Whose Problem Is Non-Identity?

Journal of Moral Philosophy 12 (6):699-730 (2014)
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Teleological theories of reason and value, upon which all reasons are fundamentally reasons to realize states of affairs that are in some respect best, cannot account for the intuition that victims in non-identity cases have been wronged. Many philosophers, however, reject such theories in favor of alternatives that recognize fundamentally non-teleological reasons, second-personal reasons that reflect a moral significance each person has that is not grounded in the teleologist’s appeal to outcomes. Such deontological accounts appear to be better positioned to identify the wrong committed against non-identity victims because a person wrongs another on such accounts if she violates his second-personal claims -- overall benefit to victims presents no obstacle to the identification of second-personal wrongdoing. Derek Parfit argues that non-identity is a problem for these deontological theories as well because the alleged victims are properly understood as consenting to the action in question, thereby waiving any such second-personal claim. But his arguments misrepresent the role of consent on such theories by articulating it through appeal to the very teleological theory of reasons that their advocates dismiss as inadequate. Properly understood, Parfit’s appeal to consent understood as retroactive endorsement only provides the answer on such deontological accounts to the question of whether, given that the non-identity victim is second-personally wronged, he is nonetheless better off existing. Indeed, it becomes clear that it is teleological theories for which non-identity poses a particular problem: they cannot -- while their deontological counterparts can – account for the intuition that non-identity victims have been wronged.
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