The paradox of deontology, revisited
Ordinary morality tells us that we ought (not) to act in certain ways at all. Killing an innocent person would be wrong even if it led to preventing the death of several others. This seems puzzling, because it requires an agent to act (or to abstain from acting) in certain ways, even if by violating that requirement she could achieve a better outcome in terms of the very restriction that she is required to heed. This essay focuses on the obligation to keep one’s promises, and explains the reasons for keeping one’s promises and for seeing to it that others keep theirs. In explaining the structure of reasons, the paper argues that while promising is subject to an agent-centered restriction, there is no puzzle. Taking a lead from promising, the paper argues that agent-centered restrictions on killing (or harming) others aren’t puzzling either, but they are less potent than some deontological accounts maintain.〉
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