The Identity-Enactment Account of associative duties

Philosophical Studies 176 (9):2351-2370 (2019)
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Associative duties are agent-centered duties to give defeasible moral priority to our special ties. Our strongest associative duties are to close friends and family. According to reductionists, our associative duties are just special duties—i.e., duties arising from what I have done to others, or what others have done to me. These include duties to abide by promises and contracts, compensate our benefactors in ways expressing gratitude, and aid those whom we have made especially vulnerable to our conduct. I argue, though, that reductionism faces a problem: special duties are not strong enough to account for the strength of our associative duties. At the bar of associative duties, we are required to do what no special duty can warrant. I then present an alternative reductionist analysis of associative duties—the ‘Identity-Enactment Account’—which not only accounts for the peculiar strength of our associative duties, but also characterizes them in an intuitively compelling way. On this account, our strongest associative duties are special duties to protect or promote the welfare of the duty’s beneficiary by adopting and enacting a practical identity in which the duty’s beneficiary features prominently. There are persons who can legitimately demand a prominent place in our mental lives, for the protection and intimacy it affords. They can, in effect, legitimately demand to be among our nearest and dearest. The correlative of such a demand is, on our part, an associative duty we have toward them.

Author's Profile

Saba Bazargan-Forward
University of California, San Diego


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