Ought but Cannot
Martin (Wayne)
Source: Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Monday 8 December 2008
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. In what follows I report on some work I have been doing in connection with what I am going to call infinite moral consciousness.
  2. I use this term to refer to configurations of moral consciousness that are organized around infinite ideals. An infinite ideal is a norm or demand that retains its authority over us even in the face of our conviction that the norm itself is impossible for us to fulfill.
  3. I am particularly interested in the case where these infinite norms take the form of obligations or duties. In that case one would find oneself in the paradoxical circumstance of having an obligation to do something that is impossible to do.
  4. This itself may well sound absurd, and indeed one of my aims here will be to plumb that sense of absurdity. But I also suspect that – whether absurd or not – infinite moral consciousness has been an influential configuration of moral experience for several millennia. If only for that reason, I think it merits scrutiny.


Draft non-citable version of a paper to be given to the Aristotelian Society on Monday 12 January 2009

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