Bekka Williams - Moral Obligations to Do Something in the Past?

Thursday, March 30, 2023
4:00 PM - 5:15 PM
Online (zoom)

Bekka Williams (Minnesota State University, Mankato) 
“Moral Obligations to Do Something in the Past?”

Bekka Williams is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her primary areas of specialization are metaethics and egalitarian theories of distributive justice.

Abstract: According to the ethical system defended by W.D. Ross in The Right and the Good, what we are ultimately morally obligated to do in any given case (our “all-things-considered” moral obligation) is the product of relevant pro tanto moral obligation(s). For simplicity, we can think of a pro tanto moral obligation as a consideration that is always morally relevant whenever it shows up, yet is not always morally decisive. (For illustration, consider the pro tanto obligation to keep one’s promises. My promises are morally relevant every time I make a promise, but it may be morally permissible in some cases for me to break a promise because something more important is at stake.)

On the standard picture of pro tanto moral obligation, a pro tanto moral obligation becomes an all-things-considered moral obligation in a particular case if and only if it is not overridden. In all of the cases of “overriding” that Ross discusses, the overridden pro tanto moral obligation is overridden specifically by a stronger competing pro tanto moral obligation. This at least implies, and the literature following Ross has assumed, that the only thing that can override a pro tanto moral obligation is another pro tanto moral obligation. I argue, however, for the following two related claims: (1) inability can override a pro tanto obligation, and (2) the fact that an agent cannot perform a particular action does not rule out the possibility that he still has a pro tanto obligation to perform that action. On the basis of this latter claim, I also argue that agents can have pro tanto obligations to “do something in the past.”

Join Zoom Meeting: 
Meeting ID: 962 6177 2805
Passcode: 319090


Joshua Preiss