Pro Tanto Rights and the Duty to Save the Greater Number

Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics (forthcoming)
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This paper has two aims. The first is to present and defend a new argument for rights contributionism – the view that the notion of a moral claim-right is a contributory (or pro tanto) rather than overall normative notion. The argument is an inference to the best explanation: it is argued that (i) there are contributory moral factors that contrast with standard moral reasons by way of having a number of formal properties that are characteristic of rights, even though they can be overridden, and (ii) that this is best explained by a view that takes these factors to correlate with rights. The second aim is to show that the truth of rights contributionism matters for normative ethics. More specifically, it is argued that rights contributionism clears the way for deontologists to justify the pre-theoretically plausible verdict that we have a duty to save the greater number in so-called Taurek scenarios – scenarios in which we have to choose between saving either a greater or a smaller number of different people. The chapter offers a novel and distinctively deontological explanation of this verdict that is based on the assumption that everyone has a pro tanto right to be saved in a Taurek scenario.

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Benjamin Kiesewetter
Bielefeld University


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