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Why driving an electric vehicle doesn’t make you a good person

todayAugust 15, 2021 1

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One of my family members has a vanity license plate that reads “4THEFUTR.” It adorns their electric vehicle —and might strike some as excessively boastful.

Applauding our own actions can be perfectly fine, but is there anything morally praiseworthy about driving an electric vehicle (EV)?

Many would say yes, others aren’t so sure since driving EVs might be environmentally neutral or even harmful when both manufacturing and production are considered — but we should leave those details to the relevant experts.

As a moral philosopher, I study the way actions and behaviors acquire their moral statuses. Most of us think some actions are morally good and others are morally bad. But which actions have those statuses and how do they obtain them? I’ll assume that driving EVs is generally good for the environment, but that assumption doesn’t show that driving EVs is morally praiseworthy.

Moral categories

Normally, an action is morally praiseworthy when it’s morally good. Philosophers think good actions come in two types. Some actions are morally required, like providing your children with care, or not harming people for fun. Performing required actions merits praise, at least technically (in practice it is often strange to do so).

Another type of morally good action is one that’s morally permissible. These are actions that we may or can do but don’t have to. We needn’t exchange pleasantries with an elderly neighbor, but if it brightens their day it can be morally good — making people feel good in this way is permissible and often praiseworthy.

An important subset of permissible actions are those with a peculiar status, the supererogatory — these are actions that go above and beyond what’s morally required. They are also different from morally permissible actions, because what’s supererogatory often comes with a cost for the person doing it. Saying “good morning” to our neighbor doesn’t go above and beyond, but making sure to check up on them and help with errands might.

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