Consequentialism and Collective Action

Ethics 130 (4):530-554 (2020)
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Abstract

Many consequentialists argue that you ought to do your part in collective action problems like climate change mitigation and ending factory farming because (i) all such problems are triggering cases, in which there is a threshold number of people such that the outcome will be worse if at least that many people act in a given way than if fewer do, and (ii) doing your part in a triggering case maximises expected value. I show that both (i) and (ii) are false: Some triggering cases cannot be solved by appeal to expected value, since they involve infinities, and some collective action problems are not triggering cases, since they involve parity. However, I argue that consequentialism can still generally prohibit failure to do your part in those collective action problems where we believe that so acting would be impermissible.

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Brian Hedden
Australian National University

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