Why Proximity Matters for the Concept of Supererogation

Etica and Politica / Ethics and Politics 19 (1):291-307 (2017)
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The concept of supererogation is strictly correlated with duty, since its peculiar value is defined by acts that go beyond our regular obligations. This paper highlights the importance of proximity (relational closeness) in allowing the proper theoretical space to supererogation. As a matter of fact if we broaden our sense of duty, the possibility to perform supererogatory acts correspondingly decreases. Special obligations emphasize how difficult acts of supererogation are to perform if we stand in some morally-relevant special position with the recipient of our acts. Thus, we can conclude that the relationship between the agent and the recipient of the act (proximity) plays an important role both for our sense of duty (generating special obligations) and for the possibility of performing supererogatory acts. Furthermore, this analysis brings attention to the fact that whenever an act is supererogatory, it cannot, at the same time, be a special obligation (and vice versa). As a consequence, if proximity plays such a role, an objection to the possibility of self-regarding supererogation can be made.

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Simone Grigoletto
University of Padua


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