Advertisement

What is the point of helping?

  • James FanciulloEmail author
Article

Abstract

In some cases, a group of people can bring about a morally bad outcome despite each person’s individual act making no difference with respect to bringing that outcome about. Since each person’s act makes no difference, it seems the effects of the act cannot provide a reason not to perform it. This is problematic, because if each person acts in accordance with their reasons, each will presumably perform the act—and thus, the bad outcome will be brought about. Recently, Julia Nefsky has argued that this problem is solved by rejecting the assumption that if an act makes no difference with respect to an outcome, then the act cannot do anything non-superfluous toward bringing that outcome about. Nefsky suggests that, even if an act makes no difference, the act may nevertheless help: it may make a non-superfluous causal contribution. If this is right, it means that the potential effects of an act may give us a reason to perform the act, even if the act wouldn’t make a difference. In this paper, I offer some reasons to be wary of Nefsky’s approach. I first argue that her account generates problematic results in a certain range of cases, and thus that we may have no reason to help in any case. I then argue that, even if we do sometimes have a reason to act when it seems we cannot make a difference, this reason cannot be the one that Nefsky identifies.

Keywords

Collective harm Collective impact Collective action Difference-making Helping 

Notes

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to an anonymous reviewer for truly helpful comments. And special thanks to Cheshire Calhoun and Doug Portmore for extremely helpful comments, discussions, encouragement, and advice.

References

  1. Bratman, M. E. (2014). Shared agency. Oxford: Oxford UP.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Kagan, S. (2011). Do i make a difference? Philosophy & Public Affairs, 39, 105–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Nefsky, J. (2011). Consequentialism and the problem of collective harm: A reply to Kagan. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 39, 364–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Nefsky, J. (2015). Fairness, participation, and the real problem of collective harm. In M. Timmons (Ed.), Oxford studies in normative ethics (Vol. 5). Oxford: Oxford UP.Google Scholar
  5. Nefsky, J. (2017). How you can help, without making a difference. Philosophical Studies, 174, 2743–2767.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Norcross, A. (2004). Puppies, pigs, and people: Eating meat and marginal cases. Philosophical Perspectives, 18, 229–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Parfit, D. (1984). Reasons and persons. Oxford: Oxford UP.Google Scholar
  8. Pinkert, F. (2015). What if i cannot make a difference (and know it). Ethics, 125, 971–998.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Portmore, D. W. (2016). Maximalism and moral harmony. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research..  https://doi.org/10.1111/phpr.12304.Google Scholar
  10. Regan, D. (1980). Utilitarianism and co-operation. New York: Oxford UP.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Sinnott-Armstrong, W. (2005). It’s not my fault: Global warming and individual moral obligations. In W. Sinnott-Armstrong & R. Howarth (Eds.), Perspectives on climate change (pp. 221–253). Amsterdam: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  12. Tanssjo, T. (1989). The morality of collective actions. Philosophical Quarterly, 39, 221–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Arizona State UniversityTempeUSA

Personalised recommendations