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Southwest Philosophy Review

Volume 36, Issue 1, January 2020

Bryan Smyth
Pages 65-74

De-Moralizing Heroism
Ethical Expertise and the Object of Heroic Approbation

Agents’ self-reports in cases of reactive heroism often deny the optionality, and hence the supererogatory status, of their actions, while conversely supporting a view of these actions in terms of nonselfsacrificial existential necessity. Taking such claims seriously thus makes it puzzling as to why such cases elicit strong approbation. To resolve this puzzle, I show how this necessity can be understood in the predispositional embodied terms of unreflective ethical expertise, such that the agent may be said literally to incarnate generally accepted norms of a shared ethical environment. On this basis I argue that the object of the relevant approbation is the agent’s embodied predispositionality itself—expressing a deep continuity with her social context, it is in virtue of this alone that her action can be both spontaneous and ethically outstanding. By way of conclusion I briefly discuss how this suggests an important categorial distinction between heroism and saintism.

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