Affordability and Non-Perfectionism in Moral Action

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 22 (4):973-991 (2019)
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Abstract

One rationale policy-makers sometimes give for declining to fund a service or intervention is on the grounds that it would be ‘unaffordable’, which is to say, that the total cost of providing the service or intervention for all eligible recipients would exceed the budget limit. But does the mere fact that a service or intervention is unaffordable present a reason not to fund it? Thus far, the philosophical literature has remained largely silent on this issue. However, in this article, we consider this kind of thinking in depth. Albeit with certain important caveats, we argue that the use of affordability criteria in matters of public financing commits what Parfit might have called a ‘mistake in moral mathematics’. First, it fails to abide by what we term a principle of ‘non-perfectionism’ in moral action: the mere fact that it is practically impossible for you to do all the good that you have reason to do does not present a reason not to do whatever good you can do. And second, when used as a means of arbitrating between which services to fund, affordability criteria can lead to a kind of ‘numerical discrimination’. Various attendant issues around fairness and lotteries are also discussed.

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Author Profiles

Benedict Rumbold
Nottingham University
Polly Mitchell
King's College London
James Wilson
University College London

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References found in this work

Reasons and Persons.Derek Parfit - 1984 - Oxford University Press.
Anarchy, State, and Utopia.Robert Nozick - 1974 - New York: Basic Books.
Reasons and Persons.Joseph Margolis - 1986 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 47 (2):311-327.
Anarchy, State, and Utopia.Robert Nozick - 1974 - Philosophy 52 (199):102-105.
Should the Numbers Count?John M. Taurek - 1977 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 6 (4):293-316.

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