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Problems Arising From Erroneous Moral Judgments

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 February 2009

H. J. McCloskey
Affiliation:
University of Melbourne.

Extract

Has a moral agent really done his duty when he has done what he wronglybelieves to be his duty? Is it right to act in accord with one's beliefs, even when they are mistaken? Or are we always obliged to perform that act which is objectively obligatory? In some such ways as these the problem as to whether one's ‘objective duty’ or one's ‘subjective duty’ is one's real duty has been posed. It might be argued that the objective view is plainly right and that there appears to be a problem only because moral language is here being misused; that the problem is seen to be no problem once we accurately and fully describe acts based on erroneous beliefs. But this is like arguing that there is no problem as to whether the killing of innocent persons is intrinsically wrong, since we can describe each act involving killing in a long-hand way which circumvents the problem concerning the principle.

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Copyright
Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy 1964

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References

page 283 note 1 e.g. By Richard, Price in A Review of the Principal Questions in Morals (Oxford, Clarendon, 1948: ed. Raphael, D. D.), pp. 177180.Google Scholar See also Ross, W. D.The Right and the Good (Oxford, Clarendon, 1930), pp. 4347,Google Scholar and Foundations of Ethics (Oxford, Clarendon, 1939), ch. 7.Google ScholarIn the former work Ross argues that it is our real duty to do what is ‘objectively’ our duty, but in the latter book he revised his view and argued instead that it is our real duty to do what is our ‘subjective’ duty, i.e. to do that which we rightly or wrongly believe to be our duty.Google Scholar

page 283 note 2 See Baier, K., ‘Doing My Duty’, Philosophy 26, 98 (07 1951), pp. 253260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

page 285 note 1 p. 45.

page 285 note 2 See p. 286

page 286 note 1 pp. 162-3. Ross's treatment of ’right’ and ‘ought’ is difficult to follow. He says very little concerning whether they are names of properties in The Right and the Good except that, on p. 132, he asserts that Tightness is intrinsic to the act, thereby suggesting a property and not a relational theory. This is what one would expect in the light of his stress on intuiting general principles of prima facie rightness. In Foundations of Ethics he speaks of rightness as a kind of suitability, but in the same contexts, goes on to speak of it as an attribute and as a characteristic which he likens with redness (pp. 54-55).Google Scholar

page 287 note 1 Summa Theologica, I, II, 94, 6.Google Scholar

page 287 note 2 Op. cit. pp. 170-1.

page 291 note 1 p. 152.

page 296 note 1 Summa Theologica, I, II, 100, 9.Google Scholar

page 299 note 1 The other general difficulties of an objectivist ethic in terms of moral properties are not relevant to this discussion. However I have attempted to deal with them in a recent article, ‘Towards an Objectivist Ethic’, Ethics, 73, 1 (10 1962), pp. 10-27.

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