An evaluation of the modest hero objection and stringency as a solution in the debate over supererogation
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Theses Ph. D.--Christian sociology and ethics.
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This dissertation identifies and evaluates a commonly-raised objection to the inclusion of supererogation as a category of moral action. The 'modest hero' objection (as it is here called) maintains that since the moral agent praised for a supererogatory act tends to respond modestly, that she was merely "doing her duty," the bar of duty is likely so high as to exclude supererogatory acts altogether. This dissertation argues that the modest hero phenomenon is not so troublesome for supererogation as has been largely assumed; that the concept of agent and community stringency proposed by Gene Outka weakens the force of the modest hero objection; and that the overall debate suffers from confusion due to an overemphasis on the views of agent and observer that ignores the objective nature of the action in itself. Chapter 1 outlines the context of the supererogation debate and introduces the phenomenon of the modest hero. The modest hero objection is identified and Outka's concept of stringency presented. Chapter 2 examines and evaluates J. O. Urmson's treatment of supererogation and the modest hero problem, particularly the examples of the soldier and St. Francis, and Urmson's notion of the limits of basic duty. Proceeding from Urmson, Chapter 3 introduces Gene Outka's interpretation of Urmson's ideas and examples, and Outka's proposal of agent stringency as an explanation of heroic modesty. The strengths and weaknesses of Outka's proposal are evaluated, and conclusions are drawn regarding the viability of stringency as a solution to the modest hero problem, and the relationship of his work to that of Urmson. Chapter 4 evaluates arguments for and against supererogation with relation to the modest hero, specifically the contributions of Christopher New, Susan Hale, David Heyd, David Gushee, Onora O'Neill, and Andrew Flescher, with particular attention to certain assumptions made by the modest hero objection. Chapter 5 presents an overall critique of key issues related to supererogation, heroic modesty, and stringency, including: the relation of supererogation to obligation, and to virtue, and the use of Holocaust rescuers as examples of modest heroes. Chapter 6 evaluates the dissertation and offers suggestions for further research and discussion.