Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 18, Issue 5, pp 971–982 | Cite as

The Possibility of an Ongoing Moral Catastrophe

  • Evan G. WilliamsEmail author


This article gives two arguments for believing that our society is unknowingly guilty of serious, large-scale wrongdoing. First is an inductive argument: most other societies, in history and in the world today, have been unknowingly guilty of serious wrongdoing, so ours probably is too. Second is a disjunctive argument: there are a large number of distinct ways in which our practices could turn out to be horribly wrong, so even if no particular hypothesized moral mistake strikes us as very likely, the disjunction of all such mistakes should receive significant credence. The article then discusses what our society should do in light of the likelihood that we are doing something seriously wrong: we should regard intellectual progress, of the sort that will allow us to find and correct our moral mistakes as soon as possible, as an urgent moral priority rather than as a mere luxury; and we should also consider it important to save resources and cultivate flexibility, so that when the time comes to change our policies we will be able to do so quickly and smoothly.


Hedging Moral mistakes Moral uncertainty Progress 



I am especially grateful to Larry Temkin for his many helpful suggestions on this and related material. I also wish to thank Jeff McMahan, the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford, the various audiences which have given me feedback on this article, and an anonymous reviewer.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Wisconsin OshkoshOshkoshUSA

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