ISP 2012 Abstract

In Supererogation David Heyd argues that the ethical theory best suited to accommodate a concept of supererogation is a liberal contract theory, utilizing Rawls’ A Theory of Justice as a the exemplar of this model. I argue that Heyd never explicitly argues that an egalitarian theory of justice, based on a contract model, cannot serve this function. If justice requires an absolutely equal distribution of benefits and burdens, then Heyd has mischaracterized the concept of the saint, and her supererogatory acts. I argue that this mischaracterization obscures the fact that saintly acts are the supererogatory response to structural injustice; if there are no poor, or needy, there is no need for individuals to take it upon themselves to rectify the effects of this distributive injustice. This argument shows that the possibilities for saintly actions are nearly proportionate to structurally created inequality. This is based on the argument that the need for extraordinary action arises through ‘natural’ bad luck, in the case of heroism, or ‘unnatural’ bad luck, in the case of saintly action.

After this, I develop brief sketches of a revised category of saintly supererogation, based on an egalitarian theory of justice. I develop a characterization of the saint for an ideal world, one in which absolutely equal distributions of benefits and burdens have been achieved. This involves what kinds of saintly supererogatory acts are still possible, when charity and beneficence are no longer candidates for this typology.  Also, I present two possibilities for understanding saintly supererogation in non-ideal circumstances. The first is an optimistic presentation of possibility, characterizing the saint as a social justice worker having the good of all as her end. The second is a pessimistic presentation of this possibility, taking seriously the possibility that one cannot do more good than is required by justice, if one cannot achieve justice first.

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