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Scanlon on Responsibility and the Value of Choice

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This paper examines Thomas Scanlon’s Value of Choice account of substantive responsibility, on which the fact that choice has value accounts both for why people should be provided with certain opportunities and for why it may be permissible, in those cases, to let people bear certain opportunity-accompanying burdens. Scanlon contrasts his view with the familiar one (which he calls the Forfeiture View) according to which it is permissible to require people to bear certain burdens if and only if they have actively chosen those burdens, because of the legitimating force of choice. The paper argues that Scanlon’s account, in its most distinctive version, is at best incomplete and can only justify claims about responsibility for a restricted class of burdens. It then goes on to suggest that, when Scanlon’s account is supplemented so as to be able to generate judgments of responsibility about a wider range of burdens, it is no longer clear that there is a difference between the Value of Choice account and a plausible version of the Forfeiture View.

Affiliations: 1: ICREA-Universitat Pompeu Fabra and University of Cambridge,


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