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Philosophers from Hume to Scanlon have supposed that when we make promises and give our consent, our real interest is in controlling (or being able to anticipate) what people will actually do and that our interest in rights and obligations is a by-product of this more fundamental interest. In fact, we value for its own sake the ability to decide who is obliged to do what, to determine when blame is appropriate, to settle whether an act wrongs us.
Owens explores how we control the rights and obligations of ourselves and of those around us. We do so by making friends and thereby creating the rights and obligations of friendship. We do so by making promises and so binding ourselves to perform. We do so by consenting to medical treatment and thereby giving the doctor the right to go ahead.
The normative character of our world matters to us on its own account. To make sense of promise, consent, friendship and other related phenomena we must acknowledge that normative interests are amongst our fundamental interests. We must also rethink the psychology of agency and the nature of social convention.