Moral dilemmas, disjunctive obligations, and Kant's principle that 'ought' implies 'can'

Synthese 88 (1):43 - 55 (1991)

Abstract

In moral dilemmas, where circumstances prevent two or more equally justified prima facie ethical requirements from being fulfilled, it is often maintained that, since the agent cannot do both, conjoint obligation is overridden by Kant's principle that ought implies can, but that the agent nevertheless has a disjunctive obligation to perform one of the otherwise obligatory actions or the other. Against this commonly received view, it is demonstrated that although Kant's ought-can principle may avoid logical inconsistency, the principle is incompatible with disjunctive obligation in standard deontic logic, and that it entails paradoxically that none of the conflicting dilemma actions will in fact occur. The principle appears to provide the only plausible safeguard against deontic antinomy, but cannot be admitted because of its collision with considered moral judgments.

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References found in this work

Critique of Pure Reason.Immanuel Kant - 1781/1998 - In Elizabeth Schmidt Radcliffe, Richard McCarty, Fritz Allhoff & Anand Vaidya (eds.), Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. Blackwell. pp. 449-451.
Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals.Immanuel Kant - 2009 - In Steven M. Cahn (ed.), Exploring Philosophy: An Introductory Anthology. Indianapolis: Oxford University Press.

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Citations of this work

Conflicting Imperatives and Dyadic Deontic Logic.Jörg Hansen - 2005 - Journal of Applied Logic 3 (3-4):484-511.
Problems and Results for Logics About Imperatives.Jörg Hansen - 2004 - Journal of Applied Logic 2 (1):39-61.
‘Ought Implies Can’ and the Law.Chris Fox & Guglielmo Feis - 2018 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 61 (4):370-393.

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