This paper begins to explore some of the normative implications that emerge from the causal contribution model of chancy causation defended in “Probabilistic Causation and the Problem of Aggregate Events”. The paper focuses on one particularly interesting causal phenomenon, which I dub the “Salient Fact about Aggregate Effects”. Roughly put, this refers to the fact that in certain cases an action or event c can make a major causal contribution to the occurrence of some aggregate event E, while only making a very minor causal contribution to the occurrence of any of the constituent events e1, e2, … en which together make up E. I argue that the Salient Fact about Aggregate Effects has important implications for our thinking about many issues in ethics and public policy. My discussion focuses on three of them: (i) questions of moral responsibility and compensation for risky harms, as they arise, for instance in tort law; (ii) questions about structural injustices and individual culpability, which feature prominently in contemporary social justice discourse; (iii) questions about social responsibility for health inequalities between socioeconomic groups, as they are studied by bioethicists and epidemiologists.
This paper discusses principles for the compensation of harms that were caused by impermissible risky actions, as they feature, for instance, in tort law. I argue for an impossibility result that holds for all systems of compensation in which the victim of a tortuous harm is compensated directly by the tort feasor. In any such system, I argue, it will be impossible to simultaneously satisfy three intuitively plausible desiderata of horizontal equity.
According to some moral views, there is moral luck: whether an action was right or wrong to perform, or how blameworthy an agent was for performing it, can turn on features of the agent’s action that were beyond her control. According to some moral views, there are moral dilemmas: there are situations where, no matter how an agent chooses to act, her action will be seriously morally wrong. In this paper, I investigate the features that make a moral view admit of moral luck on the one hand, and moral dilemmas, on the other. My striking conclusion is that there is a deep unity between these two phenomena. I argue that there is a structural property of moral views, what I call “actualism about evaluation”, which explains both why a moral view admits of moral luck and why it admits of moral dilemmas.
In this paper, I argue that making sense of certain requirements of structural rationality (in particular, the rational requirement not to believe propositions that are logically inconsistent and the rational requirement to intend the necessary means to my ends) requires us to adopt a ‘deliberative’conception of self-knowledge. According to this view of self-knowledge, defended most prominently in the work of Dick Moran, the canonical way in which I know my beliefs and other propositional attitudes is not through introspection or observational evidence, but by making up my mind about questions about the world to which my belief is transparent.
I explore some implications that my argument in "Conditional Reasons and the Procreation Asymmetry" has for questions of individual procreation. I discuss and reject an argument due to David Benatar (2006), according to which affirming the Procreation Asymmetry commits us to recognizing a prima facie obligation against having any children. More challenging is the following problem, which I term “the problem of procreative risk”: In every act of procreation, there is some small risk of creating a person whose life is not worth living. Does this empirical fact, together with the Procreation Asymmetry, commit us to the view that procreating is a moral risk that is rarely justifiable? Consider: if we procreate then, in the best case, we bring about an outcome (namely that in which a new happy person is created) that, according to the Asymmetry, we have no positive moral reason for bringing about. But in the worst case, we bring about an outcome that we have strong moral reason to avoid. Drawing on some of my recent work on the ethics of risk (Frick, 2015b), I argue that even this second challenge can ultimately be met. Affirming the Asymmetry does not, in fact, commit us to anti-natalism.
This paper proposes a new solution to Derek Parfit’s Mere Addition Paradox. I argue that the paradox trades on an ambiguity about the context of choice. There is a sense in which all three intuitive judgments about Parfit’s case are true, namely as pairwise comparisons in a two-possible case, i.e. in a choice situation where the option set contains only these two outcomes. The air of paradox arises from the assumption that these pairwise judgments carry over to a three-possible case, in which all three outcomes are possible. But this, I argue, is not the case. If sound, this argument shows how we can make sense of each of our pairwise intuitions in the Mere Addition Paradox, without incurring the cost of intransitivity within an option set. This solves the Mere Addition Paradox and blocks the argument towards the Repugnant Conclusion.
The foundational conviction of contemporary egalitarian thought is that all persons possess equal moral worth and are entitled to equal concern and respect by others. At the same time, nation states, as the primary organs of our collective self-governance, frequently pursue policies that are strikingly partial towards the interests of compatriots over those of foreigners. A common strategy for justifying this national partiality is to view it as grounded in associative obligations that we incur by standing in special relationships with our fellow citizens. For instance, according to familiar arguments from ‘fair play’, voluntarily partaking in and benefiting from cooperative relationships with our fellow citizens gives us reciprocal obligations to maintain these social institutions and care for needy compatriots. By contrast, we do not have corresponding associative obligations towards foreigners. I maintain that such arguments from associative obligations face an important stumbling block. I argue for the following “Boundary Principle”, according to which we cannot appeal to special relationships amongst members of a group to justify an attitude of partiality towards them unless the boundaries of this group, and the fact that they exclude other persons from membership, can also be justified. If this is right, arguments from associative obligations, by themselves, are necessarily incomplete. Most modern states severely limit the scope of economic migration, and thereby preventmany would-be contributors to the collective enterprises of affluent societies from entering into those special relationships with us that would give rise to associative obligations on our part. Not only are would-be immigrants excluded from the benefits that participation in the cooperative schemes of affluent nation-states would itself confer; in addition, the fact that they do not stand in such cooperative relationships with us is then appealed to in order to justify the fact that we assign significantly less weight to their interests in the formulation of state policy. The upshot of my discussion is not that a defense of national partiality in terms of associative obligations cannot succeed. It is rather that a successful defense of national partiality in these terms is more closely tied to the question whether principled restrictions can be placed on immigration than most political philosophers have hitherto assumed.
This paper sketches a theory of the reason-giving force of well-being that allows us to reconcile our intuitions about two of the most recalcitrant problem cases in population ethics: Jan Narveson’s Procreation Asymmetry and Derek Parfit’s Non-Identity Problem. I show that what has prevented philosophers from developing a theory that gives a satisfactory account of both these problems is their tacit commitment to a teleological conception of well-being, as something to be ‘promoted’. Replacing this picture with one according to which our reasons to confer well-being on people are conditional on their existence allows me to do better. It also enables us to understand some of the deep structural parallels between seemingly disparate normative phenomena such as procreating and promising. The resulting theory charts a middle way between the familiar dichotomy of narrow person-affecting theories and totalist or wide-person affecting theories in population ethics.
According to David Lewis's well-known account of probabilistic causation, an actual event c is a cause of an actual event e if and only if (i) e causally depends on on c, or (ii) there is a chain of events d1, d2, ... dn, such that such that d1 causally depends on c,d2 causally depends on d1, ..., and e causally depends on dn, where e causally depends on c if and only if, had c not occurred, e’s probability of occurring would have been smaller by a large factor than its actual chance of occurring.It is a direct corollary of Lewis’s causal dependence account that an event c that only slightly raises e’s probability of occurring cannot be a cause of e. While not overly troubling at first blush, my paper argues that this feature of Lewis’s view has implications that are hard to defend. The first of these problems is that Lewis theory implies, implausibly, that an event c may cause an “aggregate event” E without being a cause of any of the “constituent events” e1, e2, … en that together make up the aggregate event. This is the Problem of Aggregate Effects. Lewis’ view also implies, again implausibly, that a group of events c1, c2, … cncan together cause an effect e, without any of c1, c2, … cnbeing a cause of e. This is the Problem of Aggregate Causes. Finally, it implies that one and the same event c can fail to be a cause of e’s occurring yet also be a cause of f’s not occurring, even when f just is “the non-occurrence of e”. This is the Problem of Causation and Prevention. These three problems, I claim, seriously undermine the attractiveness of a causal dependence approach to probabilistic causation, lending support instead to an account in terms of causal contribution.
Frick, Johann, and Ekédi Mpondo-Dika. “Prioritarisme”. Dictionnaire des inégalités et de la justice sociale. Ed. Patrick Savidan. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, Forthcoming. Print.
What moral reasons, if any, do we have to ensure the long-term survival of humanity? Most responses in the literature take roughly the following form: We have moral reasons to ensure that humanity survives for as long as possible, because, all things equal, this will maximize the number of worthwhile lives that are lived. This response, however, is difficult to square with a widespread intuition about the morality of procreation, to wit, that while we have strong moral reasons against creating new lives that would foreseeably not be worth living, we have no corresponding moral reason to create new lives just because they would be worth living. In this paper, I explore what resources there are for an alternative account. I argue that we may have moral reasons to care about the long-term survival of humanity because seeking to sustain humanity into the future is an appropriate response to the final value of humanity itself. On this account, the moral reasons we have for ensuring the survival of humanity do not also constitute arguments for creating additional lives in the present.
I critically examine various attempts to provide a 'person-affecting' solution to the non-identity problem (in particular, Elizabeth Harman's harm-based account and James Woodward's rights-based account). I argue that at least some formsof the non-identity problem, such as those involving the knowing creation of children with congenital conditions like deafness, don't readily admit of such a treatment. Instead they constitute a species of 'victimless wrongdoing', i.e. wrongdoing that doesn't involve anyone being wronged.
It is a familiar feature of our ethical discourse that the strength of a moral argument often depends on more than its content. Presented interpersonally, its justificatory force may also depend on the identity of the speaker. An argument may serve to justify an action or policy when uttered by one speaker, while others lack the standing to offer the same argument as a justification for the action in question. I argue that this “speaker-relativity” of moral justification has not received the attention from moral philosophers that it merits. Amongst other things, it raises novel problems for a number of prominent moral theories, most interestingly for Scanlonian contractualism. Contractualists hold that an action is morally right if and because it is justifiable to each person (or, in the terms of Scanlon’s formula, because it is ‘licensed by a principle that no-one could reasonably reject’). Like attempts at justification, however, grounds for rejection must be presented in the form of arguments, addressed to the agent by those individuals who are adversely affected by his action. I argue that there are cases in which an action is intuitively wrong on account of its foreseeably bad consequences, yet none of those adversely affected have the standing to reasonably reject the principle that licenses its performance. This finding threatens to drive a wedge between our moral intuitions and contractualism’s account of moral rightness. It suggests that the supposed analysans (justifiability to each person) and the analysandum (moral rightness) can sometimes come apart.
One of the defining characteristics of much contemporary nonconsequentialist thought is skepticism about interpersonal aggregation. Aggregative moral reasoning frequently yields counterintuitive implications, especially in cases where it enjoins us to let a few people suffer large losses so that many people can enjoy smaller benefits. To avoid these implications, leading nonconsequentialists have put forward “competing claims” models of moral rightness, according to which morality requires us to determine, by a series of pairwise comparisons, that action or policy which satisfies the strongest individual claim or generates the weakest individual complaint. The fullest development of this anti-aggregative approach is the contractualist moral theory defended by T.M. Scanlon. My paper examines a problem for the competing claims model: Outside the context of crime and war, most instances of serious harm don’t occur in situations where someone trades off certain harms to known individuals against certain benefits to other known individuals. Rather, most harm to others results from risks that some agent imposed on them in pursuit of some benefit for them, for the agent, or for others. The question is whether contractualists can provide a plausible account of such risky actions while honoring their anti-aggregative commitments. I focus on one class of risky actions – what I call instances of social risk – which are pervasive, indeed ineliminable from the conduct of large-scale public policy, yet prima facie troubling for the contractualist. They are characterized by the following four features: (1) The risky action will affect a large number of individuals. Because of this, it is virtually certain that some people will end up being burdened by it. (2) The individual losses to those who are burdened are considerably greater than the individual gains for those who are benefited. (3) The action-type in question is rare, or rarely affects the same people twice; as a result, we cannot assume that over time almost everyone will benefit from a principle that permits actions of this type to be performed. (4) The risky action is intuitively permissible. I submit that many actions in public policy, particularly in the domains of public health and of risk management, share these four features. The problem of social risk forces the contractualist to confront a question about his theory that, I argue, has not received a fully satisfactory answer to date: Are an individual’s personal reasons for rejecting a principle permitting the imposition of a given social risk a function of the prospect that the risky action gives to each person ex ante, allowing us to discount both benefits and harms by their improbability of occurring? Or is justifiability to each person a function of the action’s outcomes ex post? In that case, what would matter morally isn’t the ex ante likelihood of any given individual’s being benefited or harmed by the action, but rather the near certainty that, ex post, some persons will turn out to have been harmed by the action while others are benefited. The contractualist faces an apparent dilemma: if he rejects the ex ante view of justification, as Scanlon explicitly does in What We Owe to Each Other, and appeals instead to an ex post view, he seems committed to the intuitively unappealing conclusion that most instances of social risk are unjustifiable. On the other hand, if he embraces an ex ante view, Scanlon fears that this will move his contractualist theory too close to those aggregative views that he wished to escape from in the first place. In my paper, I elaborate a version of contractualism, what I call stage-wise ex ante contractualism, that solves the problem of social risk without resorting to interpersonal aggregation. My solution, however, comes at a price: Contractualism can no longer claim to be the correct account of what it is for an action to be morally wrong, all things considered. Instead, contractualism can at most claim to capture one class of moral considerations that contribute to making actions right or wrong all things considered.
For years, debates about the best way to combat the AIDS pandemic have pitted proponents of scaling up antiretroviral treatment for people suffering from AIDS against those advocating for more cost-effective prevention measures. In an important recent article, Dan Brock and Daniel Wikler argue that there is no sound moral basis to privilege the saving of identified lives through antiretroviral treatment, if preventive methods could save more (statistical) lives. In this chapter, I take issue with Brock and Wikler’s argument. In so doing, I develop a novel account of how the choice between “treatment” and “prevention” intersects the problem of identified vs. statistical lives. The chapter concludes with a postscript on “treatment-as-prevention” (TasP), a new avenue of AIDS research which stresses the preventive benefits of early antiretroviral treatment. I argue that, despite its medical promise, TasP does not transcend the ethical dichotomy between treatment and prevention explored in this chapter.
This paper responds to the arguments of Marc Fleurbaey and Alex Voorhoeve in “Decide as You Would with Full Information! An Argument against ex ante Pareto” (same volume). According to the ex ante Pareto principle, if an alternative has higher expected utility for every person than every other alternative, then this alternative should be chosen. Fleurbaey and Voorhoeve claim that ex ante Pareto is not just inconsistent with impersonal distributive principles such as telic egalitarianism or prioritarianism; it also violates a broadly contractualist criterion of moral rightness, according to which an action is right if and only if it is justifiable to each person. I argue that Fleurbaey and Voorhoeve’s main argument against ex ante Pareto fails. The Principle of Full Information, on which it is based, is either unsound, or else cannot settle the debate between defenders and opponents of ex ante Pareto. I conclude that while outcome-based moral principles, such as telic egalitarianism or prioritarianism, do indeed militate against ex ante Pareto, there is no objection to this principle from the vantage point of justifiability to each person.