Exploring Alternatives to the Simple Model: Is There an Atomistic Option?

In Mark Timmons (ed.), Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics. Oxford University Press (2012)

Authors
Luke Robinson
Southern Methodist University
Abstract
The simple model maintains that morally relevant factors combine in a simple, additive way, like weights on a scale. Although intuitive and familiar, this model entails that certain plausible views about particular cases and how morally relevant factors combine and interact therein are false. Shelly Kagan suggests that we could accommodate the relevant views and interactions by rejecting either of two assumptions the simple model makes: that the moral status of an act is determined by the sum of the contributions made by each of the factors relevant thereto (additivity); and that neither the “weight” nor the “valence” of a factor’s contribution can be affected by other factors (atomism). But is there an atomistic option, a way of accommodating the relevant views and interactions by rejecting additivity rather than atomism? I argue that developing an atomistic option requires offering a conception of contribution that renders coherent the particular claims that must be true if there is, indeed, such an option. And I consider whether Rossian pluralism—the locus classicus for the idea of a contributory right-making factor—offers the resources necessary to offer such a conception, and whether it could accommodate the relevant views and interactions other than by rejecting atomism.
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