The Birth of Supererogation

Epoché: A Journal for the History of Philosophy 18 (2):351-372 (2014)
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Abstract

The essay investigates the philosophical infancy of the idea that some actions are morally praiseworthy while not being morally obligatory. It focuses on Thomas Aquinas’s distinction between commandments and counsels, the early Christian idea that some acts go beyond nature, and the Stoic notion of circumstantially appropriate actions. I discuss the Christian and Stoic justification of acts of self-denial, such as celibacy, poverty, and martyrdom, and attempt to find a unitary source of goodness and moral obligation that allows for such supererogatory acts. Nature provides such a unitary source in the early Christian theologian Athanasius and the Stoics. I discuss how nature determines one’s duties while also allowing for praiseworthy acts outside the scope of these duties, and in seeming contrast with them.

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Dimitrios Dentsoras
University of Manitoba

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