Moral Failure: On the Impossible Demands of Morality

ISBN : 9780199396146

Lisa Tessman
296 Pages
162 x 243 mm
Pub date
Jan 2015
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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.


Part I: Are There Impossible Moral Requirements?
1. Moral Dilemmas and Impossible Moral Requirements
2. Moral Intuition and Moral Reasoning
3. Risking Confidence
Part II: Evasions
4. Witnessing Moral Failure
5. Idealizing Morality
Part III: Endless Demands
6. Minimizing the Demands of Morality
7. On Having an Inexhaustible Source of Moral Requirements

About the author: 

Lisa Tessman is Associate 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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