Harm: The counterfactual comparative account, the omission and pre-emption problems, and well-being

South African Journal of Philosophy 37 (1):1-17 (2018)
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The concept of “harm” is ubiquitous in moral theorising, and yet remains poorly defined. Bradley suggests that the counterfactual comparative account of harm is the most plausible account currently available, but also argues that it is fatally flawed, since it falters on the omission and pre-emption problems. Hanna attempts to defend the counterfactual comparative account of harm against both problems. In this paper, I argue that Hanna’s defence fails. I also show how his defence highlights the fact that both the omission and the pre-emption problems have the same root cause – the inability of the counterfactual comparative account of harm to allow for our implicit considerations regarding well-being when assessing harm. While its purported neutrality with regard to substantive theories of well-being is one of the reasons that this account is considered to be the most plausible on offer, I will argue that this neutrality is illusory.

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Tanya de Villiers-Botha
University of Stellenbosch


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