Beyond duty: an examination and defence of supererogation
Archer, Alfred Thomas Mckay
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Many accept that there are some acts that are ‘supererogatory’ or ‘beyond the call of duty’. Risking one’s life to save others or dedicating one’s life to helping the needy are often thought to be examples of such acts. Accepting the possibility of acts of this sort raises interesting problems for moral philosophy, as many moral theories appear to leave no room for the supererogatory. While these problems are increasingly recognized in moral philosophy, there remain a number of debates that have failed to pay sufficient attention to the existence of acts of this sort. In this thesis I investigate the implications of accepting the possibility of supererogation for three of these debates. The first issue I investigate is the relationship between morality and self-interest. One popular view is that supererogatory acts are those that demand too much sacrifice from those who could perform them. However, I argue that looking at self-reported accounts and empirical psychological studies of moral exemplars gives us good reason to reject this view, as it has the implausible implication that those with less developed moral consciences are excused from obligations that apply to those with more developed moral sensibilities. We should accept, then, that performing an act of supererogation may be in line with an agent's self-interest. The next debate I examine concerns the connection between moral judgements and motivation. Motivational judgement internalists claim that there is a necessary connection between moral judgements and motivation. However, it is often unclear which moral judgements this view is supposed to cover. The claim is made about judgements of 'moral goodness', 'moral rightness' and 'moral requirement'. I argue that internalists need to restrict their claim to moral obligation judgements. I then examine how to give an account of the relationship between moral obligations and reasons for action. It is often claimed that moral reasons are overriding. A related view is moral rationalism, which holds that agents have most reason to act in line with their moral requirements. I start by examining the differences between these two views before looking at what form of either view it is plausible to hold if we accept the existence of supererogation. I finish by looking at whether accepting the existence of supererogatory acts goes far enough or whether there is a need to make room for additional deontic categories, such as suberogation, quasi-supererogation or forced supererogation. I will argue that none of the arguments put forward in defence of these claims show that there is a need to make room for these additional categories.