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Demographic statistics in defensive decisions

  • Renée Jorgensen BolingerEmail author
Norms for Risk
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Norms for Risk


A popular informal argument suggests that statistics about the preponderance of criminal involvement among particular demographic groups partially justify others in making defensive mistakes against members of the group. One could worry that evidence-relative accounts of moral rights vindicate this argument. After constructing the strongest form of this objection, I offer several replies: (i) most demographic statistics face an unmet challenge from reference class problems, (ii) even those that meet it fail to ground non-negligible conditional probabilities, (iii) even if they did, they introduce new costs likely to cancel out any justificatory contribution of the statistic, but (iv) even if they didn’t, demographic facts are the wrong sort to make a moral difference to agents’ negative rights. I conclude that the popular argument should be rejected, and evidence-relative theories do not have the worrisome implication.


Statistical evidence Demographic statistics Self-defense Racial profiling Moral encroachment Social inference Risk 



Thanks to Rima Basu, Hannah Bourandt, Maegan Fairchild, Greg Keating, Seth Lazar, Kirsten Mann, Jonathan Quong, Mark Schroeder, Brian Weatherson, and James Willoughby, as well as the Moral Philosophy and Social Theory working group at Australian National University for helpful discussion on many of the questions covered in this paper. The funding was provided by ARC (Grant No. D170101394).


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PhilosophyAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.Politics DepartmentPrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA

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