Abstract: This volume considers the ethics of policing and imprisonment, focusing particularly on mass incarceration and police shootings in the United States. The contributors consider the ways in which non-ideal features of the criminal justice system―features such as the prevalence of guns in America, political pressures, considerations of race and gender, and the lived experiences of people in jails and prisons―impinge upon conclusions drawn from more idealized models of punishment and law enforcement. There are a number of common themes running throughout the chapters. One is the contrast between idealism and realism about justice. Another is the attention to harmful consequences, not only of prisons themselves, but to the events that often precede incarceration, including encounters with police and pre-trial detention. A third theme is the legacy of racism in the United States and the role that the criminal justice system plays in perpetuating racial oppression.

Journal Articles:

Abstract: According to various “harm-based” approaches to the non-identity problem, an action that brings a particular child into existence can also harm that child, even if his or her life is worth living. In the third chapter of The Non-Identity Problem and the Ethics of Future People, David Boonin surveys a variety of harm-based approaches and argues that none of them are successful. In this paper I argue that his objections to these various approaches do not impugn a harm-based approach that Boonin does not consider, an approach I call the “existence solution to the non-identity problem.” I also argue that the existence solution is more plausible than Boonin’s own proposed solution.

Abstract: The problem of justified harm is the problem of explaining why it is permissible to inflict harm for the sake of future benefits in some cases but not in others. In this paper I first motivate the problem by comparing a case in which a lifeguard breaks a swimmer’s arm in order to save her life to a case in which Nazis imprison a man who later grows wiser as a result of the experience. I consider other philosophers’ attempts to explain why the lifeguard’s action was permissible but the Nazis’ action was not. After arguing that principles having to do with consent, expected utility, and the types of harms and benefits at issue do not fully solve the problem, I argue for a causal solution to the problem. The causal solution includes both a causal account of harming and a distinction between causes and mere conditions. It then distinguishes between the lifeguard and Nazi cases with following principle: A harmful action that causes greater benefits can sometimes be justified by those benefits, but a harmful action that does not cause greater benefits cannot be justified by any subsequent benefits that the action, itself, does not cause.

Abstract: According to action-relative accounts of harming, an action harms someone only if it makes her worse off in some respect than she would have been, had the action not been performed. Action-relative accounts can be contrasted with effect-relative accounts, which hold that an action may harm an individual in virtue of its effects on that individual, regardless of whether the individual would have been better off in the absence of the action. In this paper, I argue that our judgments about the strength of the reason against harming lend support to effect-relative accounts over action-relative accounts. I first criticize Fiona Woollard’s argument for the claim that an effect-relative account of harming could ground only a weak reason against harming. I then argue for a set of three principles that can be conjoined with an effect-relative account to explain the strength of the reason against harming.

Discussion at Pea Soup.

Abstract: Consider a duty of beneficence towards a particular individual, S, and call a reason that is grounded in that duty a “beneficence reason towards S.” Call a person who will be brought into existence by an act of procreation the “resultant person.” Is there ever a beneficence reason towards the resultant person for an agent to procreate? In this paper, I argue for such a reason by appealing to two main premises. First, we owe a pro tanto duty of beneficence to future persons; and second, some of us can benefit some of those persons by procreating. In support of the first premise I reject the presentist account of time in favor of the view that future persons are just as real as presently existing persons. I then argue that future persons are like us in all the morally relevant ways, and since we owe duties of beneficence to each other, we also owe duties of beneficence to future persons. In support of the second premise I offer an account of benefiting according to which an individual can be benefited by an action even if it makes her no better off than she would have been, had the action not been performed. This account of benefiting solves what I call the “non-identity benefit problem.” Finally, I argue that having a life worth living is a benefit, and some of us can cause some persons that benefit by causing them to exist.

Abstract: Can we wrong individuals whose lives are worth living by taking actions that result in their very existence? The problem of justifying an answer to this question has come to be known as the non-identity problem. While the literature contains an array of strategies for solving the problem, in this paper I will take what I call the harm-based approach, and I will defend an account of harming—which I call the existence account of harming—that can vindicate this approach.

Abstract: The quality of a life is typically understood as a function of the actual goods and bads in it, that is, its actual value. Likewise, the value of a population is typically taken to be a function of the actual value of the lives in it. We introduce an alternative understanding of life quality: adjusted value. A life’s adjusted value is a function of its actual value and its ideal value (the best value it could have had). The concept of adjusted value is useful for at least three reasons. First, it fits our judgments about how well lives are going. Second, it allows us to avoid what we call False Equivalence, an error related to the non-identity problem. Third, when we use adjusted value as an input for calculating the value of a population, we can avoid two puzzles that Derek Parfit calls the “Repugnant Conclusion” and the “Mere Addition Paradox.”

Book Chapters:

  • “A Deontological Approach to Future Consequences,” Forthcoming in The Oxford Handbook of Intergenerational Ethics, ed. Stephen Gardiner. 

Abstract: This chapter defends a deontological approach to both the non-identity problem and what is referred to as the “inconsequentiality problem.” Both problems arise in cases where, although the actions of presently living people appear to have harmful consequences for future people, it is difficult to explain why there are moral reasons against such actions. The deontological response to both problems appeals to a distinction between causal and non-causal consequences. By acknowledging the moral importance of such a distinction, deontologists can vindicate the judgment that, collectively and individually, we have harm-based reasons against bringing about bad consequences for future people.

Abstract: A complete theory of harming must have both a substantive component and a formal component. The substantive component, which Victor Tadros (2014) calls the “currency” of harm, tells us what I interfere with when I harm you. The formal component, which Tadros calls the “measure” of harm, tells us how the harm to you is related to my action. In this chapter I survey the literature on both the currency and the measure of harm. I argue that the currency of harm is well-being and that the measure of harming is best captured by a causal account on which harming is causing a harm. A harm for you is the presence of something intrinsically bad for you or the absence of something intrinsically good for you. Thus, although a counterfactual account of the measure of harm need not distinguish between an harm and a harmful event, the causal account reserves the term ‘harm’, not for a harmful event, but only for its effect. Finally, I show how a complete theory of harming can help us to answer questions about whether we can harm people with speech, whether we can harm the dead, and how it is possible to harm future generations.  

  • “Personal Identity in Black Mirror: Is Your Cookie You?” (with Robert Sloane), in Black Mirror and Philosophy: Dark Reflections, ed. David Kyle Johnson, Wiley-Blackwell, forthcoming.
  • “Introduction” (with Michael Weber), in The Ethics of Policing and Imprisonment, ed. Molly Gardner and Michael Weber, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018, pp. 1 – 6.
  • “The Interspecies Killing Problem,” in The Moral Rights of Animals, ed. Mylan Engel, Jr. and Gary Comstock, Lexington Books, 2016, pp. 119 – 140.
  • “Well-Being and the Non-Identity Problem,” The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Well-Beinged. Guy Fletcher, Routledge, 2015, pp. 429 – 438.

Book Reviews:

  • Review of Espen Gamlund and Carl Tollef Solberg (eds.), Saving People from the Harm of Death, Bioethics, September 23, 2020. 
  • Review of F. M. Kamm & ed. Eric Rakowski, The Trolley Problem Mysteries, Ethics 126(4), July 2016.
  • Review of David Boonin, The Non-Identity Problem and the Ethics of Future People, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, June 4, 2015.

Peer Commentaries: