‘Ought’, ‘Can’, and Fairness

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 17 (5):913-922 (2014)
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According to the principle that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’, it is never the case that you ought to do something you cannot do. While many accept this principle in some form, it also has its share of critics, and thus it seems desirable if an argument can be offered in its support. The aim of this paper is to examine a particular way in which the principle has been defended, namely, by appeal to considerations of fairness. In a nutshell, the idea (due to David Copp) is that moral requirements we cannot comply with would be unfair, and there cannot be unfair moral requirements. I discuss several ways of spelling out the argument, and argue that all are unsatisfactory for a variety of reasons

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Rob Van Someren Greve
University of Amsterdam (PhD)


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