Integrity and Supererogation in Ethical Communities

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Integrity and Supererogation in Ethical Communities ABSTRACT: This paper explores the connection between supererogation and the integrity of ethical agents. It argues two theses: (1) there is a generally unrecognized but crucial social dimension to the moral integrity of individuals which challenges individual ideals and encourages supererogation; (2) the social dimension of integrity, however, must have limits that preserve the individuals's integrity. The concept of integrity is explored through recent works by Christine Korsgaard, Charles Taylor, and Susan Babbitt. A life of integrity is in part a life whereby one 'lives up to' one's own deeply held values. Yet, as one seeks to transcend the realm of the morally customary or the dutiful, one must check one's progress not only against one's own ideals but against the ideals and behavior of the ethical community. To answer affirmatively to one's own ideals is to hear the call of integrity both from within oneself and from without. However, by being free to hear, the freedom to close one's ears inevitably will arise. Only actions displaying such freedom can be actions of moral integrity. Since supererogatory actions are always left to an agent's discretion-that is, are fully optional-they show in paradigmatic fashion the integrity of moral agents. While an ethic of integrity and supererogation provides challenges to members of an ethical community by encouraging them continually to reevaluate their actions and character in reference to postulated ideals, it also leads us to be quite wary of judging individual's moral motives from the outside. A passage by Jonathan Kozol is cited that suggests our society routinely demands supererogatory action from its poorest members. This i... ... middle of paper ... ...lly published 1958. Murphy, Liam B. 1993. The Demands of Beneficence. Philosophy and Public Affairs 22 (4): 269-292. Nagel, Thomas. 1986. The View from Nowhere. New York: Oxford University Press. Putnam, Robert. 1993a. Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Putnam, Robert D. 1993b. The Prosperous Community: Social Capital and Public Life. American Prospect 13: 35-42. Putnam, Robert D. 1995. Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital. Journal of Democracy 6 (1): 65-78. Singer, Peter. 1986. Famine, Affluence, and Morality. In Introduction to Philosophy: Classical and Contemporary Readings, ed. John Perry and Michael Bratman: 573-580. New York: Oxford University Press. Originally published 1972. Taylor, Charles. 1992. The Ethics of Authenticity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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