Mixed Feelings About Mixed Solutions
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The numbers problem concerns the question of what is the right thing to do in trade-off cases where one can save different non-overlapping groups of persons, but not everyone. Proponents of mixed solutions argue that both saving the many and holding a lottery to determine whom to save can each be morally right in such cases, depending on the relative sizes of the groups involved. In his book The Dimensions of Consequentialism, Martin Peterson presents an ingenious version of such an approach that avoids a commitment to interpersonal value aggregation, which is highly controversial and rejected by many philosophers for a number of reasons. I criticise Peterson’s proposal by first arguing that it cannot account for the idea that holding a lottery is morally wrong if differences in numbers are very large, and by second pointing out that it relies on implausible assumptions about what is good for an individual. Given the shortcomings of Peterson’s non-aggregationist version of a mixed solution, I next address the issue of how problematic a commitment to interpersonal aggregation really is. To this end, I present an aggregationist version of a mixed solution that is reason-based and bypasses most standard objections to interpersonal value aggregation. I conclude that although there is reason to be optimistic, it remains to be seen whether a mixed solution can be worked out in a fully satisfying way.
KeywordsInterpersonal aggregation Mixed solutions Numbers problem Martin Peterson Reasons Separateness of persons
I am grateful to Andreas Müller, Thomas Schmidt, Attila Tanyi, Martin van Hees and an anonymous reviewer for very helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper. I would also like to thank Martin Peterson and all participants of the workshop „The Dimensions of Consequentialism“ (16-17 November 2013, University of Konstanz) for a very fruitful discussion.
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