Category Archives: READING GROUP

March Reading: Dare, ‘Robust Role-Obligation: How Do Roles Make a Moral Difference?’ (2017)

It’s still March, but only just so we’ll keep the comments open well into April.

This next reading, suggested by Sean, is from the Special Issue on Virtue Ethics and Role Ethics mentioned in an earlier post.

Dare, Tim (2017) Robust Role-Obligation: How Do Roles Make a Moral Difference? in Journal of Value Inquiry, 50(4): 703-19.

Summary of the piece to follow soon in the comments section, but the topic in the first paragraph is instantly gripping:

How could it be right, Macaulay asked, ‘‘that a man should, with a wig on his head and a band around his neck, do for a guinea what, without these appendages, he would think it wicked and infamous to do for an empire?’’ How can a role make a moral difference? (p. 703)

February Reading: Brake, ‘Willing Parents’ (2010)

This month’s reading, by Elizabeth Brake, is the second in the reading-group series. Contributions welcome (from members of the network or beyond) in the comments.

Brake, Elizabeth (2010) ‘Willing Parents: A Voluntarist Account of Parental Role Obligations’ in David Archard and David Benatar, eds., Procreation and Parenthood: The Ethics of Bearing and Rearing Children, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 151-78.

Hardimon (in January’s reading) draws a contrast between between contractual and non-contractual roles, according to the source of the role’s obligations. When he discusses family roles they are put in the non-contractual camp, but he never discusses the role of parent save in passing, usually in the context of discussing filial obligations to parents.

Brake argues that we should treat parental obligations as having a voluntarist source. The standard alternative (the causal account) is to see parental obligations as derived from the parent’s having caused someone to exist.

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January Reading: Hardimon, ‘Role Obligations’ (1994)

This is the first in the reading-group series. Contributions welcome (from members of the network or beyond) in the comments. The post itself gives an overview of the article.

Hardimon, Michael O. (1994) Role Obligations. Journal of Philosophy. 91(7): 333-363.

This is a modern classic for anyone working on the ethics of roles, and is often cited in discussions of special obligations and the like. The writing is beautifully clear, and this a good place for us to start if only because one of Hardimon’s ambitions is to bring the topic of roles in from the wings of normative philosophy and onto centre-stage where many of us agree it belongs.

His other main ambition is to get clear on what is and isn’t right about what he calls the ‘standard view’ of role obligations, which he summarizes in three claims (p. 337):

  1. Role obligations are of two kinds, ‘contractual’ and ‘non-contractual’;
  2. Contractual role obligations are acquired by signing on for the roles from which they derive;
  3. Non-contractual role obligations are extremely problematic, if they exist at all.

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