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Chapter 10: From Modes of Responsibility to Moral Norms


The modes of responsibility and their corresponding virtues are normative principles—they direct and incline one to live a morally good life—but they are not specific enough to serve as norms. Told to act impartially, one finds oneself asking whether or not one is guilty of partiality in adopting a particular proposal. Even someone fully disposed to do what is fair can be uncertain what that is. In asking what is right, one is asking for a more specific moral norm. This chapter explains how more specific norms are drawn from moral principles. These more specific norms are judgments of conscience or contribute to such judgments. Hence, this discussion begins to round out the inquiry commenced in chapter three; chapters eleven and twelve will complete the treatment of moral principles and their application in judgments of conscience.

Specific moral norms are derived from the modes of responsibility by considering acts to be evaluated in terms of the goods at stake and the varieties of voluntariness involved. When one tries to use a previously formulated norm to reach a judgment of conscience, one sometimes, but not always, finds it nonabsolute. To say that a norm is “nonabsolute” is to say that it does not apply in some cases. This happens because some cases involve morally relevant features in addition to those of the cases for which the norm was designed. Duties and rights are derived from the modes of responsibility in the same way as other norms; so are the moral responsibilities of communities.