Vice’s Vicious Virtues: The Supererogatory as Obligatory

  • CW Mills


Samantha Vice’s essay, ‘How Do I Live in This Strange Place?’, is a sensitive and subtle exploration of the difficult moral terrain of the issues of white responsibility and white moral self-reform in a South Africa that is formally post-apartheid, but still profoundly shaped by the legacy of white domination, both in its enduring socio-economic structures and in its citizens’ typical moral psychologies. Vice’s conclusion is that shame is the moral emotion most appropriate for whites unable to free themselves from white privilege and live up to what she sees as the required standards of moral excellence. In response, I argue that she is in effect making the supererogatory obligatory, and constructing an unrealistic schedule of virtues. Drawing on various recent writings on non-ideal theory, I suggest that standard moral distinctions need to be relocated to take systemic social oppression into account, thereby yielding a more forgiving moral taxonomy than Vice’s own over-demanding mapping.

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 0258-0136