Ought Exceeds Can

Morality doesn't discriminate.

The effect in thirty seconds

Sometimes morality requires sacrificing things you want. Are there any principled limits to moral duties? One popular view is that they are limited by ability: in slogan form, “ought implies can.” On this view, if a child is drowning nearby but you are unable to save him, then you are not obligated to save him. Defenders of “ought implies can” claim that it is a core principle of commonsense morality. In the first investigation of its kind, my lab tested this hypothesis about commonsense morality. We found that people overwhelmingly attribute moral duties to people who cannot fulfill them, including mundane cases involving promises and extraordinary cases involving drowning children. In commonsense morality, “ought exceeds can.”

Relevant publications

Inability and Obligation in Moral Judgment
Compatibilism and Incompatibilism in Social Cognition
How "Ought" Exceeds but Implies "Can"
Compatibilism Can Be Natural
Intellectual Inability and Obligation

More findings

The Bi-Location Effect

The Source-Content Bias

Excuse Validation