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Arts & Letters Daily


2d. Desert - Semple High School


On account of what things judged morally does an agent deserve disapproval?


Duty. Mrs. Jones, who also had a daughter attending Semple High School, was pondering to herself about what to say to the school’s Principal that afternoon when she was determined to object to the use of John Steinbach’s novel, Of Mice and Men in English classes. She felt she was right to object to the use of foul language in the book in class. Adolescents hear enough bad language on the street and in public places. More than that, she felt she had a duty to raise her objections because she had a right to do so. She simply had to make her case, first to the Principal and if he fails to act on her objection, then to the Board.

Rights. On second thought, she asked herself, ‘Should I raise objections to the use of the novel or someone else who might be more qualified to discuss this issue with the Principal?’ She concluded that she probably should meet with the Principal because she had a right to do so.

Motive. Mrs. Jones really wants to do what was is right; that’s why she kept on thinking about what she should say to the Principal. At times she felt it was her duty to confront the Principal since she had a right to object to the use of the novel in English class.

Desert. In any case, Mrs. Jones has decided that she would present her concerns with respect … she is certain that the Principal did not choose to upset her daughter. This is no time to express disapproval of him … he did not do wrong for wrong’s sake.


  • Do you agree with Mrs. Jones’ reason for not disapproving of the Principal? Explain.
  • Discuss other situations where people use this kind of thinking.

You may want to discuss other dilemmas.

Consider this view of ‘deserve disapproval’

  • Crooked thinking

A person deserves disapproval for willingly doing a wrong act, that is to say, for doing wrong for wrong’s sake.

  • Straight thinking

A person deserves disapproval for willingly doing a wrong act. This should not be confused with saying that sometimes people do wrong for wrong’s sake. Second, a person deserves disapproval for doing a morally wrong act, that is, an act which is wrong and which is done in spite of its being wrong or with indifference to the possibility of its being wrong. Third, a person deserves disapproval if he is a morally bad agent, that is, a person who is indifferent to the wrongness of an act. A morally bad agent could do right acts but he is a person who avoids doing wrong acts only out of fear of being punished or who would do wrong acts if it suited him.

Moral principle value tests

An application of the moral principle value tests probably illustrates most clearly what is entailed in evaluative reasoning. They are:

It is important to emphasize that the moral-value principle tests are not designed to resolve issues (guarantee right answers!) but to assess the ‘justification’ for moral value decisions.

To view the Dilemma from the perspective of Duty, Rights, Motives, Desert and Justice, click on the following:

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