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Research Seminar

Katie Steele: The real paradox of supererogation

Katie Steele, Associate Professor, Australian National University.


It is a feature of our ordinary moral talk that some acts are supererogatory, or beyond what is required. But ‘beyond’ in what sense? Many have recognised a prima facie paradox in trying to square the category of supererogatory with the commitment that the balance of moral reasons determines what morality requires of agents. Here I provide a general account of the popular response to this paradox, which is to acknowledge two (as opposed to one) moral points of view, and associated reasons: one which identifies the permissible versus the impermissible acts and another which identifies the relative moral superiority of the permissible acts. While this general response is illuminating, I go on to argue that it merely pushes the paradox one step back – there is a sense in which we must, in the end, privilege just one moral point of view.

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