Everywhere Chimerical



I advance an approach to thinking about moral obligation and how it moves us that runs counter to mainstream thought in ethics. Many assume, with Kant, that bona fide moral obligation must involve some truly unconditional, categorical, or inescapable constraint. Following in Hume’s footsteps, I advocate for viewing our paradigmatic obligations as instead deriving from rules of important social practices, followed out of a felt sense of reverence or regard. I do not offer a complete defense of this more Humean approach here; instead, I respond to a familiar kind of objection. Some allege that seeing our obligations this way can lead to a troubling kind of conflict between an agent’s motive to fulfill her obligations and the very values that, for her, make a given practice and its rules worthy of her devotion. In such circumstances, the objector alleges, any motive to fulfill her obligations will amount to little more than an agent’s “worshiping” of the rules. I disarm this charge of “rule-worship” as it has been levied against the Humean approach, though not by denying that this sort of motivational conflict can arise. Instead, I argue that once the source and nature of conflict are better understood, its possibility is no threat. Indeed, far from a strike against it, the way that the Humean approach to obligation helps us to make good sense of this kind of conflict is ethically attractive, and thus a selling point.


How to Cite: Dannenberg, J. (2021) “Everywhere Chimerical”, Ergo. 7(0). doi: