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By James R. Otteson

A safety of the 'classical liberal' political culture, utilized to modern-day ethical and political concerns.

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Extra resources for Actual Ethics

Sample text

He is the object of hatred, a passion which is naturally excited by impropriety of sentiment and behaviour; not of resentment, a passion which is never properly called forth but by actions which tend to do real and positive hurt to some particular persons. His want of gratitude, therefore, cannot be punished. To oblige him by force to perform what in gratitude he ought to perform, and what every impartial spectator would approve of him for performing, would, if possible, be still more improper than his neglecting to perform it.

For the most part, yes. There will still be hard cases; we shall consider some in a moment. But this distinction will serve us well in the majority of cases. Let us see how by looking at Peter Singer’s famous hypothetical scenario, the Pond Case. 26 As Singer frames it, the person does not wade in to help the child—perhaps because he is in a hurry, perhaps because he does not want to get his clothes dirty, or perhaps because he believes others will take care of the child. Singer would have us judge the passerby to be immoral if he does not help the child.

Personhood and Judgment 31 been suggesting, since it does not include the failure to do the “good offices” to others that full “positive virtue” would require. Nevertheless, his distinction cuts at the same joint, as it were, as does my distinction and underscores its importance by reiterating its connection to forcible state action. The argument Spooner gives for this distinction, and thus for its obvious political implications, echoes an argument John Stuart Mill had made in his classic 1859 essay On Liberty, namely, that human life is largely an experiment conducted by each individual to discover what course or path or direction his life should take to make him happy.

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Actual Ethics by James R. Otteson


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