Moral Failure: On the Impossible Demands of Morality

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Oxford University Press, Nov 3, 2014 - Philosophy - 336 pages
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Moral Failure: On the Impossible Demands of Morality asks what happens when the sense that "I must" collides with the realization that "I can't." Bringing together philosophical and empirical work in moral psychology, Lisa Tessman here examines moral requirements that are non-negotiable and that contravene the principle that "ought implies can." In some cases, it is because two non-negotiable requirements conflict that one of them becomes impossible to satisfy, and yet remains binding. In other cases, performing a particular action may be non-negotiably required -- even if it is impossible -- because not performing the action is unthinkable. After offering both conceptual and empirical explanations of the experience of impossible moral requirements and the ensuing failures to fulfill them, Tessman considers what to make of such experience, and in particular, what role such experience has in the construction of value and of moral authority. According to the constructivist account that the book proposes, some moral requirements can be authoritative even when they are impossible to fulfill. Tessman points out a tendency to not acknowledge the difficulties that impossible moral requirements and unavoidable moral failures create in moral life, and traces this tendency through several different literatures, from scholarship on Holocaust testimony to discussions of ideal and nonideal theory, from theories of supererogation to debates about moral demandingness and to feminist care ethics.
 

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Believe it or not, I received a request to live-tweet this book. Here’s the result, less the “live” part, and frequently in violation of Twitter character limitations. Perhaps I should call my ... Read full review

Contents

Introduction
1
I Are There Impossible Moral Requirements?
9
II Evasions
151
III Endless Demands
205
Conclusion
253
References
257
Index
273
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About the author (2014)

Lisa Tessman is Professor of Philosophy at Binghamton University. Her previous publications have been in ethics, feminist philosophy, and related areas. Her more recent work integrates philosophical ethics with empirical moral psychology. She is the author of Burdened Virtues: Virtue Ethics for Liberatory Struggles.

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