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Chapter 5 - Accountability and Obligations

from Part III - Reasons of the Right

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 October 2018

Arash Abizadeh
Affiliation:
McGill University, Montréal
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Summary

This chapter outlines the fundamental distinction underwriting Hobbes’s ethics, between reasons of the good and reasons of the right, and corresponding to two distinct notions of normative responsibility and blame. We are attribution-responsible for reasons of the good, in the sense that, being able reflectively to respond to reasons, we are liable to criticism should we fail to heed them. But we are accountable only for reasons of the right: should we fail to heed these reasons, those to whom we owe compliance have the standing to censure us in the second-personal and reactive sense that intrinsically demands a normative response accounting for our actions, e.g. justification, excuse, or acknowledgement of wrong and hence apology or redress. (Being accountable therefore does not reduce to the non-normative relation of being held accountable.) Holding criminals legally accountable takes this reactive, communicative form for Hobbes: punishment performs the prospective function of deterrence by reiterating, and demanding that criminals acknowledge, the normativity of the violated law. The laws of nature intrinsically articulate prudential reasons of the good, whereas the obligations acquired via contract consist in reasons of the right. The latter constitute juridical obligations of justice owed to others.
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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2018

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