Contractualism and risk imposition

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 7 (1):99-122 (2008)
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The article investigates the resources of contractualist moral theory to make sense of the ethics of risk imposition. In some ways, contractualism seems well placed to explain how it can be reasonable to accept exposure to risk of harms whose direct imposition would not be acceptable. However, there are difficulties getting clear about what directness comes to here, especially given the difficulty of adequately motivating traditional views that assign ethical significance to what the agent intends as opposed to merely foreseeing. The article considers two principles which might help the contractualist: the Redistribution Principle, which, while attractive, is perhaps somewhat too restrictive, and the Aim Consistency Principle, which grants ethical significance to the aims with which our actions are in principle consistent whatever our actual intentions may be. The article also considers the relative significance of ex ante and ex post perspectives from which to evaluate actions and principles. Key Words: contractualism • Doctrine of Double Effect • ethics • intention • justice • risk • T.M. Scanlon • utilitarianism



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James Lenman
University of Sheffield

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