, Volume 39, Issue 2, pp 237-250

The Nonworseness Claim and the Moral Permissibility of Better-Than-Permissible Acts

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Abstract

Grounded in what Alan Wertheimer terms the “nonworseness claim,” it is thought by some philosophers that what will be referred to herein as “better-than-permissible acts”—acts that, if undertaken, would make another or others better off than they would be were an alternative but morally permissible act to be undertaken—are necessarily morally permissible. What, other than a bout of irrationality, it may be thought, would lead one to hold that an act (such as outsourcing production to a “sweatshop” in a developing country) that produces more benefits for others than an act that is itself morally permissible (such as not doing business in the developing country at all) with respect to those same others, is not morally permissible? In this article, I argue that each of the two groups of philosophers that are most likely to accept the nonworseness claim—consequentialists and non-consequentialists—have reason to reject it, and thereby also have reason to reject the belief that better-than-permissible acts are necessarily morally permissible.