What We Owe to Ourselves: Essays on Rights and Supererogation

Dissertation, MIT (2019)
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Abstract
Some sacrifices—like giving a kidney or heroically dashing into a burning building—are supererogatory: they are good deeds beyond the call of duty. But if such deeds are really so good, philosophers ask, why shouldn’t morality just require them? The standard answer is that morality recognizes a special role for the pursuit of self-interest, so that everyone may treat themselves as if they were uniquely important. This idea, however, cannot be reconciled with the compelling picture of morality as impartial—the view that we are each anyone’s equal. I propose an alternative Self-Other Symmetric account of our moral freedom: the limits on what morality may demand of us are set by the duties we owe to ourselves. I begin with a defense of the Self-Other Symmetry: the idea that we owe the same duties to ourselves—and have the same rights against ourselves—as any relevantly similar other. Because we are consenting parties to our own actions, I argue, our rights against ourselves do not function like the rights of unwilling others. Instead, they play a permissive function, allowing us to block the demand to give up what is ours. I conclude by uniting, aggravating, and trying to solve some paradoxes of supererogatory permissions, guided by the idea that morality cannot be reduced to a ranking of options from best-to-worst. Rights against oneself are an irreducible second dimension, one that we need if we are to unify rights and supererogation into an impartial moral vision.
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First archival date: 2019-05-13
Latest version: 3 (2019-05-16)
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