The Counterfactual Comparative Account of Harm and Reasons for Action and Preference: Reply to Carlson

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. 1.

    This way of formulating the view is a revision of the formulation contained in Klocksiem (2012) suggested by Carlson (Forthcoming).

  2. 2.

    Carlson (Forthcoming, p. 6).

  3. 3.

    Carlson (Forthcoming, p. 6). See also Bradley (2012, pp. 395 – 6).

  4. 4.

    Carlson (Forthcoming, p. 7).

  5. 5.

    Carlson (Forthcoming, p. 7).

  6. 6.

    Jens Johansson suggests that the Darts case discussed below could also be used to show that CCA violates RfP. But I suspect that if my reply to that Darts argument is correct, this reply will be equally effective against a Darts-based argument from RfP.

  7. 7.

    Carlson discusses ways of revising CCA in response to Coins, including contextualist and contrastivist versions. Although I do not have space to defend these claims here, my view is that CCA naturally inherits its contextualism from the counterfactuals it relies on, which are also context-sensitive (See Klocksiem (2012, p. 289), and that contrastivism permits a degree of arbitrariness that is a liability for CCA. I agree with Carlson that neither variation is likely to be particularly helpful with respect to Coins.

  8. 8.

    Carlson (Forthcoming, p. 3).

  9. 9.

    Carlson (Forthcoming, p. 4).

  10. 10.

    Carlson (Forthcoming, pp. 4–5). Carlson also discusses several possible ways of modifying CCA in response to Darts, including one in which the counterfactual comparison worlds are restricted to those in which the agent intentionally performs a different action rather than trying and failing to perform the original action, and one in which we are to focus on whether or not any alternative open to the agent would have benefitted the person. See Carlson (Forthcoming, pp. 6–7). I agree with Carlson that these modifications are not helpful.

  11. 11.

    It also seems clear that, insofar as we possess limited knowledge of the actual outcomes of action, the likelihoods of the various outcomes is relevant. RfA ignores this.

  12. 12.

    Some philosophers might find this distinction between actions and outcomes implausible. If so, perhaps the same underlying point can be made in a way that does not rely on it. For even if hitting board 1 is an action, it seems that the action of throwing at board 1 is basic in a way that hitting board 1 is not, since whether you try to hit board 1 is under your immediate voluntary control in a way that whether you successfully hit the board is not. We can then account for the intuitive appeal of RfA by claiming that it applies only to basic actions, and not in an unrestricted way to all actions, as Carlson suggests. I thank an anonymous reviewer for this suggestion.

  13. 13.

    One might suspect that the proper alternative comparison case for your successful attempt to perform a1 is a world in which you unsuccessfully attempt to perform a1, not where you successfully attempt to perform a2. I don’t agree, because Darts stipulates that you are good enough to hit either board at will. If you were not sufficiently good, that could change which action you have reason to perform. But then there would be corresponding changes regarding which events are harms

  14. 14.

    I am grateful to Seth Bordner, Neil Feit, Scott Hill, Jens Johansson, Christian Lee, Olle Risberg, Michael Rubin, Jean-Paul Vessel, Stephen Woodside, an anonymous referee for this journal, and especially Erik Carlson for helpful comments and discussion of earlier drafts of this article


  1. Bradley B (2012) Doing away with harm. Philos Phenomenol Res 85:390–412

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Carlson E (Forthcoming) More problems for the counterfactual comparative account of harm and benefit. Ethical Theory Moral Pract

  3. Klocksiem J (2012) A defense of the counterfactual comparative account of harm. Am Philos Q 49:285–300

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Justin Klocksiem.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Klocksiem, J. The Counterfactual Comparative Account of Harm and Reasons for Action and Preference: Reply to Carlson. Ethic Theory Moral Prac 22, 673–677 (2019).

Download citation