Prospect utilitarianism: A better alternative to sufficientarianism
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Ever since the publication of Harry Frankfurt’s “Equality as a Moral Ideal” (Ethics 98(1):21–43, 1987), the doctrine of sufficiency has attracted great attention among both ethical theorists and political philosophers. The doctrine of sufficiency (or sufficientarianism) consists of two main theses: the positive thesis states that it is morally important for people to have enough; and the negative thesis states that once everybody has enough, relative inequality has absolutely no moral importance. Many political philosophers have presented different versions of sufficientarianism that retain the general spirit of what Frankfurt had proposed in his seminal work. However, all of these different versions of sufficientarianism suffer from two critical problems: (a) they fail to give right answers to lifeboat situations, and (b) they fail to provide continuous ethical judgments. In this paper, I show a version of utilitarianism that solves these problems while retaining the major attractions of sufficientarianism. I call it “prospect utilitarianism.” In addition, I show that prospect utilitarianism can avoid standard objections to utilitarianism and has aspects that can appeal to both prioritarians and egalitarians as well.
KeywordsDoctrine of Sufficiency Sufficientarianism Frankfurt Utilitarianism Prospect Theory
I would like to thank (in alphabetical order) Jacob Barrett, Jerry Gaus, Adam Gjesdal, Brian Kogelmann, John Roemer, Jack Sanders, Alex Schaefer, Stephen Stich, and John Thrasher for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper.
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