Numbers without aggregation

Noûs (2023)
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Suppose we can save either a larger group of persons or a distinct, smaller group from some harm. Many people think that, all else equal, we ought to save the greater number. This article defends this view (with qualifications). But unlike earlier theories, it does not rely on the idea that several people's interests or claims receive greater aggregate weight. The argument starts from the idea that due to their stakes, the affected people have claims to have a say in the rescue decision. As rescuers, our primary duty is to respect these procedural claims, which we must do by doing what these people would decide, in a process where each is given an equal vote on the matter. So in cases where each votes in their own self-interest, respect for their equal right to decide, or their autonomy, will lead us to save the greater number. The argument is explained in detail, with special attention to the questions of how, exactly, it avoids aggregation, and of why majority rule is superior to lottery procedures. The view has further advantages. Especially, it explains the “partial” relevance of numbers in cases involving unequal harms, and it does so in a way that dissolves the appearance of paradox that besets theories of “partial aggregation.”

Author's Profile

Tim Henning
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz


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