RESPONSES TO CRITICS

Jonathan Sumption

In the course of an otherwise generous review (The Spectator, March 19, 2011) Jonathan Sumption, who is a Justice of the UK Supreme Court, made a damning observation:

[Dworkin] has taken pleasure in throwing rocks into the placid ponds of academic discourse; to such an extent that the life-cycle of a Dworkinian argument is by now quite well-known. It starts with a brutal forensic demolition of some conventional truth, accompanied by a radical alternative theory. Critics then gather round with their objections. Some of them hit the mark with distressing accuracy. Dworkin responds by reducing the size of the target. He jettisons the more striking and vulnerable parts of the argument one after the other, in order to preserve the persuasive force of the rest, rather like the crew of an early steamer cutting timber out of the superstructure to feed the boilers. Gradually, the theory becomes more acceptable but less radical, until the point is reached when Dworkin is no longer saying anything remarkable after all.

I recently asked him for an example of my regrettable but recurring practice. He confessed that he had “somewhat” overstated his position. He didn’t really mean that it was “well-known” that I water down earlier bold claims. On the contrary he meant only that he now remembers having that impression – in the 1970’s – based on his understanding of my first book. Could he remember which bold statements he had the impression that I later retracted? Or any other details about the impression he now remembers? No, it was much too long ago. Justice Sumption will, of course, take much more care on the bench.

RESPONSES TO CRITICS

Response to Gerald Lang and Andrew Reisner

I strongly recommend Gerald Lang’s review-article, “How Far Can You Go with Quietism, (Problema 4, on the web at www.juridicas.unam.mx) though I must add that his article is in good part technical and is more complex than other reviews discussed on this site. It is also skillful, shrewd and highly original.

Lang offers interesting analyses of my disagreements with other philosophers about meta-ethics and moral truth. (My discussion is largely in the book’s textual endnotes.) I pick out two of his criticisms as of wider interest than others. He believes that I overstate the distinction between external skepticism and internal skepticism because, he says, the distinction is “porous.” He gives this example: we can draw, from the apparently external, metaphysical statement (A): No moral judgments can be true because there are no non-natural properties that can make them true,” an apparently internal principle (B): We should not take a moral claim to be true unless we are able to vouch for the existence of a non-natural property that makes it true. He says that this derivation furnishes a strong objection to my thesis that he calls the “Leakage Worry.” But my point, in Chapter 3, is not to establish but on the contrary to deny the distinction: I argue that since we have no way to construe apparently external claims except in ways that turn them into internal ones, the kind of skepticism that insists on their distinction fails. I offer examples like Lang’s; I think his and my examples show that the distinction is not porous but bogus.

His main challenge centers on what he calls “moral properties.” He says I am “incurious” about them, don’t answer obvious questions about them, and therefore do not recognize versions of naturalism that might tempt me if I did. Suppose I hold, as a substantive, first-order moral theory, that all red things are good. Do I then accept that redness is a moral property? That depends. Yes, if we take that odd proposition to be itself a substantive moral judgment. In that case it simply repeats, in a more pretentious way, my original judgment that all red things are good. It adds nothing to that original judgment. No, if we take that proposition to be a metaphysical account or a conceptual analysis that purports to say something more or different from my original judgment. Would my thinking that all and only red things are good make me a naturalist? Again that depends, in the same way, on whether I take that judgment to be a substantive or independent metaphysical one. Substantive moral theories try to identify the non-moral properties that makes something good or an act right: conducing to happiness, for instance, or bearing the love of a god. These theories are therefore naturalistic in the first way. But they are only naturalistic in the second way if they claim, as they should not, that the connection between goodness and a natural property is not substantive but metaphysical or conceptual.

In the same issue of Problema, we find Andrew Reisner’s interesting review article, Metaethics for Everyone. He agrees with me that we can have moral properties “on the cheap,” and that no interesting issue arises about such properties. But he doesn’t “quite” accept my claim that metaethics doesn’t exist. He cites my discussion of an invented conversation (42-43); I try to show that the putatively skeptical participant, D, who declares that abortion is neither required nor forbidden nor permitted, cannot provide a construal of his claim that would support his skepticism. Reisner believes that D can say that the entire conversation I imagine is based on the mistaken assumption: “that there are properties of moral error. .. One could make the conversation about whether abortion was permitted, forbidden, or required by fairies. One might reasonably reply ‘None of the above because there are no fairies.” But the statement that there are no fairies is not itself a moral judgment about what is morally permitted, forbidden, or required. The proposition Reisner thinks parallel, that there are no moral duties, is such a judgment.

RESPONSES TO CRITICS

Response to Gerald Doppelt

I particularly recommend Gerald Doppelt’s review (Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, Online) for those seeking an accurate, clear and thorough presentation of the entire book. The review is generous but it raises important and, so far as I know, novel points of criticism. He suggests, for instance, that my account of the distinction between killing and letting die ignores my own thesis that in some circumstances failing to aid someone ignores his dignity. Chapter 13 is meant to discuss, however, not occasions when we might ignore threats to others out of indifference, but those rare occasions, beloved of moral philosophers, when we can come to someone’s aid only by deliberately harming others. In those circumstances I argue that refusing to harm best protects everyone’s dignity. Doppelt also reminds us that someone may have what I call recognition respect for himself but not either live well or have a good life: securing recognition self-respect is not in itself sufficient for living well. I agree. I said that on the contrary recognition respect is a necessary condition for thinking oneself a miserable failure. (206)

I found even more valuable Doppelt’s discussion of my central distinction between science and interpretation. He points out that scientist’s themselves dispute how the internal goal of science should be understood: whether they should take their internal goal to be, for example, correspondence or predictive success. Again, I agree. In Chapter 8 I suggested that the concept of truth is itself an interpretive concept, and that the debate over how scientists should understand their internal goal is therefore an interpretive debate. But that fact does not challenge my claim that the internal and external goals of science must be distinguished. Interpretive debate about that internal goal does not include claims about what scientists should study and governments fund.

RESPONSES TO CRITICS

Response to William A. Galston

William Galston (Commonweal, July 15, 2011) shares a common reaction. For all I say, he thinks, values might just conflict. He takes great care to identify my arguments to the contrary, but he says that I haven’t “work[ed] hard enough to dispel that doubt.“ What should I have considered beyond what I did? He says, first, that discrete values might be made true not, as I say, only by their connection with other values, but because they “correspond to a domain of our experience” and they might therefore conflict because our experience is one of conflict. What kind of experience does he have in mind? True, we find that we react with great displeasure to what we believe to be examples of dishonesty or cruelty. As I said in Chapter 8, interpretation of these values must begin in a sense that they really are values. True, we feel pulled in two directions when we believe that we should not tell a colleague the truth about his published book: we feel it would be dishonest not to be cruel. But unless we are crude subjectivists we cannot take our initial reactions to certify their own truth. We need to ask if we are correct in our judgments, and that is where the philosophy begins, not ends. But perhaps Galston has something different in mind: perhaps he means that we have experiences of values by some act of perception or intuition. That is a form of the moronic thesis; if that thesis is correct, I have several times conceded, then values may indeed conflict. But I doubt he thinks it is correct.

He asks, second, “[W]hy an ‘integrated’ or harmonious account of our moral world is necessarily better than one focused on conflict or disunity.” What could he mean by “better?” More true to the right values? But then his question only repeats the question whether values, properly understood, do conflict. More conducive to general happiness? But then it assumes that aggregate happiness is the single true value and so denies any fundamental conflict; apparent conflict on that view is only strategy. I can’t think of an alternative interpretation.

RESPONSES TO CRITICS

Response to Colin Bird

I take great pride in having a achieved a review of Hedgehogs in The Hedgehog Review (Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, Vol. 13, No. 3,Fall 2011). Colin Bird has done an excellent job of summarizing the whole book in a very short space. He has one overall objection: he believes that the book “fetishizes coherence and integrity in the context of moral discourse. … Perhaps honesty is also an important virtue, one that we sacrifice by insisting that our values all fit together into one seamless theoretical scheme. Facing up to, instead of denying, the sharp edges of ethical conflict may not be a sign of the failure to grasp the moral truth within some interpretive synthesis, but rather a condition for coping truthfully with the unavoidable problems of life.”

I quote this passage because it so succinctly captures what I believe to be a common reaction to my holistic thesis. “It may just be that important values do conflict, in which case it is rose-colored deception to pretend that they do not. We should instead be honest and admit the truth.” This common reaction ignores the entire first two parts of my book: it ignores what I say about what could make a moral judgment true. What metaphysics of morals does Bird assume when he supposes that “ethical conflict” just does have “sharp edges?” The moronic thesis I discussed – that moral judgments are made true by moral particles – could have that consequence. The actual configuration of morons we find might make both of two conflicting values true. The standard model of quantum mechanics describes similar paradoxes. But if we abandon morons, as I say we must, then we need a different account of moral truth. If we accept the account I defend, then it is moral conflict rather than synthesis that is illusory. We can’t avoid the underlying philosophical issues if we want to take a position on the discrete moral conflict issue.

RESPONSES TO CRITICS

Response to Thomas Hurka

I am very grateful to Thomas Hurka for his penetrating and generous review. (Ethics, Vol. 122, No. 1) He asks a particularly important question. Does the interpretive method I advocate for the analysis of political concepts, which requires integrating each concept with others, actually add anything to the clarity, appeal or persuasiveness of my discrete political convictions? He suggests perhaps not: “It’s an open question,” he says, “whether Dworkin’s interpretive presentation of his own arguments really is the one that makes them the best they can be, or allows them best to further their central purpose of leading us simply and effectively to moral truth.”  I will return to that open question after noticing some of the other questions Hurka raises on his way to that conclusion.

(1) He doesn’t accept my claim that moral judgments cannot be barely true. Particular judgment, he agrees, can’t be barely true, but abstract ones, like “pleasure is good” can be. I don’t agree. If “pleasure is good” is true for us, there can’t be another world just like this one except that pleasure is not good there. (There could be if moral particles made moral judgments true, but they don’t.) Still, he says, I might nevertheless be right in thinking that the only way to defend even an abstract judgment is through coherence. But I think he thinks that I think that coherence is sufficient for truth, because he says I never address the charge that it is not. I tried to be clear, however, that an entire universe of conviction can be coherent but false and insisted that authenticity, or a conviction of truth, is necessary for moral responsibility as well as the achievement of coherence.)

(2) He fears that my discussion of double effect begs the question. I just assume, he says, that there is a morally important distinction between your using my body by throwing it onto tracks to stop a train that would otherwise kill five people and your affecting my body without using it by switching it from a track to which they are tied to one to which I am tied. I do not, he says, defend the moral pertinence of that distinction. He does notice that I appeal to a general principle of dignity that forbids others to take over direction of my body, but he thinks that that appeal just repeats the question-begging assumption. This is a context, however, in which I think interpretation over a wider scope does add power to an argument. For I try to show the role that that general principle plays in a large variety of other contexts in which its use is not regarded as problematic, and then how it connects with other assumptions about the character of personal dignity such as, for example, the distinction between competition harm and intended harm. I suggest that the principle’s instinctive role in the often highly artificial double effect examples is a spill-over from its use in those other contexts. This may not be persuasive, but the book’s treatment of double effect in fact illustrates what the interpretive method can add to discrete discussions of separate problems.

(3) He next offers an objection to my interpretive argument that tries to unite ethics and morality. He says I just assume that these belong to the same larger interpretive genre or realm, but can’t defend that assignment because interpretation presupposes rather than accounts for a division into genres. I don’t agree. I concede that I could have been much clearer and said much more about this. But I did distinguish three stages of interpretation, of which the first is the assignment of an interpretive problem to a genre, and I insisted that, “Interpretation is therefore interpretive, just as morality is moral, all the way down.” I said that the first stage poses interpretive issues just as the other stages do, and that skepticism is possible, though not as likely, at the first stage as at the other two. (131). The interpretive test at each stage is the same: making best descriptive and justifying sense of the pertinent social practices. That test seems plainly to require taking ethics and morality to belong to a single interpretive domain: we deliberate about these matters, together, in order to decide what to do. A popular view (Hurka cites Sidgwick, as do I) assumes a conflict between ethics and morality. This would make no sense if they belonged to different realms; poetry can’t conflict with law. Conflict makes at least initial sense in these contexts because, as Hurka says, we can frame a challenge – What ought I all things considered to do? – that states a single problem to which concerns about my own interests and those of others might be thought to give different answers. So the interpretive method is essential to recognizing the possibility of a conflict so many philosophers endorse.

(4) I suggest that living well is more important than having a good life if the two ideals conflict. Hurka says that, unless I mean this as a tautology, it seems false. He says that Seurat would regret having decided to be daring if he failed to produce valuable art. Yes, no doubt. But he might also, and just as deeply, regret not having dared if he produced only successful conventional art. In any case, the question is not what he would regret but what he should. I do not say he would have lived better if he had dared but failed. I say only, safely, that we might think so if we value daring very highly. And I describe my claim that living well is prior to having a good life as my own controversial ethical judgment, not as something I have in some way demonstrated. I do, however, suggest an argument for that priority. I say (196) that we can explain why it is important to live well by treating living a life as a performance for which we can take credit if well done. We can then explain why it is important that one’s life be good by citing the requirement to make one’s life as good as possible, preserving self-respect, as part of what makes a performance of living good. But we cannot argue in the other direction. We cannot explain the importance of a good life – as distinct from an enjoyable one – unless we assume that more basic ethical requirement.

(5) Hurka next says that my argument connecting ethics with morality depends on a “slide” between two senses of “objective”: mind-independence and agent-neutrality. He apparently thinks I think that if moral responsibilities are mind-independent they must be agent-neutral as well. That is indeed a fallacious inference, but I don’t offer, assume or need it. Of course agent-relative obligations can be mind-independent. I discuss, across an entire chapter, several agent-relative responsibilities that I treat as mind-independent: my responsibilities to my promisees, family members and fellow-citizens, for instance.

(6) He concludes his discussion of my attempt to integrate ethics and morality by observing that my arguments are unlikely to convince anyone initially drawn to a view like Sidgwick’s that ethics and morality make different and competitive demands. I assume he includes my arguments (260-262) directly critical of that view; it would be interesting to know why he thinks even these have little persuasive power. He is probably right, however: even good arguments, which mine not necessarily are, have only very limited power to change people’s settled views on philosophical issues.

(7) That fact is pertinent to his most important observation, with which he ends, and which I quoted at the beginning of these comments. He wonders whether the interpretive structure I built in this book actually improves the appeal of the discrete moral and political opinions I defend. Would it not be better to present them independently, one by one, without all the philosophical background I constructed, so that they can sink or swim by their own immediate appeal? Perhaps; I claim no expertise in persuasion. But that is not the point of the interpretive method. I tried to explain this in Chapter 6. If the more general philosophical arguments with which the book begins are sound, then we all have an ethical and moral responsibility to try to integrate our disparate convictions so far as we sensibly can. Justice for Hedgehogs is both an argument for that responsibility and a response to it. Philosophers, I said, do have a particular responsibility in this respect. But that is a responsibility to attempt the integration not to present it in a way that persuades opponents. But of course persuasion would be nice; I write this in a rather desperate moment for American politics in 2012.

RESPONSES TO CRITICS

Philip Pettit review

In his review of Justice for Hedgehogs in the Times Literary Supplement, August 19, 2011, Philip Pettit of Princeton University provides a useful though necessarily condensed account of some of my major claims. He says, generously, that he has “learned a lot” from some of them. But he thinks I have gone too far in some respects: he says I have “overreached,” and that my “mind-spinning” arguments produce “something of a fantasy.” I believe, on the contrary, that his review shows how well-entrenched some of the philosophical positions I challenge are.
Pettit has three closely-related complaints. First, he denies my suggestion that individual values can only be fully specified and understood in connection with one another. He offers, by way of argument, a single counter-example.
“Take an isolated value like freedom of choice. Going on ordinary examples and connotations, it seems reasonable to hold that this requires not being subject to the will of another in the exercise of that choice. If equal freedom among citizens means anything, then, it must mean enjoying independence from the wills of others, including the collective will, in some common domain of choice. The demands of equal freedom, interpreted in that way, are identifiable without identifying the demands of all other values. … and offer a plausible base on which to derive the responsibilities of the State.”


But, as I explain at some length in Chapter 15, if “freedom” is defined in that curt way it is not a value at all. A political community is not even pro tanto better when its laws permits rape or murder. Certainly if freedom is to be a value that can serve as the foundation of a “Republican form of government,” then it must be freedom not just over “some” domain of choice, but over the right domain of choice. We must try to explain why some freedoms are crucial and others not, and we cannot do this without bringing other values into play – for instance, in my opinion, equality and dignity, though in the opinion of others different values such as happiness or security. Staring at “ordinary examples and connotations” is hardly enough. These examples must be criticized or defended and some minimal philosophy is also necessary. Pettit has chosen a singularly inappropriate example.

He objects, second, to my Humean thesis that value judgments cannot be defended by simply citing a collection of purely natural facts without relying on some assumed further value judgment. Critics have offered what strike them as plausible counter-examples – just the natural fact that someone is in pain argues, they say, just on its own, that other people have a duty to help – and in Justice for Hedgehogs I tried to explain why such cases are not, after all, counter-examples. Pettit’s case is not even apparently a counter-example.
‘Take the evaluation of assistance as kind and the action therefore good. That evaluation will surely obtain on the basis of the natural facts about the action: the facts that make the action kind. But there need be no pressure to justify the kindness in further terms. It may count as an intrinsically desirable property that is sufficient in the context to show why the action is right and should be chosen.”


“Kind” is certainly a value judgment and of course an action’s kindness counts as a right-making property. But no set of “natural facts” can entail that an action is kind without some normative assumption about what facts do or do not make an action kind. Not every act of assistance is kind; people disagree about what else is necessary. The motives of the aider count, but people disagree about what motives would disqualify a helpful act as kind. The concept of assistance is itself controversial, moreover. Have I assisted you if I forcibly prevent you from an action I think bad for you? Have I been kind? We need to think, among other things, about the puzzles of paternalism and we cannot do that without bringing to bear many other values, each of which carries its own interpretive controversies. Pettit’s example seems, contrary to his intention, an excellent example of the need for value holism.
Perhaps he means only that in some circumstances – when you have acted out of pure beneficence, I have requested your aid, there is no question of paternalism, etc. – we can judge your action an assistance and as kind just on the basis of the full facts of that situation. But however we describe these circumstances, we must have covertly rejected a host of theories that make some feature of that particular context kindness-disqualifying. To take an extreme example: we must have rejected the claim that self-reliance is such a crucial virtue that any act of assistance, however firmly requested, is harmful and unkind. Of course that is false and silly. But it can’t be refuted just by piling up further “natural” facts.
Pettit directs his third objection to my central suggestion that philosophical skepticism – the metaphysical position, for instance, that there are no such things as moral duties in the universe – is itself a normative moral claim. Here is a capsule of my argument. If we accept (A) “There are no moral duties” then we must deny (B) “Rich members of a community have a moral duty to help their unfortunate fellow citizens.” Denying (B) certainly makes a normative moral claim in the mouth of, say, a political libertarian, and I argue, over several chapters of the book, that there is no pertinent way of distinguishing his meaning in denying (B) from that of a metaphysician. If I am right, then there is no useful discipline of meta-ethics, and it is hardly surprising that many philosophers who regard themselves as meta-ethicists have resisted my arguments. (For a useful sample of their positions, see the essays in Part 1 of the Boston University Law Review issue mentioned in the introduction, my response to those essays in that issue, and the several discussions in footnotes to Chapter 3 of JH.) Pettit does not engage with my arguments as those critics have: he says only that (A) and (B) seem different “to my ears.” True, he had little space available in a relatively short review. But his reluctance to argue makes his charge of fantasy look thin.
His own explanation of why philosophical skepticism does not undermine everyday morality is based on a bad analogy. We speak comfortably about the solidity of steel, he says, even though we know, from atomic physics, that a steel beam is mostly empty space. But we have both an everyday and a scientific account of what “solid” means that is perfectly compatible with particle physics. What we say about steel beams is literally true. But we have no translation of what (B) means in everyday speech that makes it compatible with (A).

RESPONSES TO CRITICS

Selected Responses

In the preface to Hedgehogs I said that I would comment on reviews here only selectively, picking up what I thought important issues noted by critics or what I took to be misunderstandings that I worried might be widespread. This is the first such comment, though I hope and expect that there will be others.

Grayling

Anthony Grayling’s very generous review (The Birth of a Classic, The New York Review of Books of April 28, 2011) provides a comprehensive and illuminating summary of the entire argument of the book. I believe it will prove useful to many readers. I have reservations about only one point he makes. He suggests “an attractive alternative” to my thoroughgoing endorsement of Hume’s Principle: he says that there are “certain facts about sentient creatures … that are value-soaked right through, and whose truth is what makes certain moral assertions true. For example, the capacity of sentient beings for suffering and pleasure …” I agree that this capacity is an indispensible, even if almost always unspoken, premise of many moral claims. But it does not automatically follow that someone who deliberately causes pain has acted wrongly or is wicked. It must also be true that he had no justification for his act on the particular occasion, and though that might be evidently true in most circumstances, it is nevertheless a necessary further moral claim.

Gearty

Conor Gearty, in equally generous comments (Review, The New Humanist, March/April 2011) says that if I were a hotel I would be the Savoy in London. That hotel, I note, was closed a few years ago as in urgent need of modernization. (It has since reopened.)

Blackburn

Simon Blackburn is also generous in his review (Justice for Hedgehogs, Times Higher Education Supplement, January 11, 2011) but also has reservations. He begins by suggesting that my view of law comes “alarmingly close” to that of the Lord Chancellor in Iolanthe, who declared that the law is the very embodiment of everything that’s excellent, that it has no manner or matter of flaw, and that he himself embodies the law. It is unclear how close is too close for Blackburn’s taste; I declared pretty much the exact opposite opinion in Chapter 19 of this book, and in everything else I have written about law over very many years. He may think the difference unimportant between the Lord Chancellor’s optimism and the very different view, which I defend, that moral judgment often plays an interpretive role in deciding what the law on some matter is. If so, that is regrettable: an inability to tell the difference has contributed to bad legal theory and sometimes very bad legal decisions. In any case, he seems to read my views about law very differently later in his review when he notes my observation that the old question whether an immoral law is really law is close to a verbal question. He says that my thinking the question important was “the crux” of my criticism of legal positivism over the decades. That is a revealing misunderstanding: my claim that the issue is not a serious one has long been – and had to be – an important part of my critique. See, e.g., Law’s Empire, 101-108. Another of Blackburn’s misunderstandings is more serious. He says that if I’m right, poor Sophocles went awry in Antigone by taking the question that I dismiss so seriously. But the central aim in my discussion of the problem in Chapter 19 is to separate the traditional legal philosopher’s worry that I think overblown – whether the concept of law extends to bad laws – from the intensely difficult moral issues we face when we take political obligation as itself a moral claim. Jurisprudential focus on the former question has sadly eclipsed the latter – Antigone’s – dilemma.

FURTHER COMMENTS

Human Rights

On page 335, I say “We must therefore insist that though people do have a political right to equal concern and respect on the right conception, they have a more fundamental because more abstract right. They have a right to be treated with the attitude that these debates presuppose and reflect – a right to be treated as a human being whose dignity fundamentally matters. That more abstract right – the right to an attitude – is the basic human right.”

Samuel Scheffler very helpfully pointed out a series of possible problems in this formulation. It might suggest, first, that an act or practice does not violate human rights unless those responsible were in a particular mental state. It might suggest, second, that it is the mental state that constitutes a violation, so that a government violates human rights when its officials hold the wrong attitudes even though they never act on them. I should have made plainer that this summary formulation presupposes the rest of the discussion: whether a government violates human rights depends on whether its acts, set in the context of its broader culture, history and policies, are best interpreted as denying the requisite attitude toward some people or groups. It is, moreover, its acts – the way it treats people – that are the subject of that interpretive judgment, not anyone’s bare attitudes.

Scheffler raises a further important question. Does this formulation allow for horizontal human rights? Does it accommodate, for example, the now popular view that transnational corporations must respect the human rights of their employees or of others who are affected by their conduct? Yes, but it makes that popular view depend on controversial answers to further open questions. Whether some institution’s behavior is correctly interpreted as denying anyone’s right to dignity depends on the level of concern it is required to show for him.

Throughout Part 5 I assume that a government has a responsibility of equal concern for all those subject to its dominion. We disagree about what that means: we disagree about what economic system equal concern requires, for instance. But if a government’s policies cannot be interpreted as enforcing any good faith answer to that question, its policies deny the dignity of those who suffer in consequence. In Part 4, on the contrary, I assume that private individuals have no comparable responsibility to strangers. I may permissibly exhibit more concern for myself and my family than for you and yours, and my favoritism therefore cannot be interpreted as denying you full human status and dignity. But if my behavior is sufficiently unmindful of your welfare – if I refuse to rescue you when I easily can or if I deliberately harm you – then, as I claim in Part 4, I have violated your rights because I have failed to show your humanity the right respect.

Human rights conventions are constructed with the high responsibilities of coercive governments in mind: they assume that government must show all those over whom it exercises power an equal concern. We must therefore approach the question whether people have comparable rights against giant transnational corporations by first fixing the level of concern these organizations owe to those whose lives they affect. Which analogy should we use? Ordinary commercial enterprises do not owe the same concern to customers as to shareholders: they are obliged to seek a profit for the latter by enticing the former. They are subject to the constraints of decency of Part 4 but not the much stronger constraints of coercive government. But giant corporations have many powers that strike critics as coercive and it might therefore be right to hold them to the greater level of concern we associate with governments. I have not attempted argument for or against that different analogy, but nothing in my discussion of human rights in Chapter 15 rules it out.

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