The problem of collective impact: why helping doesn’t do the trick

Philosophical Studies 180 (8):2377-2397 (2023)
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Abstract

Collective impact cases are situations where people collectively bring about a morally significant outcome by each acting in a certain way, and yet each individual action seems to make no, or almost no difference to the outcome. Intuitively, the beneficial or harmful outcomes give individuals moral reason to act (or refrain from acting) in collective impact situations. However, if the individual action does not make a difference to the outcome, it is not clear what those moral reasons are. The problem of collective impact is the challenge of identifying such moral reasons. Julia Nefsky has presented an account of how an individual action can help without making a difference – call it the Helping Account – that claims to provide a general solution to the problem of collective impact while avoiding problems faced by previously suggested solutions. I present an internal critique of Nefsky’s work. First, I argue that, based on the problems that Nefsky has raised against previously suggested solutions, three success conditions for a general solution to the problem of collective impact can be formulated: The Weightiness condition, the Generalizability condition, and the Connectedness condition. Second, I argue that the Helping Account fails to satisfy the three success conditions, thereby failing, by Nefsky’s own standards, to provide a general solution to the problem.

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Andrea S. Asker
Stockholm University

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References found in this work

Do I Make a Difference?Shelly Kagan - 2011 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 39 (2):105-141.
Collective harm and the inefficacy problem.Julia Nefsky - 2019 - Philosophy Compass 14 (4):e12587.
Against Denialism.John Broome - 2019 - The Monist 102 (1):110-129.
How you can help, without making a difference.Julia Nefsky - 2017 - Philosophical Studies 174 (11):2743-2767.

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