Lisa Tessman

Moral Failure

On the Impossible Demands of Morality

University Press 2014

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Moral theories are often focused almost exclusively on answering the question, “What ought I do?” Typically, theories presuppose that for any particular agent under...

Moral theories are often focused almost exclusively on answering the question, “What ought I do?” Typically, theories presuppose that for any particular agent under any given circumstance, there indeed is some one thing that she ought to do. And if she were indeed to do this thing, she would thereby morally succeed. But we know from experience that our moral lives involve moral dilemmas. These are cases in which it seems that moral success is not possible because every action available to us is morally wrong, even unacceptable. In such cases, morality requires what is impossible: no matter what one does, one acts as one ought not to act.

In Moral Failure: On the Impossible Demands of Morality (Oxford University Press, 2015), Lisa Tessman proposes an original account of impossible moral demands, and forcefully argues for an approach to moral theory that can recognize their normative authority.