Permissibility Is the Only Feasible Deontic Primitive

Philosophical Perspectives 34 (1):117-133 (2020)
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Moral obligation and permissibility are usually thought to be interdefinable. Following the pattern of the duality definitions of necessity and possibility, we have that something’s being permissible could be defined as its not being obligatory to not do it. And that something’s being obligatory could be defined as its not being permissible to not do it. In this paper, I argue that neither direction of this alleged interdefinability works. Roughly, the problem is that a claim that some act is obligatory or permissible entails that there is a moral law, whereas a negative claim that some act is not obligatory or not permissible does not. Nevertheless, one direction of the interdefinability can potentially be salvaged. I argue that, if we do not require the conceptual possibility of moral dilemmas, then there is a way to plausibly define obligation in terms of permissibility. I conclude that permissibility is the only feasible deontic primitive.

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Johan E. Gustafsson
University of Texas at Austin

Citations of this work

Utilitarianism without Moral Aggregation.Johan E. Gustafsson - 2021 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 51 (4):256-269.

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References found in this work

Modal Logic as Metaphysics.Timothy Williamson - 2013 - Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Moral Error Theory: History, Critique, Defence.Jonas Olson - 2014 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Semantical Considerations on Modal Logic.Saul Kripke - 1963 - Acta Philosophica Fennica 16:83-94.

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