Transitivity, Moral Latitude, and Supererogation

Utilitas 29 (3):286-298 (2017)
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On what I take to be the standard account of supererogation, an act is supererogatory if and only if it is morally optional and there is more moral reason to perform it than to perform some permissible alternative. And, on this account, an agent has more moral reason to perform one act than to perform another if and only if she morally ought to prefer how things would be if she were to perform the one to how things would be if she were to perform the other. I argue that this account has two serious problems. The first, which I call the latitude problem, is that it has counterintuitive implications in cases where the duty to be exceeded is one that allows for significant latitude in how to comply with it. The second, which I call the transitivity problem, is that it runs afoul of the plausible idea that the one-reason-morally-justifies-acting-against-another relation is transitive. What’s more, I argue that both problems can be overcome by an alternative account, which I call the maximalist account.

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Douglas W. Portmore
Arizona State University


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