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Practical Reason in Law and Morality$
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Neil MacCormick

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780198268772

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198268772.001.0001

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Obedience, Freedom, and Engagement—or Utility?

Obedience, Freedom, and Engagement—or Utility?

(p.105) 6 Obedience, Freedom, and Engagement—or Utility?
Practical Reason in Law and Morality

Neil MacCormick

Oxford University Press

James Dalrymple, first Viscount Stair, has advanced three ‘principles of equity’: obedience, freedom, and engagement, that delineate three provinces of practical reason. With regard to ‘obedience’, there are basic moral duties that we must fulfil to each other and that cannot legitimately be neglected or defied. So long as we fulfil the basic duties, we are otherwise free agents, morally at liberty to pursue the good as we see it — this is the principle of ‘freedom’. But to limit this freedom in favour of others lies within our own power, under the principle of ‘engagement’. Through promises, contracts, and many other kinds of voluntary arrangements we can enter into obligations to others, who may also reciprocally obligate themselves in our favour. These obligations involve self-set limitations on our freedom, and yet they also emerge from its exercise. A well-planned use of freedom will often involve the need for engagement with others as they pursue their plans. This chapter considers Bentham's utilitarianism as proposing a single-principle, rather than a tripartite, approach to practical reason.

Keywords:   Jeremy Bentham, utilitarianism, practical reason, equity, obedience, freedom, engagement

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