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Moral Writings$
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H. A. Prichard and Jim MacAdam

Print publication date: 2002

Print ISBN-13: 9780199250196

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0199250197.001.0001

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Duty and Ignorance of Fact

Duty and Ignorance of Fact

(p.84) 6. Duty and Ignorance of Fact
Moral Writings

H. A. Prichard

Oxford University Press

Prichard's concern here is whether a person's obligation depends either on features of his or her situation (and therefore on the effect of his or her action) or on features of his or her thoughts about that situation. Related to this contrast between the objective view and the subjective view is the issue of whether an obligation is an obligation to do some action. To the latter issue, Prichard responds that an obligation is not an obligation to do something, but an obligation to set ourselves to do something; as a consequence, it is necessary to modify the terms of Prichard's primary concern. This modification diminishes the force of the objective view and does nothing to eliminate the central difficulty in the subjective view, namely, that the obligation to do some action is said to depend not on the character that the action would have, but on our belief that it would have that character. The belief that some general character picks out obligations derives from the mistaken habit of regarding the terms ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ as equivalent to ‘ought’ and ‘ought not’. Having highlighted this mistake, Prichard holds that in instances where we have considered the circumstances fully, our thoughts about the situation decide whether we ought to perform a given activity.

Keywords:   action, belief, effect, objective, obligation, right, subjective, wrong

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