David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Analysis 69 (2):219 - 226 (2009)
1. Possibilists claim that what Smith ought to do now depends on two kinds of facts about relevant agents’ responses to his action. If the relevant agent is a different individual, what Smith ought to do now depends on how that agent would respond. If the relevant agent is Smith himself, it depends instead on how he could best respond. Actualists deny this. They claim that, whether or not the relevant agent is Smith himself, what matters is how that agent would respond to the various things Smith could do now (Zimmerman 1996: Chapter 6). Unlike possibilists, actualists treat Smith and other agents symmetrically in this respect. For example, suppose Smith has been asked to help at some important charity event next weekend. He must either accept or decline now, and if he accepts now, later he will face a choice of whether to help or not. Though next weekend he could help, as a matter of fact he would not, were he to accept now. Declining would result in a worse outcome than accepting-and-helping, but a better outcome than accepting-and-not-helping. Suppose we know all this for certain.1 Actualists conclude that Smith ought to decline, since that would have the best outcome of those available given the facts about how relevant agents would respond. Possibilists say that this lets Smith off the hook too easily (Zimmerman 1996: 193-5, 203-6). Despite his faults, they say, he ought to accept, since this would have the best outcome given the facts about how he could best respond. They do not disagree with actualists over any matter of plain fact about Smith’s response—in particular, all sides agree that he could but would not help if he accepts. The parties to this dispute disagree instead about which such facts determine his obligations. Though possibilism has some appeal, it has strongly counterintuitive implications in some cases. The remedy is not to refine it, however. The trouble with..
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