Suzanne Uniacke
Charles Sturt University
This paper examines the absolutist grounds for denying an agent's responsibility for what he allows to happen in 'keeping his hands clean' in acute circumstances. In defending an agent's non-prevention of what is, viewed impersonally, the greater harm in such cases, absolutists typically insist on a difference in responsibility between what an agent brings about as opposed to what he allows. This alleged difference is taken to be central to the absolutist justification of non-intervention in acute cases: the agent's obligation not to do harm is held to be more stringent than his obligation to prevent (comparable) harm, since as agents we are principally responsible for what we ourselves do. The paper's central point is that this representation of the absolutist response to acute cases- as grounded in a difference in responsibility for what we do as opposed to what we allow- involves a misleading theoretical inversion. I argue that the absolutist justification of non-intervention in acute cases must depend on a direct defence of the nature and the stringency of the moral norm with which the agent's non-intervention complies. The nature and stringency of this norm are basic to attribution of agent responsibility in acute cases, and not the other way around.
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DOI 10.1080/096725599341884
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War and Massacre.Thomas Nagel - 1972 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 1 (2):123-144.
Whatever the Consequences.Jonathan Bennett - 1966 - Analysis 26 (3):83 - 102.
Are There Any Absolute Rights?Alan Gewirth - 1981 - Philosophical Quarterly 31 (122):1-16.
Agency and Morality.Richard Brook - 1991 - Journal of Philosophy 88 (4):190-212.

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