What We Owe to Each Other

What We Owe to Each Other

3.78 (364 ratings by Goodreads)
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How do we judge whether an action is morally right or wrong? If an action is wrong, what reason does that give us not to do it? Why should we give such reasons priority over our other concerns and values? In this book, T. M. Scanlon offers new answers to these questions, as they apply to the central part of morality that concerns what we owe to each other. According to his contractualist view, thinking about right and wrong is thinking about what we do in terms that could be justified to others and that they could not reasonably reject. He shows how the special authority of conclusions about right and wrong arises from the value of being related to others in this way, and he shows how familiar moral ideas such as fairness and responsibility can be understood through their role in this process of mutual justification and criticism.

Scanlon bases his contractualism on a broader account of reasons, value, and individual well-being that challenges standard views about these crucial notions. He argues that desires do not provide us with reasons, that states of affairs are not the primary bearers of value, and that well-being is not as important for rational decision-making as it is commonly held to be. Scanlon is a pluralist about both moral and non-moral values. He argues that, taking this plurality of values into account, contractualism allows for most of the variability in moral requirements that relativists have claimed, while still accounting for the full force of our judgments of right and wrong.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 432 pages
  • 156 x 235 x 30.48mm | 594g
  • The Belknap Press
  • Cambridge, Mass., United States
  • English
  • None
  • 067400423X
  • 9780674004238
  • 24,179

Table of contents

Introduction Reasons and Values Reasons Values Well-Being Right and Wrong Wrongness and Reasons The Structure of Contractualism Responsibility Promises Relativism Appendix: Williams on Internal and External Reasons Notes Bibliography Index
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Review quote

[Scanlon's] discussions are deep and honest, and they illuminate many key concepts of moral philosophy: well being, trust, friendship, loyalty, promises. It would be-and will be-the business of more than one doctoral thesis to assess his success. -- Simon Blackburn * New York Times Book Review * T. M. Scanlon is a scrupulous, astringent, relentlessly exact writer, without any of the fuss and flutter that come from the desire to please. His book is pure philosophy, unadulterated. -- Stuart Hampshire * New York Review of Books * Thomas Scanlon's understanding of [morality's] complexity and of its sources in the variety of human relations and values is one of the virtues of this illuminating book. To say that it is long awaited would be an understatement. Scanlon has been one of the most influential contributors to moral and political philosophy for years...The appearance of his first book, a complex and powerful argument for the moral theory first sketched in his essay Contractualism and Utilitarianism, is a philosophical event. -- Thomas Nagel * London Review of Books * I rejoice in the appearance of this magnificent book. It is not often that a work on ethics opens up a novel, arresting position on matters that have been debated for thousands of years. And What We Owe To Each Other does precisely that. -- Philip Pettit * Times Literary Supplement * Mr. Scanlon has produced a compelling explanation of the moral thinking behind such duties as truth-telling and promise-keeping, and for this he deserves great praise. -- Douglas A. Sylva * Washington Times * Seeks to explain how human societies might find moral authority without appealing to a deity or inherited laws. The answer comes from a sort of idealized social negotiation-the process of thinking, in good faith, with a community of other good-faith thinkers. -- Sam Anderson * New York Times * What do we owe to each other? What obligations of honesty, respect, trust and consideration exist between people? That is the deep and ancient question Harvard philosopher T. M. Scanlon attempts to illuminate in this closely argued book. Its success as an argument illustrates why moral philosophy should matter...Scanlon is a careful and precise thinker, a leading figure in contemporary philosophy, and here he is working at the height of his considerable powers. -- Mark Kingwell * Globe and Mail * Scanlon presents the most complete statement to date of his version of 'contractualism'...He treats as basic the notion that we have reason to want to live with others and are motivated to seek agreement on a set of principles for the general regulation of behavior that others similarly motivated could not reasonably reject...He carefully addresses many concerns that have been raised about his and similar versions of contractualism; anyone discussing contractualism will have to consider his account. -- D. R. C. Reed * Choice * Scanlon offers a sharp challenge to much contemporary moral philosophy. Most philosophers think that agreements between people play only a subsidiary role in moral theory. What is right or wrong is independent of what people accept. Agreements rest on morality; they do not underlie it. Scanlon dissents. In his conception, morality depends on principles it would not be reasonable for people to reject. These agreements do not derive from further moral facts. Scanlon also challenges the view that desires give reasons for action, leveling heavy artillery at the contrary position of Bernard Williams. The originality, scope, and careful argument of this work mark it as an indispensable book. -- David Gordon * Library Journal *
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About T. M. Scanlon

T. M. Scanlon is Alford Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy, and Civil Polity at Harvard University.
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Rating details

364 ratings
3.78 out of 5 stars
5 29% (106)
4 35% (126)
3 26% (93)
2 7% (25)
1 4% (14)
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