Does ought imply can?

Miklos Kurthy, Holly Lawford-Smith, Paulo Sousa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Most philosophers believe that a person can have an obligation only insofar as she is able to fulfil it, a principle generally referred to as “Ought Implies Can”. Arguably, this principle reflects something basic about the ordinary concept of obligation. However, in a paper published recently in this journal, Wesley Buckwalter and John Turri presented evidence for the conclusion that ordinary people in fact reject that principle. With a series of studies, they claimed to have demonstrated that, in people’s judgements, obligations persist irrespective of whether those who hold them have the ability to fulfil them. We argue in this paper that due to some problems in their design, Buckwalter & Turri’s conclusions may not be warranted. We present the results of a series of studies demonstrating the problems with their design and showing that, with an improved design, people judge that obligation depends on ability after all.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0175206
JournalPLoS One
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 12 Apr 2017

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