Res Publica 20 (3):245-261 (2014)

Suppose you can save only one of two groups of people from harm, with one person in one group, and five persons in the other group. Are you obligated to save the greater number? While common sense seems to say ‘yes’, the numbers skeptic says ‘no’. Numbers Skepticism has been partly motivated by the anti-consequentialist thought that the goods, harms and well-being of individual people do not aggregate in any morally significant way. However, even many non-consequentialists think that Numbers Skepticism goes too far in rejecting the claim that you ought to save the greater number. Besides the prima facie implausibility of Numbers Skepticism, Michael Otsuka has developed an intriguing argument against this position. Otsuka argues that Numbers Skepticism, in conjunction with an independently plausible moral principle, leads to inconsistent choices regarding what ought to be done in certain circumstances. This inconsistency in turn provides us with a good reason to reject Numbers Skepticism. Kirsten Meyer offers a notable challenge to Otsuka’s argument. I argue that Meyer’s challenge can be met, and then offer my own reasons for rejecting Otsuka’s argument. In light of these criticisms, I then develop an improved, yet structurally similar argument to Otsuka’s argument. I argue for the slightly different conclusion that the view proposed by John Taurek that ‘the numbers don’t count’ leads to inconsistent choices, which in turn provides us with a good reason to reject Taurek’s position.
Keywords Numbers Skepticism  Numbers problem  Aggregation  Consequentialism  Pairwise comparisons of harms  John Taurek
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DOI 10.1007/s11158-014-9241-2
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References found in this work BETA

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Citations of this work BETA

The Many, the Few, and the Nature of Value.Daniel Muñoz - forthcoming - Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy.
Avoidable Harm.Peter A. Graham - 2020 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 101 (1):175-199.
Proportionality in Self-Defense.Uwe Steinhoff - 2017 - The Journal of Ethics 21 (3):263-289.
Saving Lives: For the Best Outcome?Xueshi Wang - 2022 - Philosophia 50 (1):337-351.

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