Duties Beyond the Call of Duty

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In this Symposium contribution, I argue that ordinary moral discourse recognizes six categories of morally significant actions: (1) positively obligatory actions (actions that are required); (2) negatively obligatory actions (actions that are forbidden); (3) supererogatory actions (actions that are praiseworthy but not required); (4) suberogatory actions (actions that are blameworthy but not forbidden); (5) quasi-supererogatory actions (actions that are supererogatory if performed, and suberogatory if omitted); and (6) amoral or morally neutral actions (actions that merit neither praise nor blame). As I argue, super-, sub-, and quasi-supererogatory actions paradoxically rely upon the existence of "non-obligatory oughts" -- moral injunctions to do what as a moral matter we need not do. The remainder of the article is devoted to developing a theory that makes these non-obligatory oughts coherent. The theory that I advance distinguishes deontic duties from aretaic duties, and derives the oughts of super- and suberogation from our aretaic duties to develop certain dispositions or character traits. As I argue, our aretaic duties require us to perform actions that are deontically supererogatory and to refrain from actions that are deontically suberogatory. Only if we conceive of super- and suberogation as simultaneously governed by deontic permissions and aretaic obligations can we make sense of the dual claims implicit in daily gossip that we are obligated to cultivate such virtues as kindness and generosity, and that kindness and generosity consist in doing what we are not obligated to do. As the title elliptically suggests, the article thus advances the claim that we have (aretaic) duties to go beyond the call of (deontic) duty.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-36
JournalAnnual Review of Law and Ethics
StatePublished - 1998


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