribus everybody’s interests are equal. As a result, supererogation and moral sainthood become more intelligible, and the choice between self-interest and morality becomes one between different decision procedures, the particular advantage of morality being others compatible results. (shrink)
Morality doesn't always require our best. Prudent acts and heroic sacrifices are optional, not obligatory. To explain this, some philosophers claim that reasons of self-interest must have a special "non-moral" significance. A better explanation, I argue, is that we have prerogatives based in rights.
This is Chapter 5 of my Commonsense Consequentialism: Wherein Morality Meets Rationality. In this chapter, I argue that those who wish to accommodate typical instances of supererogation and agent-centered options must deny that moral reasons are morally overriding and accept both that the reason that agents have to promote their own self-interest is a non-moral reason and that this reason can, and sometimes does, prevent the moral reason that they have to sacrifice their self-interest so as to do more to (...) promote the interests of others from generating a moral requirement. Furthermore, I argue that given that an act’s deontic status of both moral and non-moral reasons, the consequentialist must adopt dual-ranking act-consequentialism. I then defend dual-ranking act-consequentialism against a number of objections. (shrink)
According to a popular line of thought, moral exemplars have a key role to play in moral development and moral education and by paying attention to moral exemplars we can learn about what morality requires of us. However, when we pay attention to what many moral exemplars say about their actions, it seems that our moral obligations are much more demanding than we typically think they are. Some philosophers have argued that this exemplar testimony gives us reason to accept a (...) radically demanding view of morality. We argue against this view by appealing to similar testimony from aesthetic exemplars. If we accept that the testimony of moral exemplars gives us reason to accept a radically demanding view of morality, then we should accept that the testimony of aesthetic exemplars supports a radically demanding view of aesthetic normativity. We argue that we should reject both arguments for radically demanding views, and instead see the testimony of exemplars as having something important to tell us about the nature of ideals. What we learn about morality and aesthetics from attending to the lives of moral exemplars is that those who embody an ideal are subject to obligations that others are not. (shrink)
What is the relation between moral reasons and moral requirement? Specifically: what relation does an action have to bear to one’s moral reasons in order to count as morally required? This paper defends the following answer to this question: an action is morally required just in case the moral reasons in favor of that action are enough on their own to outweigh all of the reasons, moral and nonmoral, to perform any alternative. I argue that this decisive moral reason view (...) satisfies three key desiderata: it is compatible with either affirming or denying the existence of moral options; it vindicates moral rationalism, the thesis that an action can be morally required only if one ought to do it all things considered; and most distinctively, it explains why unexcused moral wrongdoing necessarily shows disregard for moral reasons. (shrink)
In this paper we offer an argument against supererogation and in favour of moral perfectionism. We argue three primary points: 1) That the putative moral category is not generated by any of the main normative ethical systems, and it is difficult to find space for it in these systems at all; 2) That the primary support for supererogation is based on intuitions, which can be undercut by various other pieces of evidence; and 3) That there are better reasons to favour (...) perfectionism, including competing intuitions about the good-ought tie-up, and the epistemic preference for theoretical simplicity. (shrink)
The recent explosion of philosophical papers on Confederate and Colonialist statues centers on a central question: When, if ever, is it permissible to admire a person? This paper contends it’s not just Confederates and slavers whose reputations are on the line, but also pacifists like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Daisy Bates whose commitments to pacifism meant they were unwilling to save others using defensive violence, including others they talked into endangering themselves for the sake of racial equality. Other things (...) being equal, that’s gravely immoral if pacifism is false, and we shouldn’t admire people guilty of grave immorality. So, it appears that we shouldn’t admire Bates or King, which is counterintuitive. To solve this problem, I explore several possibilities: that only selective traits of Bates and King are admirable, that Bates and King are admirable despite their grave immorality, and that Bates and King are admirable by virtue of their integrity. However, each of these proposals fails: the first because it inadequately captures our moral phenomenology (we admire people, not just their traits), the second because it ignores the extent to which gravely immoral commitments are constitutive of a person’s moral character, and the third because we ought not to admire people for acting on their immoral beliefs. The paper concludes, first, that either pacifists like Bates and King aren’t admirable or they are, and the latter presupposes the truth of pacifism. Second, I borrow from Vanessa Carbonell’s ratcheting-up argument from moral sainthood to argue that pacifists like Bates and King provide epistemic defeaters to the objection that pacifism is unreasonably costly. Thus, not only are pacifists admirable only if they’re right—they are right. (shrink)
We argue for asymmetries between positive and negative partiality. Specifically, we defend four claims: i) there are forms of negative partiality that do not have positive counterparts; ii) the directionality of personal relationships has distinct effects on positive and negative partiality; iii) the extent of the interactions within a relationship affects positive and negative partiality differently; and iv) positive and negative partiality have different scope restrictions. We argue that these asymmetries point to a more fundamental moral principle, which we call (...) Morality’s Harmonious Propensity. According to this principle, morality has a propensity toward preserving positive relationships and dissolving negative ones. (shrink)
Morality is intrapersonally permissive: cases abound in which an agent has more than one morally permitted option. In contrast, there is a dearth of cases in which an agent has more than one epistemically permitted response to her evidence. Given the structural parallels between morality and epistemology, why do sources of moral permissiveness fail to have parallel permissive effects in the epistemic domain? This asymmetry between morality and epistemology cries out for explanation. The paper's task is to offer an answer (...) to that call. We explain the asymmetry by tracing moral permissiveness to two factors to which rationality is morally but not epistemically sensitive. (shrink)
Many hold that morality is essentially impartial. Many also hold that partiality is justified. Susan Wolf argues that these commitments push us towards downgrading morality's practical significance. Here I argue that there is a way of pushing morality's boundaries in a partialist direction in a way that respects Wolf's insights.
Clinical Ethics, Ahead of Print. This paper is a response to a recent BMJ Blog: ‘The duty to treat: where do the limits lie?’ Members of the Surrey Heartlands Integrated Care Service Clinical Ethics Group reflected on arguments in the Blog in relation to resuscitation during the COVID-19 pandemic.Clinicians have had to contend with ever-changing and conflicting guidance from the Resuscitation Council UK and Public Health England regarding personal protective equipment requirements in resuscitation situations. St John Ambulance had different guidance (...) for first responders.The situation regarding resuscitation led the CEG to consider ethical aspects of health care professionals’ responses to the need for resuscitation during COVID-19. Members agreed that professionals should, ideally, have the level of PPE required for an aerosol generating procedure. However, there was no consensus regarding professionals’ duty to care when this is not available. On the one hand, it was agreed that the casualty/patient’s interests regarding resuscitation should be prioritised due to professionals’ contract with the public and professional privilege. On the other hand, risk thresholds were considered relevant to individual decision-making and professionals’ duty to care. All agreed that decision-making should not be influenced by rewards or reprimands. It was agreed also that decisions to resuscitate should not be considered as moral heroism or supererogatory - regardless of PPE availability - but rather as ‘minimally decent’. We agreed that it may be acceptable for professionals, with good reasons, to opt out of resuscitation attempts and these should be reflected on and discussed before the event. (shrink)
Losing an arm to rescue a child from a burning building is supererogatory. But is losing an arm to save two children more supererogatory than losing two arms to save a single child? What factors make one act more supererogatory than another? I provide an innovative account of how to compare which of two acts is more supererogatory, and show the superiority of this account to its chief rival.
The overall moral status of an option—whether it is required, permissible, forbidden, or something we really should do—is explained by competition between the contributory reasons bearing on that option and the alternatives. A familiar challenge for accounts of this competition is to explain the existence of latitude: there are usually multiple permissible options, rather than a single required option. One strategy is to appeal to distinctions between reasons that compete in different ways. Philosophers have introduced various kinds of non-requiring reasons (...) that do not generate requirements, even if they win the competition. This paper rejects two familiar versions of this strategy, one appealing to merely justifying reasons and one appealing to merely commendatory reasons. It offers a new account of how reasons compete that instead appeals to a sharp distinction between the reasons against an option and the reasons for the alternatives to that option. (shrink)
We can often permissibly choose a worse self-interested option over a better altruistic alternative. For example, it is permissible to eat out rather than donate the money to feed five hungry children for a single meal. If we eat out, we do something permissibly partial toward ourselves. If we donate, we go beyond the call of moral duty and do something supererogatory. Such phenomena aren’t easy to explain, and they rule out otherwise promising moral theories. Incommensurability and Ruth Chang’s notion (...) of parity can explain certain small improvement puzzles, but they can’t explain permissible partiality and supererogation. On the other hand, Josh Gert’s distinction between justifying and requiring weight can explain all three phenomena: permissible partiality, supererogation, and the relevant small improvement puzzle. Indeed, this chapter provides a reason to endorse the justifying/requiring weight distinction by showing that it provides the only extant explanation of all three phenomena. (shrink)
Supererogatory acts are, in some sense, morally better their non-supererogatory alternatives. In this sense, what is it for one option A to be better than an alternative B? I argue for three main conclusions. First, relative rankings are a type of all-in action guidance. If A is better than B, then morality recommends that you A rather than B. Such all-in guidance is useful when acts have the same deontic status. Second, I argue that Right > Wrong: permissible acts are (...) always better than their impermissible alternatives. If Right > Wrong were false, then morality’s deontic verdicts would sometimes conflict with its relative rankings. Such conflict would undermine the thought that morality is a coherent, authoritative guide to action. Third, the All or Nothing Problem is not a counterexample to Right > Wrong as is commonly thought. Instead, it involves an interesting ranking reversal: whether A > B can depend on whether a certain alternative is added as a third option. (shrink)
Ethicists increasingly reject the scale as a useful metaphor for weighing reasons. Yet they generally retain the metaphor of a reason’s weight. This combination is incoherent. The metaphor of weight entails a very specific scale-based model of weighing reasons, Dual Scale. Justin Snedegar worries that scale-based models of weighing reasons can’t properly weigh reasons against an option. I show that there are, in fact, two different reasons for/against distinctions, and I provide an account of the relationship between the various kinds (...) of reason for and against. With this account in hand, we’ll see that Dual Scale has no problem weighing any kind of reason against. (shrink)
Dual-role approaches to reasons say, roughly, that reasons can relate to actions in two fundamentally different ways: they can either require conformity, or justify an action without requiring that it be taken. This paper develops a formal dual-role approach, combining ideas from defeasible logic and practical philosophy. It then uses the approach to shed light on the phenomenon of supererogation and resolve a well-known puzzle about supererogation, namely, Horton’s All or Nothing Problem.
While moral philosophers have paid significant attention to the concept of moral supererogation, far less attention has been paid to the possibility that supererogation may also exist in other areas of normativity. Recently, though, philosophers have begun to consider the possible existence of prudential, epistemic, aesthetic, and sporting supererogation. These discussions tend to focus on aspects of our practices in these areas of normativity that suggest an implicit acceptance of the existence of supererogation. In this chapter, I will offer a (...) different kind of defense of non-moral supererogation. I will begin by considering a particular kind of argument made in support of moral supererogation. According to this line of argument, we should accept the existence of moral supererogation because a moral code which makes room for supererogation is likely to be more effective at promoting morally desirable behavior than a moral code which leaves no room for the supererogatory. I will begin by outlining this argument. I will then develop a similar line of argument for prudential, epistemic, aesthetic, and sporting norms. (shrink)
In this entry I will introduce two such puzzles that relate to the heroic actions and testimony. I will first introduce the basic idea of supererogation and why some heroic actions give us reason to accept the existence of supererogatory actions. I will then introduce the problem that supererogation raises for moral theory and explain the main responses that have been offered to this problem. I will then explain two related problems that arise from the way that heroes describe their (...) actions and explore how moral philosophers might respond to these problems. (shrink)
We argue that supererogation cannot be understood just in terms of reasons for action. In addition to reasons, a theory of supererogation must include prerogatives, which can make an action permissible without counting in favor of doing it.
Supererogatory actions must go beyond duty not only by being optional, but also by being good to do. Understanding the evaluative condition that supererogatory actions must meet is vital in order to understand the very concept of supererogation. I argue for two key features of the goodness of supererogatory actions: firstly, that they are comparative, and secondly, that they are relative. Specifically, I argue that an action meets the evaluative condition of supererogation if and only if it is (i) better (...) than some permissible alternative and (ii) better than (or at least as good as) all permissible alternatives that are (a) as costly or (b) less costly; where the sense in which it is better is relative to a particular beneficiary. Seeing why this is so reveals the complexity of our notion of the supererogatory and captures our intuitions on core and complex cases. Furthermore, it makes room for supererogation’s mirror: the suberogatory. (shrink)
Forgiveness is widely considered a paradigm of supererogation: it seems to be morally permissible without being obligatory, and it seems to be almost always admirable and praiseworthy. I want to show that the phenomenon is a bit more complicated, and that many instances are hard to describe as supererogatory. First, I will distinguish forgiveness from some other responses to the transgression (ignoring, excusing, letting go). Second, I will examine the philosophical debate over the question of whether or not the victim (...) should wait for the transgressor to fulfil some kind of condition (e.g., repentance, apology, compensation) before forgiving, and how this might affect the supererogatory status. Third, I look at more serious cases of transgression and ask what it might mean for something or someone to be unforgivable. (shrink)
The philosophical origins of the concept of supererogation can be found in medieval discussions of actions that deserve extraordinary merit. These discussions focus primarily on the evangelical counsels of celibacy, poverty, and obedience, which Christian tradition has recognized as non-obligatory and especially efficacious ways of reaching perfection and salvation, ever since its early centuries. This chapter will provide a history of supererogation and the related counsels, primarily within the context of the Roman Catholic Church. It starts with the New Testament, (...) where the counsels first appear, and the commendation of the counsels by the early Church Fathers. It then moves to St. Thomas Aquinas and discusses the main features of his understanding of supererogation, keeping an eye on how Aquinas’ account relates to important theological challenges of his times. The chapter concludes by examining the Protestant rejection of the idea that some actions can possess superabundant merit, the Catholic response to this rejection, and the moral philosophical developments that came as a result. (shrink)
This paper considers a pair of mutually puzzling first-order intuitions: a case in which it seems both supererogatory for an agent to perform a specified act, and also seems as though were that act not performed, this would have been a failure of moral obligations. I argue that these intuitive reactions are difficult to dislodge and resist accommodation by standard accounts of supererogation. I then argue that this puzzle motivates a new form of supererogatory action: action that, though morally required, (...) is responding to moral circumstances or facts that the ordinary upright agent would typically overlook. (shrink)
Only few philosophers are fortunate enough to start single-handedly a new topic in philosophy. The Oxford philosopher J. O. Urmson is one of them. But at the time he wrote his seminal article, ‘Saints and Heroes’ (1958), he was certainly not aware of it.
Studies of the practice of promising have concentrated on the reasons for keeping promises. This article focuses on promise-making and argues that the making of promises is typically supererogatory. It then addresses the question whether we can promise to perform supererogatory acts. Although once given, the promisor is under an obligation to perform the promised act, there is no paradox in describing the act as supererogatory. The proposed analysis is based on the distinction between the content of the promised act (...) and the deontic status of its performance. In contrast to Jason Kawall and Claire Benn, I propose that there is no difficulty in the idea of promising to supererogate. (shrink)
Supererogation in Buddhist philosophy is a rather neglected topic. Among the questions to be investigated are: “Is there supererogation in Buddhism?” “Can one explicate the examples of apparently supererogatory acts performed by bodhisattvas and other enlightened beings in terms of supererogation?” “Is there room in Buddhist ethics for acts which are neither obligatory but still meritorious?” The answer that I aim to defend here is that there is a place for supererogation in Buddhism, as exemplified, among others, by the acts (...) of Buddhist saints and practitioners who perform action that exceeds normal expectation. Supererogation depends on the existence of minimal norms, and I argue that in the Sigalovāda Sutta the Buddha did lay out such minimal norms which are expected of lay people who are not practitioners. This discussion will shed light not only on Buddhist ethical theory itself but also serve as a contribution to the ongoing discussion of the nature and possible justification of supererogation itself. (shrink)
This chapter defends the claim that the space of human actions is really partitionable into five non-overlapping deontic categories: the three commonly recognized ones (the obligatory, the impermissible or wrong, and the optional), plus two additional ones labeled the expected and the contra-expected. These latter categories are typically not recognized in ethical theorizing but nonetheless they are part of everyday moral experience. The defense of these additional deontic categories appeals, via inference to the best explanation, partly to phenomenological considerations and (...) partly to moral-normative considerations. It is further argued that this five-way partition of the deontic realm helps explain why the hybrid categories of the supererogatory and suberogatory are deontically asymmetrical. (shrink)
If doing good is often beyond the call of duty, instances of the All or Nothing Problem abound. I have argued elsewhere that we should solve this problem by accepting a principle that I call Optimific Altruism, which has interesting implications both for the correct account of supererogation and for our obligations to give to charity. However, Theron Pummer and Daniel Muñoz have argued that we should instead solve this problem by rejecting an inference rule that I call Conditional Obligation. (...) I here recap my preferred solution and argue against this alternative. (shrink)
This chapter considers the relation between supererogation and duties (also here referred to as obligations) from a nonconsequentialist point of view. It first considers whether supererogation may sometimes take precedence over positive and negative duties and how this relates to personal costs (including efforts) required to perform one’s duty. It then considers how acquiescence to having large costs imposed on one (even permissibly) can be supererogatory. Finally, it considers how what are usually duties can become supererogatory and how what is (...) usually supererogatory can become a duty. The relation between these topics and the trolley problem, the so-called ‘all or nothing problem,’ and the issue of abortion are examined. (shrink)
This chapter puts forward a prima facie argument for a Jewish form of anti-supererogation before finding that no such argument can do justice to the Jewish tradition. Instead, the question becomes: what form of supererogation can Jewish law recognize? Qualified forms of supererogation would allow the Jewish philosopher to preserve certain theological and philosophical desiderata, but an unqualified form of supererogation sits more easily with a central approach to the nature of Divine revelation. Accordingly, the shape of a Jewish supererogation (...) has deep consequences for Jewish philosophy at large. (shrink)
Apparent analogues of moral supererogation can be found in other normative domains, such as the prudential domain and the epistemic domain. Vindicating moral supererogation requires a convincing response to the challenge of the ‘paradox of moral supererogation’: if some act would be morally best, why would it not be morally required? Vindicating putative non-moral types of supererogation requires responding to analogous challenges: if some act would be best by the lights of some normative domain, why would it not be required (...) by the lights of that domain’s standards? I argue that the key to responding to such challenges involves giving a substantive account of what requirement is within the domain in question. The most promising type of account, I suggest, is what I call the Critical Reaction Account. (shrink)
I first provide an accessible overview of the DWE (Doing Well Enough) logical and semantic framework for representing going beyond the call and its family of kindred concepts in a tightly intergraded way. Next, a module, for representing some basic agent-evaluative notions is developed (“AA” for “Aretaic Assessment”), and then it is integrated with the more act-evaluative notions of DWE, thereby allowing for a representation of suberogation and supererogation (as distinct from going beyond the call) and many other combined deontic (...) and agent-evaluative notions. I then probe more deeply into how the semantic structures for the DWE framework might themselves be generated and then offer some brief reflections on the classic supererogation puzzle, as well as that of supererogatory holes and the all or nothing problem, framing options via the preceding reflections. (shrink)
This chapter is divided into four parts. The first part describes the events leading up to the Protestant Reformation, including Thomas Aquinas’ distinction between the commandments of God and the counsels of God. The second part describes the anti-supererogationist views of the Reformers, Luther, Calvin, and Melanchthon. The third part examines the views of a contemporary figure, Joseph Allen, whose Protestant commitment leads him to espouse anti-supererogationist views. The fourth part explains why contemporary Protestants are by and large open to (...) acknowledging the possibility of supererogation. (shrink)
It is commonplace by now that moral philosophy has a long history of gender biases, not only regarding the pertinent moral issues but also regarding the development of concepts and theories. This insight from feminist philosophy, however, has not yet received sufficient attention in the debate on supererogation. That is not least surprising, since we all are familiar with the phenomenon that what is morally expected of an agent is not gender-neutral but at least to some extent relates to gender (...) roles and social expectations. Therefore, the main aim of this chapter is to build on theoretical and methodological insights from feminist philosophy to carve out this research gap and to map the field for future research. It will be argued that feminist approaches can only be ignored within the debate on supererogation at the cost of philosophical rigor since they do not only give rise to novel perspectives and insights on questions already discussed, but also make matters visible that would have been overlooked otherwise. Thereby this chapter seeks essentially to contribute to a more extensive understanding of the social, political, and epistemic dimensions of supererogation that have hitherto been neglected. (shrink)