Moral worth and skillful action

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 108 (3):657-675 (2024)
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Someone acts in a morally worthy way when they deserve credit for doing the morally right thing. But when and why do agents deserve credit for the success involved in doing the right thing? It is tempting to seek an answer to that question by drawing an analogy with creditworthy success in other domains of human agency, especially in sports, arts, and crafts. Accordingly, some authors have recently argued that, just like creditworthy success in, say, chess, playing the piano, or archery, creditworthy moral success is a matter of getting things right by way of manifesting a relevant skill. My main aim in this paper is to bring out an important structural difference between moral creditworthiness and creditworthiness in sports, arts, and craft, undermining attempts to use examples of the latter as a model for understanding the former. As an alternative, I propose an account of morally creditworthy action, according to which such action is a matter of manifesting virtue, not skill—a claim that's based on an important, but underappreciated, difference between the sorts of excellences constituting virtues and skills. The paper thus contributes to a more nuanced picture of normative achievements across different domains of human agency, highlighting largely overlooked structural dissimilarities among them.

Author's Profile

David Horst
University of Lisbon


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