On the value of moral failure

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Moral success is sometimes born out of moral failure; and it is possible that a moral success arising in this way is of such great significance that it exceeds moral successes available to the agent without the failure. If Oskar Schindler had not joined the National Socialists and had not made valuable contacts within it, it is unlikely-we could imagine, impossible-that he would have been able to save so many lives. In retrospective judgement, one should be thankful for failures of this kind as well as recognising them as failures worthy of remorse. In this chapter, Damian Cox explores this phenomenon, bringing to light various ways in which moral failure is especially valuable. He employs his own account of valuable moral failure to examine two contrasting forms that the moral assessment of a life may take. Cox calls one the forensic model and the other the narrative model. The forensic model bases moral assessment in a summative judgement of a person’s moral credits and debits. The narrative model bases assessment on the merit, success, and virtuous pursuit of significant moral projects. He argues that certain important kinds of valuable moral failure are best understood through a narrative model. This adds to the case for preferring the narrative model over forensic approaches to moral assessment.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationVirtue, Narrative, and the Self: Explorations of Character in the Philosophy of Mind and Action
EditorsJoseph Ulatowski, Liezl van Zyl
PublisherTaylor and Francis Inc.
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781000222562
ISBN (Print)9780367418205
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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