Devoting ourselves to the manifestly unattainable

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 104 (3):696-716 (2022)
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It is tempting to think (1) that we may sometimes have hopelessly utopian duties and yet (2) that “ought” implies “can.” How might we square these apparently conflicting claims? A simple solution is to interpret hopelessly utopian duties as duties to "pursue" the achievement of manifestly unattainable outcomes (as opposed to duties to "achieve" the outcomes), thereby promising to vindicate the possibility of such duties in a way that is compatible with “ought” implies “can.” The main challenge for this simple solution is to say what the relevant “duties to pursue” are supposed to involve. We survey several existing candidates (duties to try, duties to approximate, duties to do our part, and dynamic duties) and argue that none of them succeeds in delivering on the promise of the simple solution. We then propose a previously untheorized class of duties that we call "duties to devote ourselves" to achieving an outcome, and argue that such duties provide us with an interpretation of hopelessly utopian duties that is up to the task.

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Author Profiles

Nicholas Southwood
Australian National University
David Wiens
University of California, San Diego

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References found in this work

What we owe to each other.Thomas Scanlon - 1998 - Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
The Wrong Kind of Reason.Pamela Hieronymi - 2005 - Journal of Philosophy 102 (9):437 - 457.
Utopophobia: On the Limits (If Any) of Political Philosophy.David M. Estlund - 2019 - Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
The Toxin Puzzle.Gregory S. Kavka - 1983 - Analysis 43 (1):33-36.
Ought, Agents, and Actions.Mark Schroeder - 2011 - Philosophical Review 120 (1):1-41.

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