On Why There is a Problem of Supererogation

Philosophia 47 (4):1141-1163 (2019)
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Abstract

How can it be that some acts of very high moral value are not morally required? This is the problem of supererogation. I do not argue in favor of a particular answer. Instead, I analyze two opposing moral intuitions the problem involves. First, that one should always do one’s best. Second, that sometimes we are morally allowed not to do our best. To think that one always has to do one’s best is less plausible, as it makes every morally best act obligatory. I argue that, despite its implausibility, this is the main ingredient in a traditional outlook I call ‘morality of law,’ which conceives of morality as impartial, impersonal, rule-based and obligation-based. My main point is that supererogation will always be seen as problematic if the background theory is a morality of law. This is because supererogation encapsulates a view of morality-outside-obligation, whereas morality of law centers upon obligation as its main instrument of curbing a supposedly natural human selfishness.

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References found in this work

The View From Nowhere.Thomas Nagel - 1986 - Oxford University Press.
The Sources of Normativity.Christine M. Korsgaard - 1996 - Cambridge University Press.
Utilitarianism.J. S. Mill - 1861 - Oxford University Press UK.
After Virtue.A. MacIntyre - 1981 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 46 (1):169-171.
Alienation, Consequentialism, and the Demands of Morality.Peter Railton - 1984 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 13 (2):134-171.

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