Philosophical Studies

, Volume 172, Issue 6, pp 1593–1601 | Cite as

Sequential dominance and the anti-aggregation principle

  • Johan E. Gustafsson


According to the widely held anti-aggregation principle, it is wrong to save a larger number of people from minor harms rather than a smaller number from much more serious harms. This principle is a central part of many influential and anti-utilitarian ethical theories. According to the sequential-dominance principle, one does something wrong if one knowingly performs a sequence of acts whose outcome would be worse for everyone than the outcome of an alternative sequence of acts. The intuitive appeal of the sequential-dominance principle should be obvious; everyone is knowingly made worse off if it is violated. In this paper, I present a number of cases where one is forced to violate either the anti-aggregation principle or the sequential-dominance principle. I show that these principles conflict regardless of whether one accepts a counterfactual or a temporal, worsening view of harm. Moreover, I show that this result holds regardless of how much worse a harm has to be in order to count as a much more serious harm.


The anti-aggregation principle Contractualism Harm Complaints Sequential dominance Sequential choice 



I wish to thank Arif Ahmed, Per Algander, Gustaf Arrhenius, Marc Fleurbaey, Iwao Hirose, Christopher Jay, Martin Peterson, Christian Piller, Mozaffar Qizilbash, Wlodek Rabinowicz, Daniel Ramöller, Jussi Suikkanen, and an anonymous referee for valuable comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of YorkYorkUK

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