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Reply to Hurka and Copp

  • L. W. Sumner (a1)

I am deeply indebted to Tom Hurka and David Copp for the careful attention they have given to some of the central motifs in The Moral Foundation of Rights. By doing their job so well they have simplified mine considerably. Their exposition of my views is a model of fairness and accuracy; I need therefore waste no time disclaiming attributions or complaining about misrepresentation. Furthermore, they have shown admirable resolve in choosing to ignore the book's relatively peripheral concerns, even when these would have made easy targets. By adopting this policy of restraint they have helped to illuminate issues which, it seems to me, run to the very heart of moral/political theory.

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1 Because Hurka thinks that the alethic modalities are reducible to the deontic, he also thinks that rights analytically require only first-order deontic ingredients. As he notes, I am agnostic on this issue. In any event, no such reduction would imperil my case against natural rights.

2 I am fussier than Hurka (and many others) about observing this trichotomy. As a result I resist the common equation of “A ought to φ” with “A has a duty to φ” or “It is obligatory of A to φ”. I also resist the idea that the basic consequentialist principle imposes a duty to maximize the good, or to promote some other goal. What consequentialism tells us directly is what it is best for us to do, or perhaps what we ought to do: duties follow from any such principle only derivatively and indirectly. If I used the concept of duty anywhere in the book in the broad sense in which there is a duty whenever a person ought to do something, this was a lapse.

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Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review / Revue canadienne de philosophie
  • ISSN: 0012-2173
  • EISSN: 1759-0949
  • URL: /core/journals/dialogue-canadian-philosophical-review-revue-canadienne-de-philosophie
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