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?


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