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Holly Smith Colloquium

November 9, 2018 - 3:30pm to 5:30pm
Building 90, Room 92Q

free and open to the public

The Morality of Creating and Eliminating Duties

We often act in ways that create duties for ourselves: we adopt a child and become obligated to raise and educate her.  We also sometimes act in ways that eliminate duties: we get divorced, and no longer have a duty to support our now ex-spouse. When is it morally permissible to create or to eliminate a duty? These questions have almost wholly evaded philosophical attention.  In this paper we develop answers to these questions by arguing in favor of the Asymmetric Approach to deontic value.  This approach holds that we must assign zero deontic value (a measure of weight, or stringency) to fulfilling a duty, while assigning negative deontic value to violating that duty. Taking the opposing more natural Symmetric Approach, which holds that fulfilling duties has positive deontic value, leads to perverse recommendations about when to create or eliminate duties. A formal proof supporting the Asymmetric Approach is offered. We further show that moral theories require a consequentialist component to explain why we sometimes have duties to create or maintain duties. 

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