A Puzzle about ‘Right’ and ‘Wrong’

Intuitively, it’s clear that ‘wrong’ entails ‘ought not’; and the term ‘right’ seems simply to be the contradictory of ‘wrong’ (after all, ‘It’s not right’ seems at first glance to entail ‘It’s wrong’, and obviously nothing can be both right and wrong). But then it follows that ‘right’ cannot entail anything stronger than ‘it is not the case that … ought not…’. I.e., ‘right’ cannot mean anything stronger than ‘permissible‘.

Intuitively, however, ‘right’ seems stronger than ‘permissible’. If I say, "You’re quite right to F", I seem to be expressing a much stronger sort of approval of your F-ing than if I merely said "It is quite permissible for you to F".  It’s natural to talk about "the right thing to do", but decidedly odd to talk about "a right thing to do" (whereas it’s perfectly natural to talk about "a permissible thing to do"). So, what does ‘right’ mean — does it just mean ‘permissible’ or does it mean something stronger?

At first glance, it certainly seems that ‘It’s not right’ entails ‘It’s wrong’. But on further reflection, it becomes clear that this entailment only holds if we restrict our attention to items that are capable of being either right or wrong. The number 2 is presumably neither right nor wrong; and so ‘The number 2 is not right’ does not entail ‘The number 2 is wrong’! Thus, any normal use of ‘x is right’ presupposes that x is an item of the sort that is capable of being right or wrong.

There is a lot of debate about what exactly these items are. (Are they acts? or states of affairs? or what?) To fix ideas, let us call these items "options"; and let us suppose that options are states of affairs of a certain kind. Specifically, let us suppose that an option is a state of affairs that consists in a certain agent’s doing an act of a certain type at a certain time — e.g., the state of affairs of Buridan’s ass eating the bale of hay on the Left at time t.

Now, options or states of affairs can be individuated either finely or coarsely. E.g., the state of affairs of Buridan’s ass eating the bale of hay on the Left at time t is individuated more coarsely than the state of affairs of the ass’s eating the bale of hay on the Left at t by first taking a bite from the bottom right-hand corner of the bale, but more finely individuated than the ass’s eating either the hay on the Left or the hay on the Right at t.

In general, there will be many different ways of carving up or partitioning the relevant space of options or states of affairs. But there will be at least one special way of partitioning the space of states of affairs so that every one of the states of affairs in this special partition is either obligatory or impermissible. (If I remember rightly, this point has been made by my colleague Krister Bykvist in his paper "Alternative Actions and the Spirit of Consequentialism", Philosophical Studies (2002).)

E.g., with Buridan’s ass, this special partition will include the obligatory option of eating either the hay on the Left or the hay on the Right at t, and it will also include the impermissible option of eating neither the hay on the Left nor the hay on the Right at t. But this special partition will not include either the option of eating the hay on the Left or the option of eating the hay on the Right — since neither of those options is either obligatory or impermissible.

So my proposal about the terms ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ is that it is only the options that belong to a partition of this sort that can ordinarily be called "right" or "wrong". This implies the following three theses:

  1. any one of these options that is not right is wrong;
  2. any one of these options that is wrong is impermissible;
  3. any one of these options that is right is obligatory.

Obviously, this will explain why saying "You were quite right to F" expresses a much stronger approval of your F-ing than "It was permissible for you  to F". This then is my solution to the puzzle that we started with.

28 Replies to “A Puzzle about ‘Right’ and ‘Wrong’

  1. That’s very interesting but something seems to go too quickly. It seems right that part of the meaning of right and wrong is that they cannot be applied to numbers but rather to actions, states of affairs, and the like.
    But, I doubt that this means that from the meaning of the terms we get to a fine partioning of the states of affairs in which ‘not right’ implies ‘not wrong’. It does not seem like I would be making a semantic mistake if I applied the terms to less finely specified objects. Also, don’t we want to leave room for vagueness – actions that are not determinately right or wrong. If so, then I’m not sure ‘not right’ ever implies ‘wrong’.

  2. Jussi —
    Just to explain — I’m not saying that ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ apply only to the members of a particularly *fine* partitioning of the relevant space of states of affairs. If anything, the “special” partitioning that I was talking about will typically be a relatively *coarse* partitioning. (This is because whenever there are two alternative options that are equally permissible, this “special” partitioning will not contain either of these alternaive options, but only their *disjunction*.)
    Vagueness leads to so many complexities here, which have nothing special to do with the terms ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, that I think it’s best to ignore the issue for the time being. If you prefer, instead of saying that ‘x is not right’ entails ‘x is wrong’ I could just say that it seems to be some kind of necessary truth that every item of the relevant sort is either right or wrong (and not both).

  3. Ralph,
    thanks. That’s helpful. I guess the question I had in mind was why is it the case that only the options that belong to the *special* partioning can *ordinarily* be called ‘right’ or ‘wrong’? Is it because the meaning of these terms? We do call other things right and wrong, so are we then making a mistake and what kind of a mistake is it?

  4. Ralph,
    Won’t there be cases in which there are only permissible options, and nothing obligatory or forbidden? Presumably it is permissible for me to play 9 holes instead of 18 holes of golf today. There is no partition of my options such that it is obligatory that I play, say, either 9 or 18 holes, or where it is forbidden that I play neither 9 nor 18 holes. Nonetheless, I think we want to say that I do nothing wrong in playing 9 holes, don’t we? But it doesn’t follow that I therefore do something right.

  5. Jussi — Yes, I guess that this sort of partitioning of the space of states of affairs has something to do with the meaning of the terms ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. But it somehow seems more like a presupposition than an entailment, because it seems normally to carry over to the negations of sentences of the form ‘x is right’. So it looks as though there are lots of tricky details to my proposal that will have to worked out, unfortunately…
    Mike — I’d say that in any case in which there some permissible options the *disjunction* of all the permissible options is itself obligatory. (It seems obvious, after all, that it is always obligatory to do something permissible and not to do anything that is impermissible.)

  6. It seems obvious, after all, that it is always obligatory to do something permissible and not to do anything that is impermissible
    I was thinking of a case where every option is permissible. Maybe there’s a better example than the golf example. Suppose I’m in a position where everything I can do is permissible, but nothing that I can do is obligatory. I’m tied to a chair, say, I’m slightly drugged and cannot think clearly. There’s a small range of things I can do. I can sing, I guess, or try to sleep. Every available option in the small range is permissible. But certainly the disjunction of all of the permissible things I can do is not obligatory.

  7. Mike — Why do you say, “certainly the disjunction of all of the permissible things I can do is not obligatory”? Surely it *is* obligatory for you to do one or another of those things!
    Suppose that the options available to you are A, B, and C, all of which are permissible. Then I say that it is obligatory for you to do either A or B or C. Why do you disagree?
    (Perhaps you are one of those people who think that ‘You ought to do A’ entails, not only that it is possible for you to do A, but also that it is possible for you *not* to do A? I believe that that is a fundamental misunderstanding of the logic of ‘ought’, but it would take me to long to argue the point right now.)

  8. Why do you say, “certainly the disjunction of all of the permissible things I can do is not obligatory”? Surely it *is* obligatory for you to do one or another of those things!
    I like this disagreement: “Is not!; Is so!”. I guess I can’t see how any of these trivial actions fulfills a moral obligation. Seems like you’re assuming that, in every situation, there is some (at worst disjunctive) option that is obligatory. That might be true for intrusive theories like utilitarianism, but it’s not in general true, or true as a matter of the logic of these notions. Or, to put it another way, it’s incredible to me that, as a matter of the logic of these notions, I’m forever fulfilling some obligation or other or failing to, no matter how insignificant my options. But I do not find it incredible that, as a matter substantive commitment (say, to some form of consequentalism), that I’m forever fulfilling some obligation or other or failing to, no matter how insignificant my options.

  9. Hi Ralph –
    Seems to me your proposal is intuitive. Could I paraphrase it this way? I act rightly if and only if I fulfill a moral obligation. I have a moral obligation to bring about [at least] one of my permitted options. If I am required to bring about a specific state x, this entails that x is my only permitted option, and the above scheme entails that I am obligated to bring about x. If I am permitted to bring about x, y, or z, the above schema entails that I am morally obligated to bring about [at least] one of x, y, or z. I take this just to be a paraphrase of your analysis, but perhaps I’m wrong.
    In response to Mike, I might say that it is surely morally obligatory not to do something that is morally impermissible. But leaving aside vague cases, it seems to me there are only two “permissibility” valences an act/state/whatever can have: permissible and impermissible. If so, to not do something that is morally impermissible is to do something morally permissible. Hence it is morally obligatory to do something morally permissible. If all of your options are permissible, it is surely obligatory to do one of those things. This might seem like an instance of fulfilling an obligation on the cheap, but why not?

  10. Dale,
    I don’t see why there is any obligation to satisfy the disjunction of permissible options. The options might well be set out before me. But before I perform any one of them, I’m struck dead. Did I fail to fulfill an obligation? I really can’t see how. Since I was struck dead, and did not perform one of the permissible options, did I also fail to fulfill an obligation not to do something impermissible? Why does that sound crazy to me?

  11. Ralph,
    Just to make sure I get it, the puzzle is that these claims all seem intuitively true, but conjoined they entail a contradiction:
    (1) x is not right iff x is wrong
    (2) x is right iff x is morally obligatory
    (3) x is wrong iff x is morally impermissible
    (4) ~(x is morally obligatory) iff x is morally permissible or x is morally impermissible.
    The conjunction of (2) and (4) entails:
    (5) x is not right iff x is morally permissible or x is morally impermissible
    And the conjunction of (1) and (3) entails:
    (6) x is not right iff x is morally impermissible.
    But, unless all instances of “x is morally permissible” are false, (5) and (6) contradict each other. As some instances of “x is morally permissible” are true, (5) and (6) cannot both be veridical, and we must deny one of (1) – (4).
    Your solution has it that only a certain sort of entity — one that is either morally impermissible or morally obligatory — can be instantiated for “x” in (1) – (3). With the universe of discourse thusly restricted, all instances of “x is morally permissible” ARE false and we can coherently affirm all of (1) – (4).
    Is this, basically, what you’re proposing? If so, I find your solution unsatisfying. Specifically, I do not share your intuition that (1) is true; at least in certain circumstances we say “x is not right” in order to communicate that “x is morally permissible” (e.g., if someone asks “is it right for me to purchase chocolate ice cream?” and you reply “no, it’s not right, you can do it if you want to, though”). A solution that takes this into account, while also acknowledging that often we say “x is not right” in order to communicate that “x is morally impermissible,” has it that the statement “x is not right” is frequently used as elliptical for “x is morally impermissible,” but the proposition “x is not right” entails the disjunction “x is permissible or x is impermissible.”

  12. Thanks PEA Soupers!
    I’m too tired to respond to everyone in detail, but I thought I’d make a couple of quick points.
    1. I’m totally amazed by Angus’s linguistic intuitions. I’m sure that it would never occur to me to interpret ‘It’s not right to F’ as compatible with the claim that it is permissible to F. Perhaps we should ask the linguists to consult their big databases about this, but I’m willing to bet that Angus’s interpretation of these English sentences is extremely eccentric.
    2. In general, I’m very much with Dale and against Mike on these issues. I believe in standard deontic logic, after all, and so I think that it is always quite extraordinarily easy for you to do *something* that you ought to do. Alas, it is rarely anything like so easy for you to do *everything* that you ought to do…
    3. Mike’s example of your being struck dead before you can do what (it appeared that) you ought to do does not seem at all persuasive to me. If you were in fact going to get struck dead (through no fault of your own), then it wasn’t in fact possible for you to do what it appeared that you ought to do. Since ‘ought’ entails ‘can’, it wasn’t actually true that you ought to do what it seemed that you ought to do.

  13. I have almost exactly the opposite view from Angus. For one thing, I do not believe people actually do say, “No, it isn’t right, but you can do it if you want to.”
    Ralph’s is an elegant solution to the problem, but I’m not convinced that there really was a problem. I don’t see a good reason to believe that ‘right’ is stronger than ‘permissible’.
    So first, Ralph uses the intuitive strength of “You’re quite right”, which seems stronger than “It is quite permissible for you”. I admit that those don’t sound the same. But (i) ‘quite’ might act differently on ‘permissible’ and ‘right’ even if they have the same strength on their own, and (ii) the ‘right’ in “You’re quite right” might be a different word or sense. Now that I think about it, though, (i) looks pretty dubious. But I think (ii) is in fact true: the ‘right’ there means ‘correct’ (and ‘wrong’ can, obviously, mean ‘incorrect’).
    Second, Ralph cites the plain superiority of “the right thing to do” over “a right thing to do”, which contrasts with the propriety of “a permissible thing to do”. Again, I agree with the linguistic intuition. This shows that there is some kind of difference between ‘right’ and ‘permissible’, but it could (and seems to me in fact to) be a difference in formality of register. ‘Permissible’ sounds legalistic, ‘right’ more ordinary. And since, to my ear, there is nothing wrong with “He sat a required exam”, the hypothesis that ‘right’ means or can mean ‘required’ doesn’t actually explain the linguistic oddity of ‘a right act’.

  14. If you were in fact going to get struck dead (through no fault of your own), then it wasn’t in fact possible for you to do what it appeared that you ought to do.
    What do you mean? Of course it was possible. It is at best a contingent fact that you were struck dead, no matter what view you take of future contingents. The fact that it’s true that you will be struck dead does not entail that you could not fulfull your obligations, since of course you were not necessarily struck dead. But set that aside, since nothing I said entails any of this. For all I said, the future is open: there is no fact of the matter that you will be struck dead before it actually happens (as it does). The point is that if you are so struck–even on the open assumption–you did not fail to fulfill any obligation. This shows that you need not perform any of the permissible options in order to satisfy the obligation not to do this or that. So you are not obligated in this way to perform some permissible option.

  15. Hi Mike –
    Is your worry like this? Let’s say that you have a set of permissible options {x, y, z}. If you are obligated to perform at least one of x, y, or z, then it’s possible that this account violates ‘ought’ implies ‘can’, because you might get struck dead before you can bring about x, y, or z. That’s the way I’m reading you.
    But why couldn’t someone like Ralph just say that all “options”, whether permissible or impermissible, must be something that the agent involved can bring about? If {x, y, z} are out of reach, they are not permissible options because they aren’t options. Hence you aren’t obligated to perform [at least] one of them. You might ask what precisely the modal force of ‘can’ is, here, and there I’ll bow out of the discussion…

  16. Mike — So suppose that I’ve promised to come round to visit you for lunch tomorrow, but tonight both you and I are killed in a terrorist attack, which we knew nothing about and could have done nothing to prevent. You say that it’s still true that I ought to come to visit you for lunch tomorrow. This doesn’t sound right to me! (This is why my view is that the kind of “possibility” entailed by the “practical ‘ought'” is a lot stronger than metaphysical or logical possibility.)
    Jamie and Simon — So, your intuition is that in a pure Buridan’s Ass case, it’s fine for you to say “It is right for the Ass to eat the hay on the Left.” To my ear, this sounds misleading, as if you were implying that this wasn’t a pure Buridan’s Ass case after all, and for some reason the Ass ought to eat the hay on the Left (rather than the hay on the Right).
    I don’t think the issue can just be that ‘permissible’ is a fancy, high-register word, whereas ‘right’ is a much more ordinary word. To my ear, ‘right’ also contrasts with the more ordinary expressions like ‘OK’, ‘fine’, ‘all right’, ‘can’, ‘may’, etc., that can all express permissibility — as when I say “It’s fine for the Ass to eat the hay on the Left.”

  17. I agree that it sounds odd to say it’s right for the ass to eat the hay on the left. Hmmmmm.
    I also think Spike Lee would have made a very bad choice had he called his movie, “Do the Permissible Thing”.

  18. Ralph starts by claiming that ‘it’s not right to F’ entails ‘it’s wrong to F’, and most seem to agree (I feel a strong pull towards it myself). I also think (and suspect others will too) that if it’s wrong to F, it’s not right to F. These together entail that it’s wrong to F iff it’s not right to F, as Angus points out in his comment at 2:38, and Ralph implicitly agrees at 4:21.
    But why do we need to detour through the logic of ‘ought’ to get a problem here? For if this equivalence is accepted, since ‘it’s not the case that it is not right to F’ entails ‘it is right to F’ (double negation elimination), we get by substitution of equivalents that ‘it is not the case that it is wrong to F’ entails ‘it is right to F’, which I thought was precisely what Ralph is denying in the Buridan’s Ass cases: its not being wrong for the Ass to eat the left hay doesn’t make it right.
    Am I just missing something here? Is there some scope issue I’m not aware of, so that what appears to be a double negation isn’t? Or is this a disguised opaque context? Or do people want to reject the equivalence I started with (given that Ralph clearly accepts ‘not right’ entails ‘wrong’, at least for the appropriate entities, he would presumably have to reject the implication from ‘wrong’ to ‘not right’, which seems not that attractive). And what bearing, if any, does Ralph’s original solution have on this problem purely in the logic of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ (and negation I guess—intuitionists won’t have too much of a problem with it!)?
    If there is no misunderstanding on my part (and I’m far from certain of that), I think I’m probably inclined to reject the principle that ‘not right’ entails ‘wrong’, but this does feel like a cost to me.

  19. Ah Ant — Welcome to PEA Soup! It’s great to have you here. (We’ll make an ethicist of you yet…)
    You’re completely right that the problem can be raised without any detour via the logic of ‘ought’ (as you elegantly show). Perhaps I should have raised it that way.
    My solution accepts a conditional equivalence: If x is a member of the appropriate sort of partition, then x is wrong iff x is not right (or equivalently, if x is a member of the appropriate sort of partition, x is right iff x is not wrong).
    According to my solution, the crucial point is that the relevant sort of entities do not include Buridan’s Ass’s options *eating the hay on the Left* and *eating the hay on the Right*. So it’s not a counterexample to this conditional equivalence that ‘It’s not wrong for the Ass to eat the hay on the Left’ is true, but ‘It’s right for the Ass to eat the hay on the Left’ is not.
    I don’t think that this problem involves any tricky issues involving the scope of negation or opaque contexts or non-classical logic. (Strictly equivalent terms are intersubstitutible in deontic contexts, I believe — as people used to say, deontic contexts are intensional but not hyperintensional — so ‘It’s wrong to fly to Hesperus’ entails ‘It’s wrong to fly to Phosphorus’, etc.)
    Give my love to Lizzie!

  20. Part of what I meant to agree with Jamie was that “right” often just means the same as “correct”, so for one thing, it’s hard to get a specifically moral reading out of it.
    I think that “correct” (or even “morally correct”, and often also, “morally right”) doesn’t mean: not morally wrong. For something to be correct, it seems to me that it has to be the case that the most salient alternative option would be incorrect, and that some contextually relevant standard defines these options as such. But there are many not morally wrong actions (e.g. eating ice cream) whose most salient alternatives would not usually be morally wrong actions, ergo these actions are not properly said to be morally correct.
    It seems wrong to say “It’s right for the ass to eat the hay on the left” because the most salient alternative option is for the ass to eat the hay on the right. So the claim suggests that there’s a relevant standard which defines eating the hay on the left as correct and eating the hay on the right as incorrect. But there’s no such standard, so the claim seems false or odd.
    How about the modified claim: “It’s right for the ass to eat the hay on the left, rather than none at all.”
    This claim seems intuitively true and natural to me (though more informative things could be said instead). I want to suggest that’s because the salient alternative option has been adjusted, and we can now invoke the standard of prudence to choose between the two options. Ralph’s reading seems as though it might have a hard time capturing why this sentence would be true.
    Also, consider a student who gets a question on a logic test wrong and asks his teacher what the right/correct answer was. It wouldn’t seem odd for the teacher to reply, “There are in fact several right/correct answers,” before going on to explain one or more of them. She doesn’t mean that each of these answers is obligatory. She means that each of the answers meet the standards of logic, in contrast to its most salient alternative which is the student’s own wrong answer.
    So maybe in general we don’t talk about “a right thing to do” because there’s no salient impermissible (incorrect) alternative. This theory predicts that we can make such a claim by making an impermissible alternative salient. So, we should be able to say without oddness, e.g. “In contrast to setting fire to a cat, eating ice cream would be a right thing to do”. And it seems to me that we can.
    Finally, contrast, “It’s not right for the ass to eat the hay on the left.”, and “It’s not the case that it’s right for the ass to eat the hay on the left.” These claims seem different, suggesting that “not right” means the same as “wrong” or “incorrect”, rather than the contradictory of “correct”.

  21. Simon — Is there always just *one* most salient alternative (as your talk of “*the* most salient alternative suggests)? Or can there be *many* equally salient alternatives?
    If you allowed more than one alternative, then your suggestion would actually be very close to my solution. In fact, the only difference would be that you would be appealing to “salience” to determine what I called the “relevant space of options (or states of affairs)”, whereas I haven’t said much about what determines which “space of options” is “relevant”. Let me explain.
    I say that ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ apply to members of a partitioning of the “relevant” space of options that includes only impermissible and obligatory members. Since it’s a “partition”, in fact it can only contain one obligatory member (since every other member will be incompatible with something obligatory and therefore impermissible). So all the alternatives to the one “right” member in the relevant space are impermissible (and so “wrong”). This is why it is so natural to talk of “*the* right thing to do” (implying that there is a *unique* right thing to do).
    So I’d say that the sentence that you cite “It’s right for the ass to eat the hay on the left, rather than none at all” is true, given a relevant space of options that includes just eating the hay on the left, and eating no hay at all. I.e., if the relevant (or as you’d put it “salient”) space of options doesn’t include the option of eating the hay on the Right, but does include the options of eating the hay on the Left and eating no hay at all, then you’re quite right to say that the sentence is true.

  22. A thought: “quite right” is a clue that “right” comes in degrees (unlike “permissible”). Perhaps “It’s not right”, which entails that it’s wrong, means “It’s not (even barely) right” while usages like “the right thing to do” and “quite right” refer to a way of being right that is further away, so to speak, from being wrong.
    Compare: “That’s no heap”, “That’s quite a heap”.
    I will just add that I am not entirely satisfied with this theory; Simon’s has a lot going for it too.

  23. Ralph, good point, there could be many equally salient alternatives, and then the word “right” if it means the same as “correct” looks as though it might define one of your ‘special partitions’, containing one correct or right(or as you say “obligatory”) option and one or more incorrect or wrong (or as you say “impermissible”) options.
    I don’t think it does in fact, because I don’t think the word “right” as I understood it entails that the right option is unique (even among the salient options), I only claimed it entails that the most salient alternative option, whatever it is, is incorrect. And if the right option isn’t unique, it isn’t obligatory among the set of options either. Hence my examples: “In contrast to setting fire to a cat, eating ice cream would be a right thing to do” (I could have added: (…and going to the cinema would be a right thing to do”) and “There are several right answers”.
    I had assumed that what you meant originally by the “relevant” space of options was just the entire set of *possible* options (e.g. the set of acts an agent can perform at t, reading the word “can” here in whatever sense it is to be read in the true principle ‘ought implies can’). If you don’t take that view, how can you also maintain (in your reply to Mike) that “in any case in which there are some permissible options the *disjunction* of all the permissible options is itself obligatory”? Suppose, for example, that the space of relevant options is just the contextually salient ones, some of which are permissible. Surely, you don’t want to say that it is always obligatory for me to perform one of my *contextually salient* permissible options? It can only be at most obligatory for me in the wide-scope sense: I ought(If I am going to perform one of the options, to perform a permissible one).

  24. Ralph,
    Is it your view that “x is right” is equivalent to “x is obligatory”? Initially you suggested an argument against this view: whereas “x is not right” implies “x is wrong”, it’s not the case that “x is not obligatory” implies “x is wrong”. However, it turns out that on your view this argument has a false premise. On your view, it’s not the case that “x is not right” implies “x is wrong”.

  25. Heath,
    I think the ‘quite’ in ‘quite right’ has the sense of ‘entirely’, ‘completely’, ‘absolutely’. I’m pretty certain that’s true, since Ralph can say “Simon is quite right” and “Simon is entirely right” but not “Simon is rather right”. (In American, ‘quite’ is an intensifier when it doesn’t mean ‘entirely’, but in British it’s the opposite, like ‘rather’.)
    Now, something can be entirely or absolutely permissible, so why (if I’m correct about the meaning) don’t we say that an action is ‘quite permissible’? Well, we do. I got about 20,000 google hits on ‘quite permissible’. (And once I read some, I decided it sounds fine.)

  26. In the absence of those databases, I can say that I had Angus’s initial intuition. My thought was that first glances are sometimes misleading, and that ‘It’s not right’ doesn’t always mean the same thing as ‘It’s not permitted’. ‘It’s not right’ is ambiguous as between that sense, (according to which it entails ‘It’s wrong’) and a sense (or senses) according to which it entails ‘Either it’s wrong or it’s otherwise not right’. An action can, for example, fail to be the right thing to do because although permitted, it is not required. Indeed, ‘Either an action is right or it is wrong,’ seems less plausible (at least on second glance) than ‘Either an action is right, wrong, or (merely) permissible’. Btw, this second sense also allows for the possibility (for what it’s worth) that an action is not right because nothing is wrong or right.

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