Acts over and Above the Call of Duty

Duty means doing good that you are bound to do. For example, you are required and obligated to pay your bills. You owe your father care in his old age because he once looked after you. You are bad and to be condemned and hopefully punished if you neglect a duty. A duty is like a law. A law that you can break with impunity is not a law at all.

Superogation is doing good that isn’t your duty.
Duty would appear to be based on the notion that you must do the least possible evil and the best possible good. If you try and get it wrong at least you have tried to do your duty and so are not to be afforded blame.
Suppose you see a man and his child walking on a dangerous road in the dark. Do you tell him it is his duty to look after his child and go home? Most people say you have no right to do that. They say it is not your responsibility but his. But if you said something and he listened you would possibly have saved the life of his child. If the child is killed on the road, your silence - and it was your "choice" to be silent that contributed to the death or at least might have contributed.
Moral absolutists simply hold there are things you must never do when you have a choice.  While it is not a sin to sleep with somebody against your will if you are married, it is a sin to do it freely.


Some absolutists believe in superogation. Acts of superogation are good actions that you don’t have to do and which are not sinful if you refrain from them. An example would be giving alms to the poor or going to the hospital to give flowers to a stranger who is a patient there. We would call superogation generosity – good deeds which are not your duty. If you see morality in terms of doing what is or will be for the best then it follows that what is called generosity is an obligation and there is no generosity except in the will.

Doing good means the lesser evil. Anybody who says that it is okay to buy a car even if it means that the starving will die because they never got the money is being hypocritical and yet helping the starving with the money is put down as a work of superogation. The doctrine denies that there is such a thing as being righteous at all.

Once you teach the doctrine you can invent your rules to your heart’s content regardless of rhyme or reason. You can say it is better for a person to commit suicide than to tell a lie. The doctrine of actions over and above the call of duty is evil.
Rome says that some good acts are your duty and others are not and the latter are called acts of superogation. Acts of superogation are acts above and beyond the call of duty. If the concept of acts of superogation makes sense (it doesn’t) then it means that for Catholics morality is not about doing what is best. Yet they say that it is best to believe in duties. If it is best to believe in duties then it is a duty to do what is best. If duties are not for the best then they are the useless inventions of control freaks. Typical of a lying religion, it cannot get its ethics straight. So God according to Catholicism, says works of superogation are works that you don’t have to do though they are for the best. Then God is saying that morality is not for the best which is really an affirmation that morality is anything more than an illusion. The damned are hated and sent to Hell over a lie made up by God.
Utilitarianism opposes the doctrine of superogation because Utilitarianism commands the best and says that doing the best is a duty. It is correct in this.  Many ask if Utilitarianism is a moral doctrine at all.  If it is right to reject superogation then that may be the proof you are looking for that it is.


In today's liberal world, bringing a baby to full term when it is sick or when you don't want it is seen as above and beyond the call of duty.  That is inferring that abortion must be a duty!  What about euthanasia?  Is it a duty or an extra?  These questions show that in very serious matters the ideas of duties and superogation run into huge trouble.

Some will say that it is terrible to make a duty out of something generous. Here is an answer. If all good acts are duties you can still wish they could be superogation if superogation were right and praiseworthy. Intent is what counts in these things. You can be generous in your heart, “I wish this wasn’t my duty because I want to do it freely and out of generosity”. Another answer is that we might have no choice.
Even if there is no such thing as superogation and alleged acts above your duty are actually your duty, generosity is still possible in the sense that there is a way that you still don’t have to do them. It might be your duty to pay your debts but you may refuse to do it and go to jail.

If you do not intend it you are neglecting to turn a good motive into a better one though it costs you nothing. That defiles what you do for that is not a rational or sensible attitude. It is holding back on kindness that costs you nothing so the result is an evil act that is disguised as a good one. Anything done with a bad or defective motive is bad and unloving.

The reason for the dogma of superogation is that people want to be called moral despite their refusing to do all they can for others. It is nothing to do with logic and everything to do with laziness and self-righteous hypocrisy.

They arbitrarily make rules about when it is our duty to help those to whom we owe nothing and when it is not. Proof of this is in how they would say giving your mother a birthday present is generous though you owe it to her! They also say it is not your duty to contribute a kidney to save your baby’s life when you could get by perfectly on one kidney. Bizarrely, it is not a duty to save your child in this way and if you hit the child it is against your duty. Damage and caring seem to have little say in determining what duties are.
Duty is an assumption. If I only imagine I have free will and I am programmed to feel free though I am not then it follows I have no duties. Duties imply you are a free being that deserves to get good things back for the good you did and bad things back for the bad you did. People assume we have free will so duty is an assumption not a matter of reasoning or evidence. A drunk person isn’t free but feels free. Animals are said to have no free will but they look as if they exercise free will too. Feeling free or seeming to be free means nothing.

Anybody that does wrong does not deserve to be forgiven. Forgiving them is giving them something they don’t deserve. To forgive a person who has earned it is not forgiveness. Forgiveness is a free gift. But religion and absolutism say that it is a duty to forgive. This is incoherent.
Forgiveness is a gift not a duty and so it implies that the harmful doctrine of superogation is true. Perhaps it is a duty to yourself to forgive for you have faults and are better off forgiving? Resentment causes a lot of pain to the one who resents. But that would not be real forgiveness for you have to forgive for the other person’s sake not just your own. Forgiveness means wishing well to the other person because you value them as a person despite their evil. It’s for them. In so far as you forgive for your own sake you are not forgiving them at all but just practicing a near cousin of forgiveness. It is refusing to love that person.
Forgiveness says then that it is a sin to pay any attention to justice, letting the person get what they have asked for by their evil actions. Why? Because you are to value all people for themselves and you can’t do that without forgiveness.
This shows the incoherence of the doctrine of superogation. Forgiveness and kindness are based on justice, giving a person the value they are entitled to as persons. And superogation denies justice!




Superogation makes a laughing stock of morality for nobody agrees on what is a duty and what is an extra.  And many take advantage of the concept for their own ends.  The concept is about taking advantage!  Duty is a thankless drag and superogation is supposed to be better and more spontaneous.  Duty then in that light is just about rules while superogation is superior for it is generous and about goodness.  Why there is no duty to value good over rules makes no sense.  It is irrational to call a person good who only does their duty and nothing else.  A person paying their taxes but sitting on the couch all day at television is not much of a good person and is no advert for goodness. Some even think that because superogation is an extra and not a duty it should not be praised or rewarded.  What bundles of joy they are!

A HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY, VOL 6, PART II, KANT, Frederick Copleston SJ, Doubleday/Image, New York, 1964
CHRISTIANITY FOR THE TOUGH-MINDED, Ed John Warwick Montgomery, Bethany Fellowship Inc, Minneapolis, 1973
ETHICS, A C Ewing, Teach Yourself Books, English Universities Press Ltd, London, 1964
ETHICS IN A PERMISSIVE SOCIETY, William Barclay, Collins and Fontana, Glasgow, 1971
FREE TO DO RIGHT, David Field, IVP, London, 1973
MORAL PHILOSOPHY, Joseph Rickaby SJ, Stonyhurst Philosophy Series, Longmans, Green and Co, London, 1912
MORALITY, Bernard Williams, Pelican/Penguin, Middlesex, 1972
MORTAL QUESTIONS Thomas Nagel, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, London, 1979
NEW CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA, The Catholic University of America and the McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., Washington, District of Columbia, 1967
PRACTICAL ETHICS, Peter Singer, Cambridge University Press, England, 1994
RUNAWAY WORLD, Michael Green, IVP, London, 1974
SITUATION ETHICS, Joseph Fletcher, SCM Press, London, 1966
SUMMA THEOLOGICA OF ST THOMAS AQUINAS, Part II, Second Number, Thomas Baker, London, 1918
THE PROBLEM OF RIGHT CONDUCT, Peter Green MA, Longmans Green and Co, London, 1957


Roman Catholic Ethics: Three Approaches by Brian Berry


No Copyright