Participation, Collective Impact, and Your Instrumental Significance

Journal of Practical Ethics 11 (1) (2023)
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There are many sorts of day-to-day choices that are such that, if enough people were to choose one way rather than another, serious harm could be avoided or reduced, and yet it does not seem that any one such choice will itself make a difference. Consider, for example, how our collective consumer choices have various serious environmental and social consequences, and yet for many products, it is doubtful that one purchase more or less will itself make a difference to these outcomes. How are we to understand what each of us ought to do in these sorts of contexts? This paper further advances and illuminates a thesis that I have argued for elsewhere: that a purely ‘non-instrumental’ approach to this question is not satisfactory. A necessary and central part of understanding how to think about an individual choice in these contexts is showing that it does matter for instrumental reasons - for reasons having to do with its ability to have an influence on the outcome. Once a core instrumental solution is found, other moral considerations can build on top. I argue for this by way of an examination of a new non-instrumental approach advanced by Wieland and van Oeveren: a participation-based approach. I also identify what I think is the main source of resistance to my thesis: a mistaken conflation of two different problems.



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Julia Nefsky
University of Toronto at Scarborough

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