A Theory of Moral Obligation

  • Fred Feldman
Part of the Philosophical Studies Series in Philosophy book series (PSSP, volume 35)


The fundamental insight behind utilitarianism is that we ought to do the best we can. I think the intuition is worthy of serious attention, but its traditional formulations are unacceptable. In order to formulate this insight adequately, we must have a suitable concept of possibility to account for the meaning of ‘can’ and a suitable concept of value to account for the meaning of ‘best’. In Section 1 of this chapter, I explain my concept of possibility, which I call ‘accessibility’. Then, in Section 2, I try to give an account of some of the main features of the concept of intrinsic value, which is the concept of value that is used in the formulation of the theory of moral obligation proposed here. Finally, in Section 3, I state the theory itself, and point out a few of its most fundamental logical features.


Moral Obligation Deontic Logic Subjunctive Conditional Intrinsic Goodness Accessible World 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes to Chapter 2

  1. 1.
    See my ‘World Utilitarianism,’ in Analysis and Metaphysics, ed. by Keith Lehrer (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1975), pp. 255–271. See especially the discussion of “life history worlds” on p. 265.Google Scholar
  2. 2a.
    This issue is discussed in David Lewis, ‘Counterfactual Dependence and Time’s Arrow,’ Noûs XIII (1979), 455–476.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 2b.
    Lewis there cites four philosophers who apparently have endorsed something like the “past-wise indiscernibility thesis”. Lewis rejects it. See also Terence Horgan, ‘“Could”, Possible Worlds, and Moral Responsibility,’ The Southern Journal of Philosophy XVII (1979), 345–358; and ‘Counterfactuals and Newcomb’s Problem,’ The Journal of Philosophy LXXVIII (1981), 331–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 3a.
    Moore defends this view in Principia Ethica and in Ethics. See esp. Ethics, pp. 42–49. More recently, a version of it has been defended by Roderick Chisholm in ‘Intrinsic Value,’ in Values and Morals, ed. by A. Goldman and J. Kim (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1978), pp. 121–130.Google Scholar
  5. 3b.
    Chisholm’s proposal is criticized in E. Bodanszky and E. Conee, ‘Isolating Intrinsic Value,’ Analysis 41 (1981), 51–53; and defended in Chisholm’s ‘Defining Intrinsic Value,’ Analysis 41 (1981), 99–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 4.
    Roderick M. Chisholm, ‘Objectives and Intrinsic Value,’ in Jenseits von Sein und Nichtsein, ed. by Rudolf Haller (Graz: Akademisches Druck; und Verlagsanstalt, 1972), p. 262.Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association XLII (1968–1969), p. 34. Moore seems to have held a similar view. See his ‘The Conception of Intrinsic Value,’ Philosophical Studies (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1922), pp. 260–261.Google Scholar
  8. 6a.
    For an interesting proposal concerning this further problem, see Warren Quinn, ‘Theories of Intrinsic Value,’ American Philosophical Quarterly 11 (1974), 123–132Google Scholar
  9. 6b.
    and Edward Oldfield, ‘An Approach to a Theory of Intrinsic Value,’ Philosophical Studies 3 (1977), 233–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 6b.
    Quinn’s proposal is criticized in Peter Markie, ‘Quinn, the Logic of Intrinsic Value, and Defeat,’ International Logic Review 19–20 (1979).Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    “It is always in everyone’s power to satisfy the commands of the categorical command of morality;…” Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, transl. by Lewis White Beck (New York: The Liberal Arts Press, 1956), p. 38.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, Holland 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Fred Feldman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Massachusetts at AmherstUSA

Personalised recommendations