Philosophical Studies

, Volume 174, Issue 7, pp 1857–1869 | Cite as

Praise, blame, and demandingness

  • Rick MorrisEmail author


Consequentialism has been challenged on the grounds that it is too demanding. I will respond to the problem of demandingness differently from previous accounts. In the first part of the paper, I argue that consequentialism requires us to distinguish the justification of an act \(\varphi\) from the justification of an act \(\psi\), where \(\psi\) is an act of praise or blame. In the second part of the paper, I confront the problem of demandingness. I do not attempt to rule out the objection; instead, I argue that if certain plausible empirical claims about moral motivation are true, we morally ought not to blame people for failing to meet certain very demanding obligations. With this theory, we create a space in consequentialism for intuitions questioning the plausibility of demanding obligations. I conclude the paper by showing that separate justifications for \(\varphi\) and \(\psi\) may also give us a theoretical niche for intuitions about supererogation.


Consequentialism Utilitarianism Praise Blame Demandingness 



Special thanks to Tina Rulli (University of California, Davis) for extensive feedback on multiple drafts of this paper, as well as to Brian J. Collins (California Lutheran University) and David Cummiskey (Bates College) for their helpful comments. Thanks to the Davis Group in Ethics and Related Subjects (DaGERS), including David Copp, Kyle Adams, Noel Joshi-Richard, Paul Gomberg, Timothy Houk, and Stephen DiLorenzo. Thanks also to Neil Sinhababu, Michael W. Pelczar, Loy Hui Chieh, and several graduate students at the National University of Singapore. Everyone mentioned here has been generous with their time in helping to strengthen this paper through thoughtful criticism.


  1. Brink, D. O. (2013). Mill’s progressive principles. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Chappell, T. (Ed.). (2009). The problem of moral demandingness. London: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  3. Cullity, G. (2004). The moral demands of affluence. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Goodin, R. E. (2009). Demandingness as a virtue. Journal of Ethics, 13(1), 1–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Hurley, P. (1995). Getting our options clear: A closer look at agent-centered options. Philosophical Studies, 78(2), 163–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Kagan, S. (1984). Does consequentialism demand too much? Recent work on the limits of obligation. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 13(3), 239–254.Google Scholar
  7. Kagan, S. (1989). The limits of morality. New York: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  8. Kagan, S. (1994). Defending options. Ethics, 104(2), 333–351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Lichtenberg, J. (2010). Negative duties, positive duties, and the “new harms”. Ethics, 120(3), 557–578.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Lichtenberg, J. (2013). Distant strangers: Ethics, psychology, and global poverty. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Murphy, L. B. (1993). The demands of beneficence. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 22(4), 267–292.Google Scholar
  12. Scheffler, S. (1982). The rejection of consequentialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Smart, J. J. C. (1973). An outline of a system of utilitarian ethics. In Utilitarianism: For and against. Cambridge University Press.
  14. Strassler, R. B. (Ed.). (2007). The landmark Herodotus: The histories. New York: Anchor Books.Google Scholar
  15. Stroud, S. (2014). They can’t take that away from me: Restricting the reach of moral demands. In M. Timmons (Ed.), Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics (Vol. 3). Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Williams, B. (1973). A critique of utilitarianism. In Utilitarianism: For and against. Cambridge University Press.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA

Personalised recommendations