Discerning Subordination and Inviolability: A Comment on Kamm's Intricate Ethics: Henry S. Richardson

Utilitas 20 (1):81-91 (2008)
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Frances Kamm has for some time now been a foremost champion of non-consequentialist ethics. One of her most powerful non-consequentialist themes has been the idea of inviolability. Morality's prohibitions, she argues, confer on persons the status of inviolability. This thought helps articulate a rationale for moral prohibitions that will resist the protean threat posed by the consequentialist argument that anyone should surely be willing to violate a constraint if doing so will minimize the overall number of such violations. As Kamm put it in a 1992 article, ‘If morality permitted minimizing violations of persons by violating other persons, then each of those saved as well as those persons used to save others would be less inviolable. It is the permission, not any actual violation of persons, that makes this so.’ Now, as thus baldly asserted, this claim borders on the conclusory. It is almost as if the claim were that morality conferred on persons the following status: that of being protected from consequentialism. One wants to hear in what inviolability consists, in more detail, so that we can understand it independently of the negation of consequentialism. And there is also an opposite problem: if inviolability is a good, then why can't consequentialism take it into account? Hence, one also wants to hear why this would not be the case.



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Henry S. Richardson
Georgetown University

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