Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 369–388

Are Moral Reasons Morally Overriding?


DOI: 10.1007/s10677-008-9110-1

Cite this article as:
Portmore, D.W. Ethic Theory Moral Prac (2008) 11: 369. doi:10.1007/s10677-008-9110-1


In this paper, I argue that those moral theorists who wish to accommodate agent-centered options and supererogatory acts must accept both that the reason an agent has to promote her own interests is a nonmoral reason and that this nonmoral reason can prevent the moral reason she has to sacrifice those interests for the sake of doing more to promote the interests of others from generating a moral requirement to do so. These theorists must, then, deny that moral reasons morally override nonmoral reasons, such that even the weakest moral reason trumps the strongest nonmoral reason in the determination of an act’s moral status (e.g., morally permissible or impermissible). If this is right, then it seems that these theorists have their work cut out for them. It will not be enough for them to provide a criterion of rightness that accommodates agent-centered options and supererogatory acts, for, in doing so, they incur a debt. As I will show, in accommodating agent-centered options, they commit themselves to the view that moral reasons are not morally overriding, and so they owe us an account of how both moral reasons and nonmoral reasons come together to determine an act’s moral status.


Agent-centered options Imperfect reasons Moral reasons Morality Nonmoral reasons Overridingness Rational options Rationality Supererogation 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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