Department of Philosophy



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The Department of Philosophy Colloquium Series presents

David Miller (Oxford and Queen’s)

"The Nature and Limits of the Duty of Rescue”

THURSDAY, April 6th 2017

WATSON HALL, ROOM 517 @ 4:00 p.m.


Virtually everyone believes that we have a duty to rescue fellow human-beings from serious danger when we can do so at small cost to ourselves – and this belief forms the starting point for many arguments in moral and political philosophy concerning state legitimacy, global poverty, refugees, body parts, and so forth. But how are we to explain this duty, and within what limits does it apply?  I argue that it cannot be subsumed under a wider consequentialist requirement to prevent harm.  Nor can it be understood as a duty of social justice that citizens owe to one another as part of an implicit social contract for mutual protection.  Instead it is a sui generis duty of justice that arises from the direct physical encounter between rescuer and victim, and is accordingly limited in scope.  I go on to explore whether the right to be rescued can be forfeited by recklessness or a failure of reciprocity on the right-holder.  And I ask how the duty of rescue should be understood when multiple rescuers are present.  Is there a further duty to take up the slack if others default on their obligations?


*If you have accessibility requirements, please contact Judy Vanhooser (


Full Winter Colloquium Schedule

Jan 19                    Steve Macedo, Princeton University, "No Slippery Slopes"

Jan 26                    Lorne Maclachlan, Queen’s University, "Myself and My Universe"

Feb 2                     Michael Hannon, Queen’s University, "What's the Point of Understanding?"

Feb 9                     Toby Rollo, University of British Columbia, "Carceral Childhood: Exploring the Criminalization of Black and Indigenous Youth"

Feb 16                   --no colloquium this week--

March 2                 Lisa Guenther, Vanderbilt University, "Unmaking and Remaking the World in Long-Term Solitary Confinement"

March 9                 Andrea Kern, Leipzig University, "Kant’s Conception of a Self-Conscious Capacity for Knowledge"

March 16               Kurt Mertel, Northwestern University and Queen's University,

March 23               Jason Millar, University of Ottawa, "The Ethics and Governance of Highly Automated Vehicles"

March 30               Christine Sypnowich, Queen's University, "Flourishing Children, Flourishing Adults: Families, Equality and the Neutralist-Perfectionist Debate"

April 6                    David Miller, Queen's University, and Nuffield College, Oxford, "The Nature and Limits of the Duty of Rescue"