Asymmetries in ethics

Inquiry 10 (1-4):351-372 (1967)
Abstract
Ethical notions such as good and bad, are often treated as though they were ?symmetric? in the sense of having the same moral ?weight?, one in a positive the other in a negative sense. I argue that they are in fact ?asymmetric? and that the negative members of such pairs of notions are more fundamental and definite, logically speaking, and operationally more important than the positive members. Detailed arguments are given to show this for some non?moral notions, such as life and death, health and illness; some semi?moral notions such as pleasure and pain; and finally for the moral notions of happiness, benevolence, right, and good and their negative counterparts. One of the intentions of the article is to show that a systematic view of such asymmetries may have consequences for one's view of the proper or desirable structure of a general theory of ethics: norms stating prohibitions and norms stating permissions will be seen to be, in a sense defined in the text, more fundamental and important than norms stating ('positive') obligations
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