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Book Review

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Center for Law and Philosophy


I believe that it was opposition to utilitarianism which first bred arguments claiming in one way or another that a view of morality according to which morality is very demanding is mistaken just be-cause morality cannot be so demanding. On first hearing, this type of argument is liable to seem suspect. Humans should be fit for morality, and unfortunately too often they are not – one is inclined to say. If we find morality too demanding the fault is with us and not with morality. The idea of human morality, in the sense of a morality fit for humans in not being too demanding, is surely, one is tempted to say, atypical modem perversion of the truth. If, however, my conjecture is correct and consideration of the demandingness of morality arose and gained currency in the context of discussions of the merits and demerits of utilitarianism, then this dismissive response is shortsighted. Utilitarianism, whatever its shortcomings, was the first widely accepted view of morality which gave the interests of every sentient being direct and exclusive weight in distinguishing morally right from morally wrong action. To be sure other views of morality held that all human or all rational life is as such of (equal) value. But for no previous view was the road from value to right action so direct, being neither mediated by nor mixed with other considerations. That is why utilitarianism – and any other view of morality which shares this feature of it – gave rise to concern about the demandingness of morality. If it is wrong for me to act in my own interest whenever I could instead do something that would serve the interests of others more than any act open to me could serve my own interest, then arguably I am only rarely allowed to act in my own interest. This is absurd, and a view of morality of which this is a consequence is surely wrong. Hence the eagerness of utilitarians and others with similar moral views to argue that no such conclusion follows from their way of understanding morality.


Human Morality by Samuel Scheffler, New York: Oxford University Press, 1992, pp. 150, $26.00.