Moral Demands in Nonideal Theory

Moral Demands in Nonideal Theory

Moral Demands in Nonideal Theory

Moral Demands in Nonideal Theory

Synopsis

Is there a limit to the legitimate demands of morality? In particular, is there a limit to people's responsibility to promote the well-being of others, either directly or via social institutions? Utilitarianism admits no such limit, and is for that reason often said to be an unacceptably demanding moral and political view. In this original new study, Murphy argues that the charge of excessive demands amounts to little more than an affirmation of the status quo. The real problem with utilitarianism is that it makes unfair demands on people who comply with it in our world of nonideal compliance. Murphy shows that this unfairness does not arise on a collective understanding of our responsibility for others' well being. Thus, according to Murphy, while there is no general problem to be raised about the extent of moral demands, there is a pressing need to acknowledge the collective nature of the demands of beneficence.

Excerpt

If the problem of over-demandingness is to retain its force, we will need arguments that explain why extreme active demands are objectionable while what appear to be extreme passive demands are not, and why extreme active demands are objectionable only when they come from a principle of beneficence. I do not know what plausible arguments of either kind might look like, but neither do I think it obvious that such arguments are impossible. So it is appropriate to discuss further difficulties that emerge even for a version of the problem of over-demandingness that concerns just the active demands of beneficence.

But my aim in this chapter is not just to continue to chase difficulties for the problem of over-demandingness. Philosophers who have concluded that the optimizing principle of beneficence is unacceptably demanding have, naturally, defended principles of beneficence with moderate demands. Given our interest in the possibilities for a plausible principle of beneficence, these are clearly suggestions we need to examine. I will do that in this chapter, and further reasons for skepticism about the problem of over-demandingness will emerge along the way.

Before I begin, it should be recalled from chapter 1 that I understand a principle of beneficence to be one that at least sometimes makes requirements of us, in the sense that if we are required to do something, it is wrong not to do it. Charity, as traditionally understood, can never impose extreme demands just because it never requires us to do anything; charity is always supererogatory. So charity cannot give us our moderate principle of beneficence because it is no principle of beneficence at all.

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