The London Libertarian

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act-omission doctrine

PhilosophyPosted by Jan Lester Mon, May 12, 2014 13:58:47

act-omission doctrine It is a matter of debate in *moral *philosophy, whether there is a real moral distinction between acting and failing to act when the outcome is the same. For instance, is there a difference between pushing someone into a river so that he drowns and failing to throw him a lifebelt so that he drowns? The act-omission doctrine is simply that there is a significant moral difference.

*Libertarians are often sympathetic to this distinction, and can see it as always permissible not to act in the sense that one is merely not getting involved. However, mere physical action and inaction cannot seem to capture the idea that libertarianism itself requires. One can, for instance, fail to act and thereby break a *contract, which cannot be libertarian. Thus a contract can morally, and legally, override any physical difference. In whatever way the physical distinction is worded, it seems to fall foul of some such *criticism.

There is, nevertheless, an *objective and moral distinction that is often detectable in many such examples: that between merely withholding a benefit and *proactively imposing a *cost. In fact, interpersonal *liberty can be defined as the ‘absence of proactively imposed costs’. This is a more abstract distinction than the act-omission one, though, and so more open to debatable interpretation than that merely physical distinction.

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