Suppose that you must make choices that may influence the well-being and the identities of the people who will exist, though not the number of people who will exist. How ought you to choose? This paper answers this question. It argues that the currency of distributive ethics in such cases is a combination of an individual’s final well-being and her expected well-being conditional on her existence. It also argues that this currency should be distributed in an egalitarian, rather than a (...) prioritarian, manner. (shrink)
How, and how reliably, do people make difficult moral trade-offs? We pursue this question through an experiment in which subjects must either save a larger number of people from a smaller harm or save a smaller number of people from a greater harm. Our results indicate widespread use of a similarity heuristic. When alternatives appear dissimilar in terms of the number of people that can be saved but similar in terms of the magnitude of harm from which they can be (...) saved, this heuristic mandates saving the greater number. In our experiment, use of this heuristic leads to violations of principles of rational choice at the individual and collective level. It also leads to choices that are inconsistent with all standard theories of distributive justice. We argue that this demonstrates the unreliability of moral judgments in cases that elicit similarity-based choice. (shrink)
We argue that there is a marked shift in the moral weight of an increment in a person's well-being when one moves from a case involving only intra-personal trade-offs to a case involving only inter-personal trads-offs. This shift, we propose, is required by the separateness of persons. We also argue that the Priority View put forward by Parfit cannot account for such a shift. We also outline two alternative views, an egalitarian view and a claims-based view, that can account for (...) this shift. (shrink)
We discuss two leading theories of distributive justice: egalitarianism and prioritarianism. We argue that while each has particular merits and shortcomings, egalitarian views more fully satisfy a key requirement of distributive justice: respect for both the unity of the individual and the separateness of persons.
I review Shlomi Segall's book 'Why Inequality Matters'. I argue that it conclusively establishes that alongside egalitarians, prioritarians and sufficientarians must sometimes regard a prospect as better (in at least one respect) when it is not better (in terms of well-being) for anyone. Sufficientarians and prioritarians must therefore relinquish a treasured anti-egalitarian argument. It also makes a powerful case that among these three views, egalitarians are in the best position to explain such departures from what is in each person’s prudential (...) interest. For egalitarians can point to the natural idea that it is unfair when, due to pure chance, some fare much better than others. By contrast, it remains unclear what value, if any, sufficientarians or prioritarians can appeal to in order to justify their departures from what best promotes people’s well-being. (shrink)
Many believe that we ought to save a large number from being permanently bedridden rather than save one from death. Many also believe that we ought to save one from death rather than a multitude from a very minor harm, no matter how large this multitude. I argue that a principle I call “Aggregate Relevant Claims” satisfactorily explains these judgments. I offer a rationale for this principle and defend it against objections.
We use probability-matching variations on Ellsberg’s single-urn experiment to assess three questions: (1) How sensitive are ambiguity attitudes to changes from a gain to a loss frame? (2) How sensitive are ambiguity attitudes to making ambiguity easier to recognize? (3) What is the relation between subjects’ consistency of choice and the ambiguity attitudes their choices display? Contrary to most other studies, we find that a switch from a gain to a loss frame does not lead to a switch from ambiguity (...) aversion to ambiguity neutrality and/or ambiguity seeking. We also find that making ambiguity easier to recognize has little effect. Finally, we find that while ambiguity aversion does not depend on consistency, other attitudes do: consistent choosers are much more likely to be ambiguity neutral, while ambiguity seeking is much more frequent among highly inconsistent choosers. (shrink)
Common principles for resource allocation in health care can prioritize the alleviation of small health burdens over lifesaving treatment. I argue that there is some evidence that these principles are at odds with a sizable share of public opinion, which holds that saving a life should take priority over any number of cures for minor ailments. I propose two possible explanations for this opinion, one debunking and one vindicatory. I also outline how well-designed surveys and moral inquiry could help decide (...) between them. Finally, I consider how priority-setting principles could be adjusted if the view that saving a life always trumps alleviating small burdens were vindicated. (shrink)
If a potential person would have a good life if he were to come into existence, can we regard his coming into existence as better for him than his never coming into existence? And can we regard the situation in which he never comes into existence as worse for him? In this paper, we argue that both questions should be answered affirmatively.
As health policy-makers around the world seek to make progress towards universal health coverage, they must navigate between two important ethical imperatives: to set national spending priorities fairly and efficiently; and to safeguard the right to health. These imperatives can conflict, leading some to conclude that rights-based approaches present a disruptive influence on health policy, hindering states’ efforts to set priorities fairly and efficiently. Here, we challenge this perception. We argue first that these points of tension stem largely from inadequate (...) interpretations of the aims of priority setting as well as the right to health. We then discuss various ways in which the right to health complements traditional concerns of priority setting and vice versa. Finally, we set out a three-step process by which policy-makers may navigate the ethical and legal considerations at play. (shrink)
The difference between the unity of the individual and the separateness of persons requires that there be a shift in the moral weight that we accord to changes in utility when we move from making intrapersonal tradeoffs to making interpersonal tradeoffs. We examine which forms of egalitarianism can, and which cannot, account for this shift. We argue that a form of egalitarianism which is concerned only with the extent of outcome inequality cannot account for this shift. We also argue that (...) a view which is concerned with both outcome inequality and with the unfairness of inequality in individuals‘ expected utilities can account for this shift. Finally, we limn an alternative view, on.. (shrink)
In 'Rethinking the Good', Larry Temkin makes two core claims. First, the goodness of a distribution is sometimes ‘essentially comparative’ – it sometimes depends on which alternative distribution(s) it is compared to. Second, such cases threaten the transitivity of ‘all things considered better than’. I argue that the goodness of a distribution may indeed depend on what other distributions are feasible. But contrary to Temkin, I also argue that transitivity holds even when the goodness of a distribution depends on the (...) feasible set of which it is a member. (shrink)
Policy-makers must sometimes choose between an alternative which has somewhat lower expected value for each person, but which will substantially improve the outcomes of the worst off, or an alternative which has somewhat higher expected value for each person, but which will leave those who end up worst off substantially less well off. The popular ex ante Pareto principle requires the choice of the alternative with higher expected utility for each. We argue that ex ante Pareto ought to be rejected (...) because it conflicts with the requirement that, when possible, one ought to decide as one would with full information. We apply our argument in an analysis of US policy on screening for breast cancer. -/- . (shrink)
When one faces competing claims of varying strength on public resources for health, which claims count? This paper proposes the following answer. One should count, or aggregate, a person’s claim just in case one could sympathize with her desire to prioritize her own claim over the strongest competing claim. It argues that this principle yields appealing case judgments and has a plausible grounding in both sympathetic identification with each person, taken separately, and respect for the person for whom most is (...) at stake. It also defends this principle against several heretofore unanswered objections. (shrink)
The goal of achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) can generally be realized only in stages. Moreover, resource, capacity and political constraints mean governments often face difficult trade-offs on the path to UHC. In a 2014 report, Making fair choices on the path to UHC, the WHO Consultative Group on Equity and Universal Health Coverage articulated principles for making such trade-offs in an equitable manner. We present three case studies which illustrate how these principles can guide practical decision-making. These case studies (...) show how progressive realization of the right to health can be effectively guided by priority-setting principles, including generating the greatest total health gain, priority for the worse off, and financial risk protection. They also demonstrate the value of a fair and accountable process of priority setting. (shrink)
A persistent argument against the transitivity assumption of rational choice theory postulates a repeatable action that generates a significant benefit at the expense of a negligible cost. No matter how many times the action has been taken, it therefore seems reasonable for a decision-maker to take the action one more time. However, matters are so fixed that the costs of taking the action some large number of times outweigh the benefits. In taking the action some large number of times on (...) the grounds that the benefits outweigh the costs every time, the decision-maker therefore reveals intransitive preferences, since once she has taken it this large number of times, she would prefer to return to the situation in which she had never taken the action at all. We defend transitivity against two versions of this argument: one in which it is assumed that taking the action one more time never has any perceptible cost, and one in which it is assumed that the cost of taking the action, though (sometimes) perceptible, is so small as to be outweighed at every step by the significant benefit. We argue that the description of the choice situation in the first version involves a contradiction. We also argue that the reasoning used in the second version is a form of similarity-based decision-making. We argue that when the consequences of using similarity-based decision-making are brought to light, rational decision-makers revise their preferences. We also discuss one method that might be used in performing this revision. (shrink)
When do claims to be saved of a small or moderate harm aggregate against a competing claim to be saved from an early death? In this short response to Kamm's Bioethical Prescriptions, I argue for the following answer: aggregation of weaker claims against a life is permitted just in case, in a one-to-one contest, a person with a weaker claim would have a personal prerogative to prioritize her claim over a stranger’s competing claim to life.
Can we trust our intuitive judgments of right and wrong? Are moral judgements objective? What reason do we have to do what is right and avoid doing what is wrong? In Conversations on Ethics, Alex Voorhoeve elicits answers to these questions from eleven outstanding philosophers and social scientists: -/- Ken Binmore; Philippa Foot; Harry Frankfurt; Allan Gibbard; Daniel Kahneman; Frances Kamm; Alasdair MacIntyre; T. M. Scanlon; Peter Singer; David Velleman; Bernard Williams. -/- The exchanges are direct, open, and sharp, and (...) give a clear account of these thinkers' core ideas about ethics. They also provide unique insights into their intellectual development - how they became interested in ethics, and how they conceived the ideas for which they became famous. Conversations on Ethics will engage anyone interested in moral philosophy. (shrink)
I critically examine a common liberal egalitarian view about the justification for, and proper content of, mandatory health insurance. This view holds that a mandate is justified because it is the best way to ensure that those in poor health gain health insurance on equitable terms. It also holds that a government should mandate what a representative prudent individual would purchase for themselves if they were placed in fair conditions of choice. I argue that this common justification for a mandate (...) is incomplete. A further reason for mandated insurance is that it helps secure social egalitarian public goods that would be underprovided if insurance were optional. I also argue that rather than mandating what a representative individual would choose for themselves, we should design the mandatory package by appealing to a pluralistic egalitarian view, which cares about improving people’s well-being, reducing unfair inequality, and maintaining egalitarian social relations. (shrink)
This report by the WHO Consultative Group on Equity and Universal Health Coverage addresses how countries can make fair progress towards the goal of universal coverage. It explains the relevant tradeoffs between different desirable ends and offers guidance on how to make these tradeoffs.
This article criticises one of Stuart Rachels' and Larry Temkin's arguments against the transitivity of 'better than'. This argument invokes our intuitions about our preferences of different bundles of pleasurable or painful experiences of varying intensity and duration, which, it is argued, will typically be intransitive. This article defends the transitivity of 'better than' by showing that Rachels and Temkin are mistaken to suppose that preferences satisfying their assumptions must be intransitive. It makes cler where the argument goes wrong by (...) showing that it is a version of Zeno's paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise. (shrink)
Experimental results on the Ellsberg paradox typically reveal behavior that is commonly interpreted as ambiguity aversion. The experiments reported in the current paper find the objective probabilities for drawing a red ball that make subjects indifferent between various risky and uncertain Ellsberg bets. They allow us to examine the predictive power of alternative principles of choice under uncertainty, including the objective maximin and Hurwicz criteria, the sure-thing principle, and the principle of insufficient reason. Contrary to our expectations, the principle of (...) insufficient reason performed substantially better than rival theories in our experiment, with ambiguity aversion appearing only as a secondary phenomenon. (shrink)
We reply to critics of the World Health Organisation's Report "Making Fair Choices on the Path to Universal Health Coverage". We clarify and defend the report's key moral commitments. We also explain its role in guiding policy in the face of both financial and political constraints on making fair choices.
This paper introduces a symposium on Equality versus Priority. It explains how cases involving risk are key to distinguishing these views and discusses a 'social egalitarian' critique of both 'telic egalitarians' and 'telic prioritarians'.
Stuart Rachels and Larry Temkin have offered a purported counter-example to the acyclicity of the relationship 'all things considered better than'. This example invokes our intuitive preferences over pairs of alternatives involving a single person's painful experiences of varying intensity and duration. These preferences, Rachels and Temkin claim, are confidently held, entirely reasonable, and cyclical. They conclude that we should drop acyclicity as a requirement of rationality. I argue that, together with the findings of recent research on the way people (...) evaluate episodes of pain, the use of a heuristic known as similarity-based decision-making explains why our intuitive preferences may violate acyclicity in this example. I argue that this explanation should lead us to regard these preferences with suspicion, because it indicates that they may be the result of one or more biases. I conclude that Rachels' and Temkin's example does not provide sufficient grounds for rejecting acyclicity. (shrink)
In 'Why It Matters that Some Are Worse off than Others,' we offer a new critique of the Priority View. In a recent article, Roger Crisp has argued that our critique is flawed. In this reply, we show that Crisp fails to grapple with, much less defeat, the central claim of our critique. We also show that an example that Crisp offers in support of the Priority View in fact lends support to our critique of that view.
All conceptions of equal opportunity draw on some distinction between morally justified and unjustified inequalities. We discuss how this distinction varies across a range of philosophical positions. We find that these positions often advance equality of opportunity in tandem with distributive principles based on merit, desert, consequentialist criteria or individuals' responsibility for outcomes. The result of this amalgam of principles is a festering controversy that unnecessarily diminishes the widespread acceptability of opportunity concerns. We therefore propose to restore the conceptual separation (...) of opportunity principles concerning unjustified inequalities from distributive principles concerning justifiable inequalities. On this view, equal opportunity implies that that morally irrelevant factors should engender no differences in individuals' attainment, while remaining silent on inequalities due to morally relevant factors. We examine this idea by introducing the principle of ‘opportunity dominance' and explore in a simple application to what extent this principle may help us arbitrate between opposing distributive principles. We also compare this principle to the selection rules developed by John Roemer and Dirk Van de Gaer. (shrink)
Can we ever truly answer the question, “Who am I?” Moderated by Alex Voorhoeve (London School of Economics), neuro-philosopher Elie During (University of Paris, Ouest Nanterre), cognitive scientist David Jopling (York University, Canada), social psychologist Timothy Wilson (University of Virginia),and ethicist Frances Kamm (Harvard University) examine the difficulty of achieving genuine self-knowledge and how the pursuit of self-knowledge plays a role in shaping the self.
This chapter analyses the behavioural economist Matthew Rabin's work on biases in decision-making. Rabin argues that these biases cause self-harm and that we should tax individuals to ensure that they do not give in to these biases. The chapter's core question is whether there is a soft-paternalistic justification for these taxes. The answer is nuanced. It argues that Rabin’s description of these biases as “irrational” is not always appropriate—sometimes, for example, they are merely a form of preference change. When they (...) are due to the latter, the behaviour is fully voluntary, and there exists no soft-paternalistic justification for coercive intervention. It also argues that even when these biases do lead to substantially non-voluntary choices, we should prefer policies that improve self-knowledge and self-control to taxes. However, the paper notes that Rabin’s analysis reveals circumstances under which these autonomy-enhancing strategies will not be effective. In such cases, and only in such cases, Rabin’s taxes have a soft paternalistic justification. (shrink)
We analyse three moral dilemmas involving resource allocation in care for HIV-positive patients. Ole Norheim and Kjell Arne Johansson have argued that these cases reveal a tension between egalitarian concerns and concerns for better population health. We argue, by contrast, that these cases reveal a tension between, on the one hand, a concern for equal *chances*, and, on the other hand, both a concern for better health and an egalitarian concern for equal *outcomes*. We conclude that, in these cases, there (...) is much less tension than Norheim and Johansson claim between egalitarian concerns and concerns for better population health. (shrink)
The Complaint Model is an interpretation of Scanlon’s contractualism which holds that (1) an individual can reasonably reject a distribution of well-being when her complaint against that distribution is larger than any other person’s complaint against any other distribution. The Complaint Model further holds that (2) the size of an individual’s complaint against a distribution is a function of (2a) her absolute level of well-being under that distribution, with the size of her complaint increasing as her absolute level of well-being (...) decreases, and (2b) the size of her loss in well-being under that distribution relative to the level of well-being she could have enjoyed under the distribution most favourable to her, with the size of her complaint increasing as her loss increases. In this paper, I argue that the Complaint Model should be rejected, because the way in which it takes individuals’ losses into account leads to strongly counterintuitive results. In particular, I show that the Complaint Model may sacrifice the well-being associated with the least-well-off, secondleast-well-off, etc. positions for the sake of minimizing the largest complaint. I also argue that revisions to element (1) to allow for the aggregation of complaints must either leave the Complaint Model vulnerable to this objection or lead it to collapse into prioritarianism. The failure of the Complaint Model may lead us to search for an alternative way of taking losses into account. I conclude by arguing that the attractiveness of the Anonymous Pareto principle poses a challenge to any such alternative. (shrink)
What is the appropriate legal response to terrorist threats? This question is discussed by politician Tony McWalter, The Philosophers' Magazine editor Julian Baggini, and philosophers Catherine Audard, Saladin Meckled-Garcia, and Alex Voorhoeve.
This paper provides an introductory discussion of questions about three moral duties in the context of global poverty: the duty to aid; the duty not to harm; and the duty to promote just global institutions.
This paper critically analyses the priority-setting rules used by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) in the UK and proposed by the Netherlands' Council on Public Health and Health Care (RVZ). It argues that neither gives proper weight to improving the lot of those who are worse off than others.
Can a preference-based conception of welfare accommodate changes in people's preferences? I argue that the fact that people care about which preferences they have, and the fact that people can change their preferences about which preferences it is good for them to have, together undermine the case for accepting a preference-satisfaction conception of welfare.
An conversation with Harry Frankfurt about his views on love, free will, and responsibility, as well as his general approach to philosophy. (Note: a revised version appears in Alex Voorhoeve, Conversations on Ethics, OUP 2009).
Philippe van Parijs (2003) has argued that an egalitarian ethos cannot be part of a post- Political Liberalism Rawlsian view of justice, because the demands of political justice are confined to principles for institutions of the basic structure alone. This paper argues, by contrast, that certain principles for individual conduct—including a principle requiring relatively advantaged individuals to sometimes make their economic choices with the aim of maximising the prospects of the least advantaged—are an integral part of a Rawlsian political conception (...) of justice. It concludes that incentive payments will have a clearly limited role in a Rawlsian theory of justice. (shrink)