Environmental Harms, causation, and act utilitarianism

Environmental Ethics 26 (2):189-203 (2004)
Act utilitarians often use causation in after-the-fact assessments of accountability in group environmental harms. Such attempts are seriously flawed. Causation need not, and many times should not, be important in assessments of accountability for act utilitarians. A model that maximizes utility in such assessments called the “best fit model” provides a good alternative. Because use of this model leads to more utility than models of after-the-fact accountability which rely on causal links, act utilitarians should adhere to the “best fit model” regardless of actual causal links. Although the “best fit model” is a better method to assign accountability using an act utilitarian approach than methods involving causation, it does have a serious flaw in regard to application and future utility. Given this flaw, the model (indeed, any after-the-fact model of accountability) is not enough to ensure future utility maximization. To maximize utility to the fullest, the model should be used along with incentives to prevent environmental harm before it occurs. Perhaps if such incentives are strong enough, the model may not need to be imposed at all. However, in cases where harm does occur, the “best fit model” yields the most utility. Thus, if the “best fit model” is not an acceptable method by which to assess responsibility, neither is act utilitarianism
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DOI 10.5840/enviroethics200426229
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