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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L101-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2020
Retrieved June 22, 2024, from

Article Summary

A supererogatory act is an act that is beyond the call of duty. In other words, it is an act that is morally good to perform but that is not morally required. For example, someone who sacrifices their own life in order to save someone else’s acts in a morally praiseworthy way but it does not seem that they were required to act in this way.

Supererogation raises a number of philosophical problems. The first concerns how to explain the connection between moral goodness and moral obligation. If acts of supererogation exist then this rules out a simple connection according to which we must always perform the act that is morally best. However, if this is not the connection between moral goodness and moral obligation then what is? This puzzle has been called the paradox of supererogation.

The second problem, called the all or nothing problem, relates to cases where a helpful action appears to be supererogatory but once someone decides to help they are obliged to do so in a particular way.

The third problem, called the transitivity problem, arises when we consider the relationship between three cases where someone must make a choice between two acts they could perform. The puzzle arises because it seems that in such cases there exist reasons that can make it permissible not to perform an action that is very good from the moral point of view but that do not make it permissible not to perform an act that is less good from the moral point of view.

Citing this article:
Archer, A.T.M.. Supererogation, 2020, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L101-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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