Supererogation, Obligation, and Intransitivity

F. M. Kamm

in Morality, Mortality Volume II: Rights, Duties, and Status

Published in print January 2001 | ISBN: 9780195144024
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199870998 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Ethics Series

 Supererogation, Obligation, and Intransitivity

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Returns to a problem first raised in Ch. 8, namely, reconciling the existence of prerogatives not to maximize overall good (allowing for some such acts to be supererogatory) with restrictions on the pursuit of one's personal good. This problem becomes especially pressing since, despite the earlier emphasis on the existence of restrictions to pursuing the greater good, it is sometimes the case that greater good may permissibly take precedence over restrictions, for example, negative and positive duties (obligations) or rights; if personal good may take precedence over greater good (allowing some acts for greater good to be supererogatory), and these supererogatory acts may take precedence over restrictions, why may not personal good take precedence over restrictions — why does transitivity fail here? An attempt is made to prove each premise in this argument separately, and the associated objections and duties are presented. The third section of the chapter considers whether the intransitivity arises only because different factors account for precedence relations in each step of the argument, or whether the results obtained in the first two sections of the chapter are more general, and, indeed, another instance of the Principle of Contextual Interaction; consideration is also given to whether the intransitivities discussed share the cycling property characteristic of other intransitivities. Concludes by applying these results to a further discussion of those who never allow duty to be subordinated to supererogation, to Scheffler's Hybrid Theory, and to Parfit's problem of the Repugnant Conclusion.

Keywords: duties; greater good; Hybrid Theory; intransitivity; maximizing overall good; not maximizing overall good; obligations; overall good; Parfit's Repugnant Conclusion; personal good; Principle of Contextual Interaction; restrictions; rights; Scheffler's Hybrid Theory; supererogation; transitivity

Chapter.  25731 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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