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

4. Supererogatory acts as morally optional

The second approach focuses attention not on social morality but on the character of the reasons that support beneficent acts. Suppose we accept the following as partial definitions of obligation and supererogation: an act is obligatory only if its omission is morally impermissible; and an act is supererogatory only if its omission is morally permissible. Suppose we further posit that it is morally permissible to act against some set of moral considerations if and only if those considerations are not morally conclusive. We then have a criterion for distinguishing obligatory action from supererogatory action: any action supported by morally conclusive reasons will be obligatory; any action supported by reasons that are less than morally conclusive, will be supererogatory (Dancy 1993).

We can complete this approach by adding an account of overridingness: moral considerations are rationally overriding (if and) only if they are morally conclusive. This approach thus allows for the rational pursuit of self-interest whenever considerations of personal cost (represented within morality) are powerful enough to render the balance of moral reasons inconclusive. Conversely, only when morality regards certain considerations as conclusive must reason do so as well. Hence one is rationally required only to do one’s duty (see Duty §3).

Citing this article:
Trianosky, Gregory Velazco Y. Supererogatory acts as morally optional. Supererogation, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L101-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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