Doing Harm

Shelly Kagan

in The Limits of Morality

Published in print April 1991 | ISBN: 9780198239161
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191597848 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Ethics Series

 Doing Harm

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Defenders of ordinary morality must establish the existence of constraints, including a constraint against harming. This chapter distinguishes between two basic ways that this particular constraint can be characterized – either as a constraint against doing harm, or as a constraint against intending harm – and then focuses on the first. A constraint against doing harm presupposes a distinction between doing harm and allowing harm. But although we can provide some intuitive motivation – in terms of the idea of interfering – for viewing this distinction as morally significant, when we try to carefully articulate this distinction we end up sorting cases in a way that is intuitively unattractive. In any event, attempts to defend the relevance of the distinction are ultimately unsuccessful, as are attempts to show that the distinction would truly support a constraint against doing harm.

Keywords: constraints; doing harm; harm; intending harm; interfering

Chapter.  19938 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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