Is the right prior to the good?

South African Journal of Philosophy 26 (2):143-149 (2007)
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One popular line of argument put forward in support of the principle that the right is prior to the good is to show that teleological theories, which put the good prior to the right, lead to implausible normative results. There are situa- tions, it is argued, in which putting the good prior to the right entails that we ought to do things that cannot be right for us to do. Consequently, goodness cannot (always) explain an action's rightness. This indicates that what is right must be determined independently of the good. In this paper, I argue that these purported counterexamples to teleology fail to establish that the right must be prior to the good. In fact, putting the right prior to the good can lead to sets of ought statements which potentially con- flict with the principle that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’. I argue that no plausible ethical theory can determine what is right independently of a notion of value or goodness. Every plausible ethical theory needs a mapping from goodness to rightness, which implies that right cannot be prior to the good.
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