Molly Gardner (Bowling Green State University): "Why the Numbers Don't Count, But the Reasons Do"

Wed, Nov 29, 2017, 4:30 pm to 6:00 pm
Lewis Library 138

Respondent: Johann Frick

Abstract: There are some cases in which we must choose between saving the lives of a large group of people and saving the lives of a smaller group of different people. John Taurek has famously argued that in such cases, you need not always save the larger number, since there is no one for whom saving the larger number is a larger benefit. Persuaded by Taurek's reasoning but not his conclusion, many non-consequentialists have struggled to find a justification for saving the larger number that does not appeal to aggregation. In this paper, I argue that we can respect Taurek's insight without giving up on aggregation. The solution is to aggregate reasons for acting rather than gains or losses to individuals. To motivate this solution, I first clarify the "Numbers Problem" and argue that it is a problem for everyone—not just non-consequentialists. I then explain what it means to aggregate reasons for acting rather than gains or losses to individuals. I argue that the aggregating-reasons approach vindicates Taurek's fundamental insight and gets the right results in a wide variety of cases, not only in rescue cases, but also in cases that motivate the trolley problem.

Bio: Molly Gardner is an assistant professor of philosophy at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. She received her Ph.D. in 2013 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research interests are in issues at the intersection of normative ethics and metaphysics.