The Moral Concept of Right as Adjudication

In Mark Timmons (ed.), Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Volume 7. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 51-72 (2018)

Adam Cureton
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
John Rawls makes a provocative, original, but largely underdeveloped and neglected suggestion about the most basic subject-matter and aims of normative ethical theory. Rawls proposes that the moral concept of ‘right’, which we use when we call an individual action or social practice morally right or wrong, is defined by the functional role it has of properly adjudicating conflicting claims that persons make on one another and on social practices. Substantive moral theories of right and wrong, including utilitarianism, Kantianism and contractualism, are supposed to provide more specific principles, criteria, values and ideals for interpreting and resolving this fundamental moral problem. It is not immediately apparent, however, what moral problem Rawls thinks substantive theories of right are supposed to interpret and address. The aim of this paper is to offer a fuller account of what Rawls could have meant by defining the concept of right as the proper adjudication of conflicting claims that persons make on one another or on social practices. I also describe and assess three implications of this expanded definition of right and I end with two reasons why one might accept some version of it.
Keywords Rawls  Right and wrong  Normative ethical theory  Metaethics
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