I’ve been meaning to post this question for a while, but kept thinking that I ought to do some proper research on the topic. Fortunately, I’ve now given up on that thought.
So here’s the source of the question. I keep finding authors that seem to understand ‘right’ in very different ways; so much so that I wonder if there really is any shared concept here at all.
I think ‘right’ is most commonly treated as meaning something like permissible, so that an action is right iff it is permissible. But there are at least some instances where this leads to statements that seem quite strange in ordinary language. Suppose you choose to have a sesame seed bagel rather than a poppy seed bagel for breakfast. What you’ve done is presumably permissible, but it seems a stretch to say “You did a right thing by having a sesame seed bagel this morning”. Or imagine you’re not a baseball fan, but have been dragged to a game by friends. You catch a homerun ball. There is a boy nearby who obviously loves the game, and is a great fan of the player who hit the homerun. Still, you decide to keep the ball for yourself (though it means nothing to you) rather than giving it to this boy. I think we could say that your actions are permissible, but would we really want to say that it was a right thing that you kept the ball?