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R. F. Holland


Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne, 185 Pelham St, Carlton, Victoria, Australia, 3053,


My tribute to R. F. Holland focuses on what he calls “absolute goodness.” I try to explain what he means by it and how it connects with the common belief that moral absolutism entails that some acts must not be done “whatever the consequences.” I argue that Holland believes that this sense of absolute value should be understood in the light of a conception of the kind he develops of absolute goodness; that he is right to believe that “absolute ethics” (his expression) conflicts with the nature of politics, but that he is wrong to believe that consequentialism is the ethics of politics. Holland believes that it is important to an adequate discussion of absolute ethics and politics to acknowledge that there are things a saints would find morally impossible to do. I defend him against the charger that this begs all the important questions, and I argue further that it is important to understand, even when thinking about politics, that there are things that only a saint could do.