Moral Philosophy Seminar (Monday - Week 6, MT22)

moral philosophy

Our everyday lives are filled with constant opportunities to help anonymous strangers, by giving to charity, volunteering, and so on. They are also filled with constant opportunities to reduce the harm we do to anonymous strangers, via our carbon emissions, diets, shopping choices, or what have you. It would be very costly to respond maximally to the many opportunities to help you will face over your life. The same is true of fully minimizing the (risk of) harm you do. Either task would involve major demands of your time, attention, and money, as well as a major restructuring of your personal projects. While it would be very morally good of you to make such sacrifices to maximize help and minimize harm, you are not required to go so far. In this paper, I present and defend a novel account of reasons and prerogatives that explains not only why you are permitted not to help all the time, but also why you are permitted to harm in certain ways some of the time. This account supports the existence of a kind of moral offsetting. Both harming and failing to help on a given occasion can be made permissible by your past or future efforts. Such offsetting has its limits. For example, past or future costs incurred for the sake of others may be incapable of making it permissible to contravene a directed duty, owed to a particular person. Nonetheless, a possible implication of my account is that donating more to charity can make it permissible to take more Sunday drives or engage in other activities with a similar carbon footprint, even when the charities donated to don’t do anything like offset carbon emissions.

Moral Philosophy Seminar Convenor: Jeremy Fix