As a Humanities Council Old Dominion Research Professor in 2020-21, Elizabeth Harman will work on a research project entitled “Morality Within the Realm of the Morally Permissible.” She will explore questions of how much we owe to others, including to strangers, and of how much we should sacrifice to help others, are central to the human condition.
The proposed book project will argue that these questions are often misunderstood. We may focus on the question of what morality ‘requires’ of us–what would it be morally wrong to fail to do? In focusing in this way, we neglect an important possibility: that in many cases, while morality does not require sacrificing and aiding others, nevertheless, all things considered, we *should* aid others. Morality is not silent within the realm of the morally permissible; rather, it can win out to settle that we should aid. In such cases, in failing to aid others, we make a *moral mistake* without doing anything *morally wrong.* She will argue that some of these failures are blameworthy, while others are merely failures to do something good, and are blameless. Her views allows us to explore and articulate new moral views, and to understand behavior that might otherwise be puzzling—for example, the fact that people who are vegetarians for moral reasons nevertheless accommodate others’ meat-eating in a variety of ways.
During the year, Harman will contribute to the Council’s interdisciplinary programs and events and engage colleagues and students from across the University in sustained discussions about her work.
Harman is Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Philosophy and Human Values at Princeton University; she is also Director of Early-Career Research at the University Center for Human Values. Her publications include Creation Ethics (Philosophy and Public Affairs), ‘I’ll Be Glad I Did It’ Reasoning and the Significance of Future Desires (Philosophical Perspectives), The Irrelevance of Moral Uncertainty (Oxford Studies in Metaethics), Morally Permissible Moral Mistakes (Ethics), and Ethics is Hard! What Follows? (forthcoming). She is co-editor of Norton Introduction to Philosophy, Second Edition (2018), and Norton Introduction to Ethics (forthcoming in 2021).