‘One Thought Too Many’: Love, Morality, and the Ordering of Commitment

Susan Wolf

in Luck, Value, and Commitment

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780199599325
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741500 | DOI:
‘One Thought Too Many’: Love, Morality, and the Ordering of Commitment

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At the end of ‘Persons, Character, and Morality’, Bernard Williams discusses the case of a man who, faced with a situation in which he can save only one of two people in equal peril, chooses to save his wife. Williams famously observes that a moral justification defending the man against the charge that he ought to have been impartial provides the rescuer with ‘one thought too many’. Most of Williams’ commentators agree, interpreting his remarks as a reminder that a morally good person need not, and perhaps should not, be thinking about what is morally justifiable all the time. This chapter draws and defends a more radical interpretation of Williams' remarks. One attractive ideal of love would prohibit the lover not only from thinking about morality all the time, but also from being unconditionally committed to acting according to morality all the time. This does not imply that a person is positively permitted or justified in disregarding moral requirements. It rather supports Williams's thought that ‘some situations lie beyond justification’.

Keywords: commitment; unconditional commitment; morality; impartiality; partiality; overridingness; categorical desire; Bernard Williams

Chapter.  10164 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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