Who Am I to Uphold Unrealizable Normative Claims?

  • Michael Kühler
Part of the Philosophical Studies Series book series (PSSP, volume 118)


The paper addresses the problem of persons’ encountering hindrances and limitations when wanting to act in accordance to their self defining commitments. Taking the seemingly rhetorical title-giving question literally, whatever else one might say about a person’s self, short answers would be that she is either an idealist or a silly person who is conceptually mistaken. Such an assessment obviously hinges on the assumption that “ought” conceptually implies “can” and, correspondingly, depends on a strong conceptual distinction between ideals and action-guiding norms. Whereas ideals would not imply “can,” action-guiding norms, on the other hand, would. Hence, one could be an idealist without being conceptually silly. However, this provokes the question of how to explain the possibility of one’s unrealizable ideals functioning as a basis for one’s action-guiding decisions. In order to explain this possibility and to make room for the idea of requiring oneself to do at least the best one can in light of one’s unrealizable ideals, it is argued that the assumption of “ought” conceptually implying “can” has to be rejected and replaced by a more complex and genuinely normative assessment of the relationship between “ought” and “can.”


Moral Dilemma Normative Claim Suitable Action Guilt Feeling Passive Voice 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Advanced Study in BioethicsWestfälische Wilhelms-Universität MünsterMünsterGermany

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