The inefficacy objection to consequentialism and the problem with the expected consequences response

Philosophical Studies 176 (7):1711-1724 (2019)

Collective action problems lie behind many core issues in ethics and social philosophy—for example, whether an individual is required to vote, whether it is wrong to consume products that are produced in morally objectionable ways, and many others. In these cases, it matters greatly what we together do, but yet a single individual’s ‘non-cooperative’ choice seems to make no difference to the outcome and also seems to involve no violation of anyone’s rights. Here it is argued that—contrary to influential arguments by Peter Singer, Alastair Norcross, Shelly Kagan, Derek Parfit, and Allan Gibbard—an appeal to the expected consequences of acts cannot deliver plausible verdicts on many of these cases, because individuals often have a probability of making a difference that is sufficiently small to ensure that ‘non-cooperation’ is the option with the greatest expected value, even when consequentialists themselves agree that ‘cooperation’ is required. In addition, an influential argument by Singer, Norcross, and Kagan is shown to be unsound for the claim that in the collective action situations at issue, the expected effect of one individual’s action equals the average effect of everyone’s similar actions. These results have general implications for normative theory, because they undermine the sort of consequentialist explanation of collective action cases that is initially attractive from many theoretical points of view, consequentialist and otherwise.
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DOI 10.1007/s11098-018-1087-6
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References found in this work BETA

Reasons and Persons.Derek Parfit - 1984 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 47 (2):311-327.
Do I Make a Difference?Shelly Kagan - 2011 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 39 (2):105-141.
Puppies, Pigs, and People: Eating Meat and Marginal Cases.Alastair Norcross - 2004 - Philosophical Perspectives 18 (1):229–245.
Consequentialism and the Problem of Collective Harm: A Reply to Kagan.Julia Nefsky - 2011 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 39 (4):364-395.
Utilitarianism and Vegetarianism.Peter Singer - 1980 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 9 (4):325-337.

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Citations of this work BETA

Collective Harm and the Inefficacy Problem.Julia Nefsky - 2019 - Philosophy Compass 14 (4):e12587.
How You Can Help, Without Making a Difference.Julia Nefsky - 2017 - Philosophical Studies 174 (11):2743-2767.

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