Fall 2022 Colloquium Series 4 November

November 04, 2022

Renee Jorgensen, University of Michigan :: The Stakes of Taking a Social Approach to Rights
Friday November 4, 2022

Abstract: Sometimes we make mistakes about whether someone consented, or whether defensive harm was necessary. Whether they think objective rights are outcome-relative or evidence-relative, theorists tend to agree that what you should do when you face this kind of uncertainty is make your 'morally best bet' given your rational credences. When mistakes are made, we discuss whether to hold someone responsible to compensate the person injured by asking whether they fell short of this standard; if not, we declare the mistake a tragedy, socially and legally releasing the mistake-maker from any responsibility for their "reasonable" mistake. In this talk I argue that this whole approach is badly wrong: it characterizes moral rights in a way that unjustly fails to secure the underlying moral interests for non-dominant groups. Focusing our attention on the rationality of individual mistakes leads us to systematically conduct ourselves in ways that actually violate people's rights by supporting perverse social norms that put them at disproportionate risk of being mistakenly harmed. Rather, what we owe others is to do our part in following an adequately just social norm for minimizing and fairly distributing the risk of mistakes; when our norms for managing uncertainty are unjust, to respect others' rights we must actively work to destabilize and replace the unjust norms. Among other things, that involves protesting unjust acquittals, refusing to accept certain reasons as justifying mistakes, and creating avenues to apologise and compensate for the injuries resulting from rational mistakes.