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April 10, 2015


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Argh. Sorry about the typos.

Thanks for the post, Adrienne. I was not aware of your book and now feel compelled to read it. It sounds wonderful! I have so many questions but I will refrain myself to only asking two (sets).

Re: trust, why not include it in the deontic (C) category as well? If one fulfills their demands/obligations it seems I could and often do trust that they will fulfill similar demands in the future. It seems as though I could say the same about gratitude and admiration as well. Consider cases where fulfilling an obligation is very difficult and requires much sacrifice. It seems that gratitude or admiration is appropriate, depending on the details of course. Also, why not include trusting in the deontic D category as well?

Re: disappointment, why did you not include it in the deontic (C) category. Seems fitting to be disappointed if someone you cared about failed to fulfill an obligation to you, right? Or, maybe I'm not understanding the categories that well. In any event, thanks for posting and thanks for the references.

Thanks, Justin! My answer to all is essentially the same: Yes, we sometimes feel gratitude for obligations fulfilled, trust in people to fulfill their obligations, and also feel disappointment for the failure to fulfill an obligation. However, my view is that these feelings/practices--gratitude, trust, disappointment--are not *conceptually* about holding people to their obligations in the sense of *demanding* it, or treating it as a duty. Consider trust: the truster has no standing to *demand* that the trustee act as she is trusted to act. Or gratitude: we often feel gratitude for sacrifices that are neither dutiful nor supererogatory (in the sense of exceeded some definable duty). And we can feel disappointed in someone who lets us down, without thereby thinking they failed to act in a dutiful way.

I like that you mention sacrifice in connection with gratitude. I'm now thinking that the way to relate gratitude and love to the instantive may be through sacrifice. Gratitude is usually for some sort of sacrifice, and it's plausible that we walk around with a general normative hope that people are willing to make some degree of sacrifice on our behalves (specific by the nature of the relationship); and love seems to involve a willingness to sacrifice on behalf to the beloved, so perhaps it is in part a response to an instantive call.

Dear Professor Martin,
I'm not a professional philosopher, but I would like to express my disagreement with a few of the statements you made in the first few paragraphs of your essay.
You said in the first paragraph, “Morality is not exclusively deontic. There are, after all, many things that are morally good to do though not required, or morally bad though not forbidden.”
The second statement does not follow from the first. The deontic aspect of morality does not involve merely things that are required or obligatory, and things that are forbidden or prohibited. It also involves things that are advisable (or recommended), and inadvisable (or not recommended), as well as things that are permitted (or allowed), and not permitted (or not allowed, i.e. forbidden or prohibited). We may, for example, feel a duty to do not only things we are required to do, but also things that we should do. There are varying levels of stringency with regard to duty, obligation, “oughtness,” permission, and so on, but they may all have something to do with the deontic nature of morality.
You also said, “Interpersonal morality consists in obligations or duties that are incumbent on all persons; to have a duty is to be accountable to somebody.” As above, I would say rather that morality includes not only obligations, but also recommendations (things we should do but are not necessarily obligated to do), and permissions (and the corresponding negations, non-obligations, non-recommendations, and non-permissions or prohibitions).
I would make the same comment about the division of morality into deontic and instantive types in your table of interpersonal morality. The fact that an action is demanded (“deontic” in your table) or hoped for (“instantive” in your table) may both be aspects of that action’s deontic modality.
I have two posts about this subject on my blog that I hope you’ll take a look at. “The Prioritization of Moral Duties,” is at, and “Deontic modality schematized according to the semiotic square” is at
I’m very much interested in reading more about your investigation of this subject. I’ll read the rest of your essay more closely to see if you clarify some of the above problems for me.
Alex Scott

Apologies, the links are, and

Dear Alex,

Thanks for your comments. I think we may agree in part, disagree in part. First, we agree that "We may, ..., feel a duty to do not only things we are required to do, but also things that we should do." Although I think there are many things that are good to do (things we "should do") that are not we required, and also that said description means that we are not, in fact, obligated to do those things, there is nothing stopping us, psychologically, from treating those things as obligations. I also suppose one could develop a substantive moral theory according which there is a duty to do anything that is good to do (perhaps utilitarianism is such a view!)--I would find such a view very troubling, though, because it collapses all moral value into obligation.

I also agree with you that, "morality includes not only obligations, but also recommendations (things we should do but are not necessarily obligated to do), and permissions (and the corresponding negations, non-obligations, non-recommendations, and non-permissions or prohibitions)." But I think it is theoretically and practically useful to distinguish moral relations of duty or obligation from "non-deontic ones"--I think it doesn't do justice to the range of (interpersonal) moral relations to think all it can be characterized as a matter of duty.

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