Howard Nye is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Alberta. He works primarily in the areas of normative ethics, practical ethics, and metaethics, and has related interests in political philosophy, the philosophy of mind, and decision theory. His recent publications include “Well-Being, Self-Regarding Reasons, and Morality” (in Thought), “Non-Consequentialism Demystified” (in Philosophers’ Imprint), “Directly Plausible Principles” (in the Palgrave Handbook of Philosophical Methods), and “The Wrong Kind of Reasons” (in the Routledge Handbook of Metaethics). Much of Howard’s current research investigates challenges to the common assumption that life is less of a morally important benefit to beings who lack the intellectual abilities of typical human adults.
Why be Sustainable? Expected Consequences and the Ethics of Making an Indeterminate Difference
Why should we refrain from doing things that, taken collectively, are environmentally destructive, if our individual acts seem almost certain to make no difference? According to the expected consequences account, we should refrain from doing these things because any benefits that they may provide relative to their alternatives are outweighed by the risks that they will in fact cause harm. This account seems to work well in cases where our individual acts pose a small chance of causing great harm, but it faces difficulty in cases where our acts seem certain to have no determinate effect on the well-being of others. Authors like Shelly Kagan and Alastair Norcross have defended the expected consequences account by arguing that apparent cases of indeterminate effects must always actually be cases that involve risks of determinate harm. But this defense has been challenged, and I argue that it seems too committed to the view that features of ethical importance cannot be vague. I offer a novel, alternative defense of the expected consequences account that extends it to cases in which harms are genuinely indeterminate.
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