When Doing the Right Thing Is Impossible

Oxford Univ. (Philosophy in Action). Jul. 2017. 184p. notes. index. ISBN 9780190657581. $21.95. PHIL
According to Tessman (philosophy, Binghamton Univ., State Univ. of New York; Burdened Virtues), a "morally blind alley" is a situation in which all options available are immoral. Arguing that moral failure is inevitable, her book opens with cases in which she believes morality is impossible, beginning with the fallout of Hurricane Katrina, which resulted in widespread suffering and preventable deaths largely as a result of negligence. In such cases, Tessman contends that people feel guilty—they believe they have a moral obligation that turned out to be impossible to fulfill. Morally blind alleys are inevitable when one faces mutually exclusive moral obligations—what Tessman (oddly) calls "moral dilemmas"—situations in which one has an obligation to do both A and B but cannot. Tessman offers psychological and evolutionary theories in support of the belief that morality requires the impossible. However, her analysis is inconsistent with the conception of morality shared by many philosophers and laymen alike—that morality is a practical discipline concerned with how to live and why. "Ought" implies "can," but it doesn't guarantee a happy outcome—unhappy endings may be unavoidable…especially when others have already failed morally.
VERDICT Well written and accessible to all audiences, this book is recommended for academic libraries.
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