Skip to main content

Inviolability and Interpersonal Morality

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. Recently, non-consequentialists such as T.M Scanlon, Stephen Darwall, R. Jay Wallace, and Paul Hurley have attempted to explain the authority of morality by emphasizing its interpersonal nature. Although Scanlon, Darwall, Wallace, and Hurley all differ in how they understand the nature of interpersonal morality, they all share the thought that it is the relational structure of morality that explains its normative stringency. See T.M. Scanlon, What We Owe to Each Other, (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1998); Stephen Darwall, The Second-Person Standpoint, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006); R. Jay Wallace, “The Deontic Structure of Morality,” in Thinking About Reasons: Themes from the Philosophy of Jonathan Dancy. ed. David Bakhurst, Margaret Olivia Little, and Brad Hooker. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); Paul Hurley, Beyond Consequentialism, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

  2. Frances Kamm, Intricate Ethics, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 28. As I will note later on, in Intricate Ethics Kamm draws a distinction between moral status and inviolability. For present purposes, I will focus solely on inviolability.

  3. Ibid., p. 25. As Michael Otsuka notes, this feature of the inviolability approach implies that there could be beings with an even higher level of inviolability than human beings. See Michael Otsuka, “Kamm on the Morality of Killing,” Ethics, vol. 108, no. 1 (1997): 197–207.

  4. Kamm, Intricate Ethics, p. 28.

  5. Ibid., p. 28.

  6. For an argument that Kamm fails to solve the paradox of deontology, see Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen, "Kamm on Inviolability and Agent Relative Restrictions," Res Publica, 15 (2009): 165–178.

  7. Frances Kamm, “Non-Consequentialism, the Person as an End-in-Itself, and the Significance of Status,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 21, no. 4 (1992): 388–389.

  8. Ibid., p. 386.

  9. Kamm, Intricate Ethics, p. 230.

  10. Ibid., p. 231. These quotes are from Kamm’s chapter on rights. Inviolability and rights, on Kamm’s view, are connected insofar as the rights we have make up, or express, our inviolable status; see Intricate Ethics, p. 253.

  11. Ibid., p. 230.

  12. Ibid., 28.

  13. Ibid., 256.

  14. Ibid., 227.

  15. Here I am following Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen’s interpretation of Kamm’s connection between moral status and the value of inviolability: that differences in moral status give rise to different types or genres of inviolability. See, Lippert-Rasmussen, op. cit., pp. 167–170. Kamm herself is not explicit about the way in which the two concepts are meant to interact. Nonetheless, I find Lippert-Rasmussen’s interpretation to be the most plausible understanding of the connection between moral status and inviolability.

  16. Kamm, Intricate Ethics, p. 228.

  17. Ibid., 229.

  18. Ibid., 232.

  19. Ibid., 29.

  20. The term buck passing is borrowed from Scanlon’s so-called buck passing account of goodness. See T.M. Scanlon, op. cit., pp. 96–100. For present purposes, I wish to adopt the basic structure of the argument without necessarily endorsing Scanlon’s analysis of goodness. Note, also, that in using this term I do not mean to claim that all values pass the buck to natural properties; rather, I am simply claiming that inviolability passes the buck to other properties and evaluative concepts.

  21. Ibid., p. 169.

  22. Ibid., 106.

  23. Ibid., 154.

  24. For such an argument see Rahul Kumar, “Defending the Moral Moderate: Contractualism and Common Sense,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 28, no. 4 (1999): 275–309. For a critique of Kumar’s argument, see Jeffrey Brand-Ballard, “Contractualism and Deontic Restrictions,” Ethics, 114, (2004): 269–300.

  25. Kamm, Intricate Ethics, p. 231.

  26. Kamm expands upon the original Trolley Case to make this point. If we flip the switch, it does not seem impermissible for the one person stranded on the track to resist our doing so (say, by redirecting the trolley back towards the five). Kamm argues that the permissibility of the victim’s resistance indicates that we have permissibly wronged her; Kamm, Intricate Ethics, p. 486. I do not share the intuition that the one person may permissibly redirect the trolley. This requires further argument, but the present point is that Kamm’s diagnosis of the case is not necessarily the most obvious. For more on the infringement/violation distinction see John Oberdiek, “Lost in Moral Space: On the Infringing/Violating Distinction and Its Place in the Theory of Rights,” Law and Philosophy, (2004): 325–346.

  27. Kamm, Intricate Ethics, p. 230.

  28. The argument of this section bears clear similarities to Stephen Darwall’s claim that morality must be second-personal “all the way down”.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Andrew P. Ross.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Ross, A.P. Inviolability and Interpersonal Morality. J Value Inquiry 50, 69–82 (2016).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Moral Status
  • Intricate Ethic
  • Divine Command Theory
  • Directed Duty
  • Evaluative Concept