On Moral Obligations and Our Chances of Fulfilling Them

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 23 (3-4):625-638 (2020)
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Abstract

Many actions we perform affect the chances of fulfilling our moral obligations. The moral status of such actions is important and deeply neglected. In this paper, I begin rectifying this neglect by asking: under what conditions, if any, is it morally wrong to perform an action that will lower the chance of one fulfilling a moral obligation? In §1, I introduce this question and motivate concern with its answer. I argue, in §2, that certain actions an agent has good reason to believe will drastically lower their chances of fulfilling a moral obligation in the future, relative to at least one alternative action available, are pro tanto morally wrong. This answer, I argue, captures our intuitions in a range of cases, avoids the problems that other views considered here face, and can be plausibly defended against some independent objections. I conclude in §3 by noting some consequences for normative and practical ethics of the moral wrongness of at least some actions that lower the chances of fulfilling our moral obligations, and by raising a series of important questions regarding these actions for future consideration.

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