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This article focuses on the moral assumptions underpinning the notion of social responsibility implied in the above slogan. It critically examines arguments which derive obligations to meet needs from shared moral agency and from social relations of reciprocity. Obligations to contribute according to ability are established by a series of arguments which justify regarding undeserved natural abilities and socially produced abilities as common assets, and which demonstrate that under certain conditions the maxim ‘ought implies can’ is reversible as ‘can implies ought’. The problem of motivation and voluntary action is tackled by arguing that there are intrinsic and extrinsic incentives to contribute unconnected with special rewards and that moral incentives replace material incentives to produce.

The notion of responsibility is an essential concept for social life, but since its justification and adoption depends on an inclusive moral community with overlapping ends and purposes, it is not surprising that the duty to contribute is absent from liberal theory, and had no positive connotations in liberal society. Politicians of every hue are increasingly appealing to the responsibilities citizens are expected to fulfil; yet they fail to account for the conditions for their development and exercise. For this reason, the assumptions expressed in the socialist slogan are an important corrective to liberal perspectives.
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Document Type: Original Article

Affiliations: POLIS, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK. E-mail: [email protected]

Publication date: 2002-03-01

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