The Journal of Ethics

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 169–189 | Cite as

Killing and the Time-relative Interest Account

  • Nils Holtug


Jeff McMahan appeals to what he calls the “Time-relative Interest Account of the Wrongness of Killing” to explain the wrongness of killing individuals who are conscious but not autonomous. On this account, the wrongness of such killing depends on the victim’s interest in his or her future, and this interest, in turn, depends on two things: the goods that would have accrued to the victim in the future; and the strength of the prudential relations obtaining between the victim at the time of the killing and at the times these goods would have accrued to him or her. More precisely, when assessing this interest, future goods should be discounted to reflect reductions in the strength of such relations. Against McMahan’s account I argue that it relies on an implausible “actualist” view of the moral importance of interests according to which satisfactions of future interests only have moral significance if they are satisfactions of actual interests (interests that will in fact exist). More precisely, I aim to show that the Time-relative Interest Account (1) does not have the implications for the morality of killing that McMahan takes it to have, and (2) implies, implausibly, that certain interest satisfactions which seem to be morally significant are morally insignificant because they are not satisfactions of actual interests.


Abortion Jeff McMahan Killing Time-relative interest account 



I would like to thank S. Matthew Liao, Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen, Christian Munthe, Ingmar Persson, Thomas Søbirk Petersen, participants at the International Society for Utilitarian Studies conference in Berkeley 2008, and two anonymous referees for The Journal of Ethics for helpful comments on an earlier version of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy Unit, Department of Media Cognition and CommunicationUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagen SDenmark

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