Can someone be bound by a moral obligation and yet at the same time have a moral complaint about being so bound? That is, there is something they morally ought to do. Yet we and they feel that they have a moral complaint about being bound to do it, because of a certain institutional injustice or because of other agents’ acts of wrongdoing, which generated the obligation and continue to taint it –for instance, because of the many gendered practices that result in women shouldering a disproportionate share of caregiving obligations, or because of the many injustices that leave migrants obliged to do things that we think should not be asked of anyone. In such cases, the agent’s moral complaint appears not to negate their obligation but to coexist with it --shaping this obligation and the related obligations of other agents in subtle ways. When this occurs, the agent has what I shall call an “objectionable obligation.” Do such obligations really exist? Is the idea even coherent? What might we do a better job of noticing within moral or political theory if we took the existence of objectionable obligations seriously? These are the questions I shall address in this talk. I shall argue that although certain prominent moral theories like consequentialism and contractualism appear to leave little conceptual space for such obligations, they are in fact quite commonplace; and we need to appeal to them to make sense of our intuitions about many moral dilemmas and to see clearly the experiences and the kind of exploitation faced by members of many subordinated social groups.
- University Center for Human Values
- Department of Politics