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Title: Requirement and rationality : two problems concerning supererogatory acts
Author: Young, Elizabeth Drummond
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2005
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Urmson famously suggested that the supererogatory acts of saints and heroes warranted separate classification in a moral theory. I support his suggestion, but justifying it poses a number of problems for the theorist. I examine two. Firstly, there is the pressure of requirement. Supererogatory acts are optional, yet they are good and better than an act which an agent may permissibly perform instead. Why, therefore, are they not required? The second problem concerns the rationality of supererogatory acts. If an agent has good reasons to support an alterative permissible act to the supererogatory one, how can we avoid describing the supererogatory act as irrational? I suggest that supererogatory acts possess four key characteristics of optionality, rationality, betterness and moral worth and that ordinary morality considerers not just the acts of saints and heroes to have those characteristics but also small acts of kindness and mercy. I examine Shelly Kagan’s account of consequentialism which brings the problems of requirement and rationality to bear on all type of supererogatory act. Under the maximising principle of consequentalism, acts normally considered supererogatory will be required and not optional unless the demands of maximisation can be limited. Kagan argues that there are no such justifiable limits. I examine whether a maximising theory is of itself a bar to supererogation. I conclude that it is not, but that a recent attempts to produce a maximising account of supererogation is inadequate because its reliance on cost as a necessary feature of supererogatory acts results in those acts being classified as irrational. I then argue that neither the degree nor the nature of cost experienced by an agent are necessary or sufficient conditions to render an act supererogatory. Cost cannot therefore be used to limit requirement. In this I agree with Kagan, but for different reasons. Alternative approaches to limiting required action through an appeal to fairness or an interpretation of supererogatory acts as imperfect duties also prove inadequate. My proposed solution to the problems of requirement and rationality avoids the need to set a limit on requirement, but relies instead on a distinctions between the first- and third-party perspective and on a concept of plural values.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available