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

6. Supererogation and praiseworthiness

By providing various accounts of overridingness, all three approaches offer some way to interpret the attractive idea that in doing what is supererogatory one acts freely, while in doing what is required, one is bound. It is often thought that this freedom is the ground of the special merit or praiseworthiness that is characteristic of supererogatory action (Heyd 1988).

But are all supererogatory acts necessarily praiseworthy? After all, whichever one of these three approaches one takes, the definition of the supererogatory will remain a purely deontic one, on a par with the definitions of the obligatory, the permissible, and the forbidden. This means that an agent can perform supererogatory acts from any one of a variety of motives, some morally admirable and some not. (Even the third approach says nothing about the motives of those who do what is supererogatory. It evaluates only the motives of those who refrain. Compare Brandt’s discussion of obligation (1969).) In some ways this consequence seems intuitively plausible, since people can and sometimes do go ‘beyond duty’ for the most self-serving of reasons.

Even on a deontic analysis of supererogation there remains a certain conceptual link between supererogatory action and praiseworthy motivation: to go beyond duty, not for ulterior, self-interested reasons but for the sake of the moral concerns that are at stake, is necessarily praiseworthy. Here we have a notion of acting from non-obligatory moral considerations that is a strict analogue of Kant’s notion of acting from duty. In the case of obligation, action from this praiseworthy motivation is what Kant calls ‘dutiful’ action. In the case of supererogation, it is what Mill (1843) calls ‘noble’ action. But not all actions in accordance with duty are dutiful; and not all actions beyond duty are noble (Mellema 1991: 3).

Citing this article:
Trianosky, Gregory Velazco Y. Supererogation and praiseworthiness. Supererogation, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L101-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2020 Routledge.