International Encyclopedia of Ethics (2013)

Authors
Adam Cureton
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Abstract
“Supererogation” is now a technical term in philosophy for a range of ideas expressed by terms such as “good but not required,” “beyond the call of duty,” “praiseworthy but not obligatory,” and “good to do but not bad not to do” (see Duty and Obligation; Intrinsic Value). Examples often cited are extremely generous acts of charity, heroic self-sacrifice, extraordinary service to morally worthy causes, and sometimes forgiveness and minor favors. These concepts are familiar in institutional contexts, for example, when teachers give points for “extra credit” work, corporations give “bonuses” for profitable leadership, and armies award medals for extraordinary service and valor. Moral philosophers, however, have generally focused on whether or not some of these terms refer to a fundamental moral category and, if so, how the category should be defined, which acts the category includes, and whether various moral theories adequately acknowledge it. The idea that acts can be good and praiseworthy but beyond duty has seemed puzzling for several reasons. For example, it seems that “good and praiseworthy” appeals to scalar standards of (“more or less”) value and virtue whereas “duty,” “required,” and “obligatory” invoke nonscalar norms that make (“all or nothing”) demands. This raises the theoretical question whether morality presupposes two distinct conceptual schemes, and, if so, to what extent and how these can be unified in a consistent and coherent moral theory.
Keywords Supererogation
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