The Ethics of Making Risky Decisions for Others

In Mark D. White (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Ethics and Economics. Oxford University Press. pp. 446-473 (2019)
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Utilitarianism, it has been said, is not sensitive to the distribution of welfare. In making risky decisions for others there are multiple sensitivities at work. I present examples of risky decision-making involving drug allocations, charitable giving, breast-cancer screening and C-sections. In each of these examples there is a different sensitivity at work that pulls away from the utilitarian prescription. Instances of saving fewer people at a greater risk to many is more complex because there are two distributional sensitivities at work that pull in opposite directions from the utilitarian calculus. I discuss objections to these sensitivities and conclude with some reflections on the value of formal modelling in thinking about societal risk.



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Luc Bovens
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Citations of this work

Risk and the Unfairness of Some Being Better Off at the Expense of Others.Thomas Rowe - 2019 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 16 (1).
Markets Within the Limit of Feasibility.Kenneth Silver - 2021 - Journal of Business Ethics:1-15.
Taking Risks on Behalf of Another.Johanna Thoma - forthcoming - Philosophy Compass:e12898.

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References found in this work

The Independence of Moral Theory.John Rawls - 1974 - Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 48:5 - 22.
On Economic Inequality.Amartya Sen - 1997 - Clarendon Press.
Contractualism and Social Risk.Johann Frick - 2015 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 43 (3):175-223.

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