Personal Bonds: Directed Obligations without Rights

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 102 (1):65-86 (2021)
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I argue for adopting a conception of obligation that is broader than the conception commonly adopted by moral philosophers. According to this broader conception, the crucial marks of an obligatory action are, first, that the reasons for the obliged party to perform the action include an exclusionary reason and, second, that the obliged party is the appropriate target of blaming reactive attitudes, if they inexcusably fail to perform the obligatory action. An obligation is directed if the exclusionary reason depends on the relationship between the obliged person and the person to whom they owe the obligatory action, and the latter person is positioned to personally blame the obligated person for inexcusably failing to perform the obligatory action. Some direc- ted obligations are not owed as a matter of right, and the person to whom the obligatory action is owed is the only person positioned to blame nonperformance. Other directed obligations are owed as a matter of right, and people who are not part of the relationship grounding the obligation nevertheless are also positioned to (impersonally) blame non-performance. Only the rights-based form of directed obligation has received signifi- cant attention from moral philosophers, yet the former—which is at the heart of what I call “personal bonds”—is a pervasive and significant theme of our ordinary interpersonal lives.



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Adrienne Martin
Claremont McKenna College

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