Research Article

Moral Aspirations and Ideals


a1 University of Manchester


My aim is to vindicate two distinct and important moral categories – ideals and aspirations – which have received modest, and sometimes negative, attention in recent normative debates. An ideal is a conception of perfection or model of excellence around which we can shape our thoughts and actions. An aspiration, by contrast, is an attitudinal position of steadfast commitment to, striving for, or deep desire or longing for, an ideal. I locate these two concepts in relation to more familiar moral concepts such as duty, virtue, and the good to demonstrate, amongst other things, first, that what is morally significant about ideals and aspirations cannot be fully accommodated within a virtue ethical framework that gives a central role to the Virtuous Person as a purported model of excellence. On a certain interpretation, the Virtuous Person is not a meaningful ideal for moral agents. Second, I articulate one sense in which aspirations are morally required imaginative acts given their potential to expand the realm of practical moral possibility.


For very helpful feedback and discussion, I thank Adam Cureton, Michael Harbour, Margaret Little, James Morauta, Jonathan Neufeld, Jonathan Quong, Robert Talisse, and the participants at Philosophy seminars at the Universities of North Carolina (Greensboro), Roehampton, St Andrews, Bristol, Manchester, Minnesota, and Stirling.