DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L101-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved October 23, 2020, from

3. Supererogation and positive social morality

Assuming that supererogatory action and obligatory action can both be supported by moral reasons, how are we to distinguish them? There are at least three possible approaches. The first is John Stuart Mill’s proposal to restrict the operation of the distinction to the realm of social morality. On this proposal (1861), both supererogatory actions and obligatory actions are actions that maximize utility, and hence actions that one ought to perform. The difference lies only in whether various external and internalized sanctions like blame and guilt are appropriate (useful) given failure to perform. Here Mill echoes Tertullian’s idea that it is God’s willingness to punish failure to perform that distinguishes obligation from supererogation. To avoid the unacceptable conclusion described in the previous section, this approach must hold that to say moral reasons are overriding is only a way of making the point that they are strongly reinforced by negative social sanctions. It will then follow that only obligation-making reasons will be ‘overriding’.

Citing this article:
Trianosky, Gregory Velazco Y. Supererogation and positive social morality. Supererogation, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L101-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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