Download e-book for iPad: Actual Ethics by James R. Otteson

By James R. Otteson

A safety of the 'classical liberal' political culture, utilized to modern-day ethical and political concerns.

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But my suggestion is that one should not be held punitively responsible for something one did not do. That leads to the conclusion that an inactive passerby might be horribly vicious, but not jailably unjust. We examine Singer’s argument in more detail in chapter 4, but the implication for the time being is that there should be no laws requiring a person to help a drowning child, and no laws to punish a person if he fails to help. More generally, we should legally or coercively punish only breaches of justice; failures to fulfill positive virtue fall outside the state’s proper purview.

It would be like trying to teach tigers not to attack and kill their natural prey. With concerted, persistent—and coerced, one might add—effort, you might make some headway in getting them to jump through hoops or stand on their hind legs, but if you let a baby wild boar loose in your trained Siberian tiger’s habitat, well, I think we both know what would happen. Similarly, there are human beings who have achieved an extraordinary regard for others—Mother Teresa, for example, or St. Francis of Assisi—but those people were so extraordinary that we call them saints!

We can give people the list of specific rules by which the religion requires them to live, or the general maxim we wish them to apply; but people will also have to interpret the rules or the maxim, figure out how to apply it to their own cases, when exceptions should be allowed and when not, and so on. For all these tasks, their own judgment will be necessary, and getting them to develop it wisely and then to use it is likely to be more successful if you offer both the carrot and the stick. Why would that be?

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Actual Ethics by James R. Otteson


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