The Possibility of Permissible-Wrong Action

It was as if she had been made afresh out of new elements, and must perforce be permitted to live her own life and be a law unto herself without her eccentricities being reckoned to her for a crime.  — Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter


Orestes Pursued by the Furies — William-Adolphe Bouguereau

In this paper, I defend both the possibility of permissible-wrong actions [PWA] – actions that are morally permissible and nonetheless morally wrong – and the philosophical utility of recognizing this possibility. I anticipate many readers approaching my proposal with a healthy dose of skepticism. Plausibly, an action cannot be both wrong and permissible, since wrongness entails impermissibility, and an action cannot be both permissible and impermissible. The apparent inconsistency hangs on the assumption that all morally wrong actions are morally impermissible. I propose a pair of plausible distinctions between types of moral assessments, which together make up what I call the Simplified Moral Framework [SMF]. The SMF reveals conceptual space for a pair of distinct act-assessments distinguishing wrongness from impermissibility. With the possibility of PWA in hand, I address critical worries about the proposed distinctions and then argue for the philosophical utility of PWA. In this paper, I focus on genuine moral dilemmas and asymmetrical assessments of permissibility in Doctrine of Double Effect cases. I show how judgments about PWA provide a solution to these puzzles, revealing PWA to be an explanatorily powerful theoretical tool.

A conference length version of the paper can be accessed HERE

Please Contact Me if you are interested in viewing a full version of the paper.

I previously presented this paper at the Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress, The Conference by Women in Philosophy, and I will soon present as an Invited Talk as Cal Poly San Luis Obisbo.


The Adequacy Account of Justification


A Unified Account of Second-Order Moral Assessments

He that is proud eats up himself: pride is his own glass, his own trumpet, his own chronicle; and whatever praises itself but in the deed, devours the deed in the praise. — Agamemnon (Troilus and Cressida, 2.3.162-6)


The Realm of the Erogatory