Abstract for Lackey’s Talk

We have the duty to object to things that people say. If you report something that I know is false or unwarranted, or potentially harmful to others, I may be required to say as much. In this paper, my aim is to explore in greater depth how to best understand this duty. I begin by highlighting two central features of this duty that distinguish it from others, such as promise-keeping. In particular, I argue that whether we are obligated to object is directly influenced not only by what other relevant members of the context or community do, but also by the social status of the agent in question. I then show that these features are shared by the duty to be charitable, and the similarities between these two duties point to a potentially deeper explanation: while promise-keeping is regarded as a classic perfect duty, charity is an imperfect one. I then consider two criteria identified as central to imperfect duties and argue that both are true of the duty to object, giving us reason to conclude that the duty to object might be helpfully understood as an imperfect one, and, further, that there are imperfect epistemic duties in general. I turn to a particular conception of imperfect duties that understands them in collective terms, and I show that while a key aspect of this model must be rejected, the more general framework of understanding the duty to object as belonging to groups is promising. I develop this model in greater detail, where I defend what I call the imperfect duty to object view, which takes the distribution of goods, including epistemic goods, to be central. Finally, I consider a view that links the duty to object with the cooperative nature of conversation rather than to the distribution of goods, and I show why there are independent reasons to prefer the latter to the former.