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Is Moral Obligation Objective or Subjective?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 November 2006

MICHAEL J. ZIMMERMAN
Affiliation:
University of North Carolina at Greensboro m_zimme2@uncg.edu

Abstract

Many philosophers hold that whether an act is overall morally obligatory is an ‘objective’ matter, many that it is a ‘subjective’ matter, and some that it is both. The idea that it is or can be both may seem to promise a helpful answer to the question ‘What ought I to do when I do not know what I ought to do?’ In this article, three broad views are distinguished regarding what it is that obligation essentially concerns: the maximization of actual value, the maximization of expected value, and the perceived maximization of actual value. The first and third views are rejected; the second view is then refined and defended. The unfortunate upshot is that there may be no very helpful answer to the question just mentioned. As to the question posed in the title of the article, the answer unsurprisingly depends on what ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ are taken to mean.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Cambridge University Press 2006

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