Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 279–290 | Cite as

A Defence of Weighted Lotteries in Life Saving Cases

  • Ben Saunders


The three most common responses to Taurek’s ‘numbers problem’ are saving the greater number, equal chance lotteries and weighted lotteries. Weighted lotteries have perhaps received the least support, having been criticized by Scanlon What We Owe to Each Other (1998) and Hirose ‘Fairness in Life and Death Cases’ (2007). This article considers these objections in turn, and argues that they do not succeed in refuting the fairness of a weighted lottery, which remains a potential solution to cases of conflict. Moreover, it shows how these responses actually lead to a new argument for weighted lotteries, appealing to fairness and Pareto-optimality.


Aggregation Fairness Lotteries Scanlon Taurek Weighted lotteries 



Some of the ideas in this paper were first developed, in a different context, as part of my doctoral dissertation. Among the many debts incurred during that time, I must thank the supervision of David Miller, funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK), my examiners, Adam Swift and David Estlund, and participants in the Oxford Moral Philosophy Seminar (2nd June 2008), particularly John Broome.

My criticisms of Hirose were first aired at the Oxford University Centre for Ethics and Legal Philosophy workshop on Aggregation and Numbers (5th February 2005) and I thank the participants there for lively discussion. Finally, for further helpful comments on this paper, I thank Daan Evers, Johann Frick, Iwao Hirose, Toby Ord, Gerard Vong, and two anonymous referees for the journal.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy and Corpus Christi CollegeUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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