Supererogatory Duties and Caregiver Heroic Testimony

Feminist Philosophy Quarterly 9 (1) (2023)
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The sacrifices of nurses in hard-hit cities during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and of family caregivers for people with late-stage Alzheimer’s disease present two puzzles. First, traditional accounts of supererogation cannot allow for the possibility of making enormous sacrifices that make one’s actions supererogatory simply to do what morality requires. These caregivers, however, are doing their moral duty, yet their actions also seem to be paradigmatic cases of supererogation. I argue that Dale Dorsey’s new account of supererogation can solve this puzzle. Second, these caregivers often deny that they are heroic, but standard explanations of these assertions either diminish their sacrifice, say they are confused, or attribute to them a vice. If we want to understand them without diminishing them, we should instead see their denials as a response to what Beth DeVolder calls compulsory heroism. Compulsory heroism occurs when someone is foisted into the role of hero for doing their moral duty as a distraction from the social realities that make doing their duty involve inordinate sacrifice.

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Chris Weigel
Utah Valley University

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