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Arts & Letters Daily

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8a. Duty – Mr. Kennedy

Duty

Mr. Kennedy: High School Teacher

Dilemma

Duty. For the past three and a half years, Mr. Kennedy, a high school teacher in his early thirties, has experienced pain in his legs. Finally, he told his doctor about it who, upon examination, determined that he had transverse myelitis. When asked, the Doctor acknowledged that no effective cure currently exists for this condition.

Since Mr. Kennedy’s duties in the classroom required prolonged standing, he requested regular periods of sick leave to rest his legs and to engage in a physical therapy program. With the concurrence of his Doctor, Mr. Kennedy asserted that he could not work in the classroom without regular periods of rest and therapy even though his contract obligated him to be in the classroom every school day.

Rights. When senior management was reluctant to agree to the request for a series of ‘paid leaves’, Mr. Kennedy appealed the decision based on the protection of his human rights enshrined in the Canadian Bill of Rights. Reluctantly, management concurred with the appeal on the grounds Mr. Kennedy’s civil rights had been violated.

Discussion

  • Does ‘ought’ imply ‘can’? Explain.
  • Discuss other situations where people use this kind of thinking.

Consider this view: Does ‘ought’ imply ‘can’?

  • Crooked thinking

No.

  • Straight thinking

Ought implies can. A person must be capable of what is morally expected of him. Without the capability, the “ought” simply does not apply to a person. An agent cannot be responsible for his actions unless he is in his right mind or capable of assuming the responsibility. What if the agent is not in his right mind because of some course of action he took, such as consuming too much alcohol? Suppose a student gets involved in a brawl at school as a result of his consumption of too much alcohol? Would his actions (i.e., getting involved in a brawl) be wrong due to negligence or due to some subsequent action or both? In other words, was his action wrong due to his consumption of too much alcohol or due to his irresponsible conversation or due to his getting involved in a brawl? Would it not have been wrong for him not to be in his right mind if he had consumed too much alcohol but had not been involved in the brawl? It is considered morally wrong for a person to put himself out of a state of being in his right mind.

Moral principle value tests

An application of the moral principle value tests probably illustrates most clearly what is entailed in evaluative reasoning. They are:

It is important to emphasize that the moral-value principle tests are not designed to resolve issues (guarantee right answers!) but to assess the ‘justification’ for moral value decisions.

To view the Dilemma from the perspective of Duty, Rights, Motives, Desert and Justice, click on the following:

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