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Many philosophers think that if you're morally responsible for a state of affairs, you must be a cause of it. Ingmar Persson argues that this strand of common sense morality is asymmetrical, in that it features the act-omission doctrine, according to which there are stronger reasons against performing some harmful actions than in favour of performing any beneficial actions. He analyses the act-omission doctrine as consisting in a theory of negative rights, according to which there are rights not to have one's life, body, and property interfered with, and a conception of responsibility as being based on causality. This conception of responsibility is also found to be involved in the doctrine of double effect. The outcome of Persson's critical examination of these ideas is that reasons of rights are replaced by reasons of beneficence, and we are made responsible for what is under the influence of our practical reasons. The argument gives rise to a symmetrical, consequentialist morality which is more demanding but less authoritative than common sense morality, because reasons of beneficence are weaker than reasons of rights. It is also argued that there are no non-naturalist external practical reasons, and all practical reasons are desire-dependent: so practical reasons cannot be universally binding. The question is whether such a morality possesses enough authority to command our compliance. This seems necessary in order for us to cope with the greatest moral problems of our time, such as aid to developing countries and anthropogenic climate change.
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