"Why Am I My Brother's Keeper?"

Michigan Law Authors
Publish Date
Reason and Value: Themes from the Moral Philosophy of Joseph Raz
Publication Type
Book Chapter

I want to cast doubt on a proposition which many people would regard as the first axiom of moral theory. Joseph Raz has stated the proposition thus: 'Morality is ... concerned with the advancement of the well-being of individuals.' Actually, Raz includes a qualifier-the full quote says that morality 'is thought to be concerned with' advancing the well-being of individuals. But the whole tenor of his ensuing discussion suggests that Raz generally shares this view of what morality is about.

As I say, I want to cast doubt on this axiom, but I shall not take issue with any particular judgement that the axiom might entail about how to act in a concrete case. My focus in this essay is not on what should be done, but on why we should do it. Hence my question, 'Why am I my brother's keeper?' I do not ask, like Cain, whether I am my brother's keeper, with the rhetorical implication that what goes on in others' lives is no concern of mine. I accept that each of us should be concerned (intrinsically) with what goes on in others' lives. The question is how best to account for or understand that obligation. Is it best understood as an obligation to promote others' well-being, or as an obligation of some other sort?

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