The emphasis on duly in Kant's ethics is widely held to constitute a defect. Marcia W. Baron develops and assesses the criticism, which she sees as comprising two objections: that duty plays too large a role, leaving no room for the supererogatory, and that Kant places too much value on acting from duty. Clearly written and cogently argued, Kantian Ethics Almost without Apology takes on the most philosophically intriguing objections to Kant's ethics and subjects them to a rigorous yet sympathetic (...) assessment. (shrink)
During the past decade ethical theory has been in a lively state of development, and three basic approaches to ethics - Kantian ethics, consequentialism, and virtue ethics - have assumed positions of particular prominence.
The distinction between justifications and excuses is a familiar one to most of us who work either in moral philosophy or legal philosophy. But exactly how it should be understood is a matter of considerable disagreement. My aim in this paper is, first, to sort out the differences and try to figure out what underlying disagreements account for them. I give particular attention to the following question: Does a person who acts on a reasonable but mistaken belief have a justification, (...) or only an excuse? One disagreement I highlight concerns the extent to which justification is primarily about agents rather than about actions. Those who think, as I do, of?His action, X, was justified? as?He was justified in doing X? are far more likely to allow that justification requires reasonable belief and does not require truth, than are those who think of?His action, X, was justified? as?Although actions of this type usually are prohibited, X is in these circumstances in fact permissible.? In addition to sorting out the differences and tracing them to some underlying disagreements, I defend the reasonable belief view of justification against some objections, and argue that, whether or not we continue to use the term?justified? in a way that does not require truth, we need the concept. Contrary to the claims of some who reject the reasonable belief view of justification, justification thus understood does not reduce to excuse. (shrink)
Friends as well as foes of Kant have long been uneasy over his emphasis on duty, but lately the view that there is something morally repugnant about acting from duty seems to be gaining in popularity. More and more philosophers indicate their readiness to jettison duty and the moral 'ought' and to conceive of the perfectly moral person as someone who has all the right desires and acts accordingly without any notion that (s)he ought to act in this way. Elsewhere' (...) I have argued that such a picture of the perfectly moral person is flawed. In this paper I examine the claim that acting from duty is morally repugnant. There is some truth to this charge, but, I argue, the repugnance attaches not to acting from duty as such, but only to certain ways of acting from duty. In isolating the objectionable elements of acting from duty, I hope not only to vindicate the skeletal concept but also to offer illumination on the question of just how we should understand morally good conduct. (shrink)
Justifications and excuses are defenses that exculpate. They are therefore much more like each other than like such defenses as diplomatic immunity, which does not exculpate. But they exculpate in different ways, and it has proven difficult to agree on just what that difference consists in. In this paper I take a step back from justification and excuse as concepts in criminal law, and look at the concepts as they arise in everyday life. To keep the task manageable, I focus (...) primarily on excuses and excusing activities, distinguishing them from justifications as well as from other close relatives, in particular, forgiving and pardoning. I draw upon J.L. Austinâs classic A Plea for Excuses, but expand on his account, suggesting that we offer excuses for reasons besides those he mentions. My hope is that my examination of excuses and excusing activities will help us rethink our views on just how justifications and excuses differ, views which often are worked out without much attention to how these concepts function in everyday life and to the connection between offers of excuses and justifications and the rules of civility. (shrink)
This article presents a Kantian alternative to the mainstream approach in ethics concerning the phenomena that are widely thought to require a category of the supererogatory. My view is that the phenomena do not require this category of imperfect duties. Elsewhere I have written on Kant on this topic; here I shift my focus away from interpretive issues and consider the pros and cons of the Kantian approach. What background assumptions would lean one to favour the Kantian approach and what (...) sorts would lean one to favour the mainstream approach? I also consider the possibility that in institutional contexts, there is a need for the category of the supererogatory. Here, it seems, we do need to know what we really have to do and what is beyond the call of duty; in this context, however, duty is not the Kantian moral notion, but rather is pegged to particular roles, or to the needs of the institution or group or club of which one is a member. But even here, I argue, the notion of the supererogatory is not crucial. (shrink)
Part I raises some questions concerning the extent of our freedom on the view that Henry Allison's Kant's Theory of Freedom attributes to Kant, and the possibility, on that view, of weakness of will. Allison is correct to attribute to Kant the "Incorporation Thesis": one is never compelled to do x just because one has a desire (even a very intense desire) to do x; a desire moves one to action only if one allows it to. But while the attribution (...) seems correct, there is a puzzle: how, given the Incorporation Thesis, is weakness of will, or "frailty", possible? Part II considers Kant's claim in The Doctrine of Virtue that we have an indirect duty to cultivate our sympathetic feelings. Allison's interpretation is unsatisfactory because it fails to steer clear of the "impurity" problem: the interpretation seems to foist on Kant an endorsement of impurity, i.e. the seeking out of nonmoral reasons to induce one to do one's duty. To seek out such reasons is to cultivate an impure will, something Kant warns against. A different interpretation is offered. (shrink)
What is the relation between shame and shamelessness? It may seem obvious: shamelessness is simply the absence of shame. But on reflection, it becomes clear that the story is considerably more complicated. Michelle Mason's intriguing "On Shamelessness" prompts such reflection. Mason argues that we should be mindful of the "moral importance of shame" and "unapologetic in its defense", and she does so via an examination of shamelessness and an argument to the effect that shamelessness is a moral fault. The tacit (...) assumption is that insofar as shamelessness is a moral fault, the value of shame is vindicated. I challenge that assumption. (shrink)
Gideon Rosen has drawn our attention to cases of duress of a particularly interesting sort: the person's ‘mind is not flooded with pain or fear’, she knows exactly what she is doing, and she makes a clear-headed choice to act in, as Rosen says, ‘awful ways’. The explanation of why we excuse such actions cannot be that the action was not voluntary. In addition, although some duress cases could also be viewed as necessity cases and thus as justified, Rosen wisely (...) sets aside that complicating factor by zeroing in on those cases where the action clearly is not justified. So why do we excuse in these cases, where the action is not justified and the agent acted voluntarily? Rosen thinks the key lies in the ‘ill will’ condition, ‘the idea that an act is blameworthy only if it manifests insufficient concern or regard for those affected’. He says this is relatively uncontroversial; much of my paper is taken up with calling the ‘ill will’ condition into question. I also take issue with Rosen on just how justifications and excuses differ. I argue in favour of understanding justifications as not requiring truth, but only reasonable belief. (shrink)
This paper distinguishes and evaluates six types of ethics of virtue, Taking the mark of an ethics of virtue to be the denial that it is a necessary condition of perfectly moral personhood that one be governed by a sense of what one morally ought to do. Appealing to charles taylor's notion of strong evaluation, I argue that all such ethics of virtue are inadequate because they fail to leave room for a distinction between valuing and desiring.
In this essay I rethink a view that I developed in my Kantian Ethics Almost Without Apology , concerning how ethical theory should handle the phenomena that are standardly classified as supererogatory acts. The view I elaborated rejects the standard contemporary picture, according to which ethics needs to draw a line separating duty from what is "beyond duty"--the supererogatory. On the Kantian picture, beneficent acts are not beyond duty, for we are required to help others, but we are not required (...) to help whenever possible, and so it is not the case that each individual beneficent act is required by duty. Helping is required; helping here and now is not. After contrasting this view with the standard picture and explaining that much of what contemporary philosophers wanted to capture with the notion of the supererogatory can be captured with the Kantian notion of imperfect duties together with attention to the agent's character, I raise some problems for my view and try to address them. First, what about heroic actions that are not in character? Don't we need the notion of supererogatory acts to recognize their greatness? Second, isn't virtue doing all the conceptual work? Is there even any need to appeal to the notion of imperfect duties? Third, although I claimed in my book that it is an advantage of the Kantian view that moral excellence comes in many varieties, arguably it is too pluralistic. In dem Beitrag überdenke ich eine Auffassung, die ich in meinem Buch Kantian Ethics Almost Without Apology entwickelt habe. Sie betrifft die Frage, wie ethische Theorien das Phänomen behandeln sollen, das üblicherweise als "Supererogation" bezeichnet wird. Die von mir ausgearbeitete Auffassung verwirft das heute gängige Bild, nach dem Ethik abgrenzen muß zwischen dem, was Pflicht ist, und dem, was "jenseits der Pflicht" steht -- dem Supererogatorischen. Nach Kants Vorstellung sind wohltätige Handlungen nicht jenseits der Pflicht, da wir verpflichtet sind, anderen zu helfen. Wir müssen jedoch nicht in jeder möglichen Situation helfen, und daher ist es nicht der Fall, daß jede einzelne wohltätige Handlung Pflicht ist. Hilfe zu leisten , ist geboten; Hilfe hier und jetzt zu leisten, nicht. In einer Gegenüberstellung dieser Auffassung mit der gängigen Vorstellung zeige ich, daß vieles von dem, was moderne Philosophen mit dem Begriff des Supererogatorischen erklären wollen, auch mit Kants Begriff der unvollkommenen Pflichten, verbunden mit einem Blick auf den Charakter des Handelnden, erklärt werden kann. Danach werfe ich einige Probleme auf, die sich meiner Auffassung stellen, und versuche, Antworten zu geben. Erstens: Wie steht es mit heldenhaften Handlungen, die nicht dem Charakter des Handelnden entsprechen? Brauchen wir nicht den Begriff des supererogatorischen Handelns, um ihre Größe zu erkennen? Zweitens: Genügt nicht der Begriff der Tugend? Besteht irgendeine Notwendigkeit, auf den Begriff der unvollkommenen Pflicht zurückzugreifen? Drittens: Obwohl ich in meinem Buch behaupte, es sei ein Vorteil der Kantischen Sicht, daß moralische Vortrefflichkeit viele Gesichter hat, ist Kants Auffassung doch vielleicht zu pluralistisch. (shrink)
In “Is Penalty Enhancement a Sound Idea?” Claudia Card calls into question hate crime legislation, querying whether hatred makes a crime worse, whether hatred of the sort pertinent to hate crimes is worse than a more personal hatred, and whether the message sent by hate crime legislation is the intended message. This essay questions her assumption that penalty enhancement for hate crimes is warranted only if the crimes are worse than otherwise similar crimes that do not count as hate crimes. (...) Instead, it may be the case that it is the proper business of the state to take a particular interest in such crimes, in part because they enact not just any hatred but civic hatred. And if hate crimes are understood as enacting civic hatred, hate crime legislation can indeed serve to counter a message that very much needs to be countered. (shrink)
Gideon Rosen has drawn our attention to cases of duress of a particularly interesting sort: the person's ‘mind is not flooded with pain or fear’, she knows exactly what she is doing, and she makes a clear‐headed choice to act in, as Rosen says, ‘awful ways’. The explanation of why we excuse such actions cannot be that the action was not voluntary. In addition, although some duress cases could also be viewed as necessity cases and thus as justified, Rosen wisely (...) sets aside that complicating factor by zeroing in on those cases where the action clearly is not justified. So why do we excuse in these cases, where the action is not justified and the agent acted voluntarily?Rosen thinks the key lies in the ‘ill will’ condition, ‘the idea that an act is blameworthy only if it manifests insufficient concern or regard for those affected’. He says this is relatively uncontroversial; much of my paper is taken up with calling the ‘ill will’ condition into question. I also take issue with Rosen on just how justifications and excuses differ. I argue in favour of understanding justifications as not requiring truth, but only reasonable belief. (shrink)