Scanlon on substantive responsibility.
LSE Choice Group working paper series,
vol. 3, no. 4.
The Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science (CPNSS), London School of Economics, London, UK.
This paper examines the role of a person’s opportunities to choose in the justification of social arrangements. Common judgment gives these opportunities a justificatory role: it holds, for example, that we should prioritise preventing harm that people cannot avoid by choosing appropriately over preventing harm that they can so avoid. Thomas Scanlon argues that such judgments should be explained with reference to the value of a person’s opportunities to choose: if a person is given opportunities which generally lead people to avoid the harm in question, then, Scanlon argues, this can make it the case that she cannot complain about what results from her choices. I argue that while Scanlon is right to focus on the value of a person’s opportunities, his way of determining their value is flawed. Instead, I argue, we should evaluate a person’s opportunity set by taking account of the various outcomes that she can achieve by choosing from this set and how well placed she is, given her dispositions to choose, to achieve the good and avoid the bad outcomes. I argue that this view can explain why we should prioritise preventing harm that people cannot avoid by choosing appropriately over preventing harm that they can so avoid. I also argue that it can account for the importance of protecting people against choices through which they might come to harm.
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