The impure non-identity problem

In Jeff McMahan, Tim Campbell, James Goodrich & Ketan Ramakrishnan (eds.), Ethics and Existence (2022)
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Abstract

Some of Derek Parfit’s most significant work concerns the non-identity problem. Briefly put, this is the problem of how, morally speaking, we should understand cases in which we can act in one way, and produce persons with sub-optimal lives, or act in another way, and produce different persons with better lives. Discussions of the non-identity problem tend to assume that it is a single problem, raising a single set of moral issues. This chapter seeks to complicate this picture. It introduces ‘Impure Non-Identity Cases’. These are cases in which a policy, or group of acts, is a non-identity case, and so nobody is harmed, or made worse off, by the policy, or group of acts, but some (and maybe even all) of the individual acts within the policy or group are not non-identity cases, and are harmful. The chapter investigates the moral implications of such cases, and the problems and questions they raise, aside from those raised by ‘Pure Non-Identity Cases’.

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Patrick Tomlin
University of Warwick

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