, Volume 158, Issue 2, pp 289-311
Date: 21 Mar 2012

Saints, heroes, sages, and villains

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Abstract

This essay explores the question of how to be good. My starting point is a thesis about moral worth that I’ve defended in the past: roughly, that an action is morally worthy if and only it is performed for the reasons why it is right. While I think that account gets at one important sense of moral goodness, I argue here that it fails to capture several ways of being worthy of admiration on moral grounds. Moral goodness is more multi-faceted. My title is intended to capture that multi-facetedness: the essay examines saintliness, heroism, and sagacity. The variety of our common-sense moral ideals underscores the inadequacy of any one account of moral admirableness, and I hope to illuminate the distinct roles these ideals play in our everyday understanding of goodness. Along the way, I give an account of what makes actions heroic, of whether such actions are supererogatory, and of what, if anything, is wrong with moral deference. At the close of the essay, I begin to explore the flipside of these ideals: villainy.