Moral Philosophy Seminar (Monday - Week 3, HT19)

Moral Philosophy Seminar

Moral Philosophy Seminar

A Kantian Take on How Much We Must Do to Help

I argue for a novel understanding of the latitude that, according to Kantian ethical theories, pertain to so-called imperfect duties (duties that cover beneficence in the ordinary sense as well as certain emergency cases). I argue that we should understand the application of imperfect duties to specific cases not as determined by the authority that duty supposedly enjoys over our personal projects, but rather on the framework set by the adoption of (moral and non-moral) ends. Agents have other ends than obligatory ones and they must weigh obligatory ends against other ends. Obligatory ends are special among ends only insofar as they are not optional to adopt. My reading of the normative status of imperfect duties affords a way of thinking about imperfect duties modelled on the everyday ways in which agents pursue their personal projects and balance and weigh different ends against each other. This shows why both a very demanding conception of beneficence (and duties of rescue) as well as an overly latitudinarian one are incorrect. Furthermore, it helps us understand why there is a bias towards the near in our thinking about rescue cases and how this bias is in line with how we pursue all of our ends (moral and non-moral ones). Ultimately, I am hoping to shed light on some of the central issues surrounding the moral ovedemandingness debate, namely the status of distance, as well as whether we have to be as moral as we possibly can be.


Members of the audience are invited to join the speaker and the convenor for drinks and dinner at a local restaurant following the talk (at their own expense). There will obviously be some limit on the number of people who can attend. Those who wish to attend a particular dinner should write to Ed Lamb in advance to reserve a place. Please note that we will no longer be going to dinner afterwards at Somerville College to continue questioning the speaker.  In future terms I may bring the time of the seminar forward to 3 – 5pm which would make it possible for all to go to pre-dinner drinks. Please let me know if this change of time would make you more or less likely to attend.

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