When, if ever, do we aggregate? And why?: Jan Narveson

Social Philosophy and Policy 26 (1):48-75 (2009)
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Aggregation in moral philosophy calls for the summing or averaging of values or utilities as a guide to individual behavior. But morality, it is argued, needs to be individualistic, in view of the evident separateness of persons, especially given the great disparities among individuals who nevertheless interact with each other in social life. The most plausible general moral program is the classical liberal one calling for mutual noninterference rather than treating others as equal to oneself in point of demands on our action. Why, then, would we ever aggregate? The reason is that we are affected by behavior that has general effects, especially unintended side effects, on all sorts of people among whom we ourselves are often to be found. When we are randomly situated among such groups—as we sometimes are and often are not—minimizing aggregate harm is the plausible strategy, and sometimes promoting aggregate benefit as well.



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Jan Narveson
University of Waterloo

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