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When Doing the Right Thing is Impossible

In: Journal of Moral Philosophy
Author:
David A. Holiday Coastal Carolina University, dholiday@coastal.edu

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Lisa Tessman’s new work is a re-purposing of her earlier academic monograph on moral failure for popular philosophy. It investigates the experiences of moral dilemma and being burdened with a strict moral duty which is impossible to meet. Tessman aims to show that these experiences are veridical, to explain how they arise in us by grounding them in important features of our nature and psychology, and to convince us that the risk of impossible moral binds is one that we should learn to live with. In all of this, she sees herself as recovering experiences of moral impossibility from modern, analytic ethical theory which operates on an over-intellectualized, rationalistic model of agency that takes such experiences to be illusory, incoherent or otherwise mistaken. I summarize the core arguments of the work, offer some friendly critical commentary, and raise some mild concerns about the project as a work in popular philosophy.

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