Affordability and Non-Perfectionism in Moral Action

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


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.



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 89,330

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

Perfectionism. [REVIEW]Daniel E. Wueste - 1994 - Review of Metaphysics 48 (2):409-410.
Mandates and the Affordability of Health Care.Sherry Glied - 2009 - Inquiry: The Journal of Health Care Organization, Provision, and Financing 46 (2):203-214.
Can we afford international human rights?George G. Brenkert - 1992 - Journal of Business Ethics 11 (7):515 - 521.
Perfectionism and Moral Reasoning.Matteo Falomi - 2010 - European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy 2 (2):85-100.
Examples of Perfectionism.Paul Guyer - 2014 - Journal of Aesthetic Education 48 (3):5-27.
What Is The Basis of Moral Obligation?H. A. Prichard - 2002 - In Jim MacAdam (ed.), Moral Writings. Clarendon Press.
Sentimentalism about Moral Understanding.Nathan Robert Howard - 2018 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 21 (5):1065-1078.


Added to PP

41 (#334,220)

6 months
4 (#305,365)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author Profiles

Annette Rid
University of Zürich
Benedict Rumbold
Nottingham University
Polly Mitchell
King's College London
1 more

Citations of this work

No citations found.

Add more citations

References found in this work

Anarchy, State, and Utopia.Robert Nozick - 1974 - New York: Basic Books.
Reasons and Persons.Derek Parfit - 1984 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
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 Taurek - 1977 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 6 (4):293-316.

View all 23 references / Add more references