Partial Aggregation: What the People Think


This article applies the tools of experimental philosophy to the ongoing debate about both the theoretical viability and the practical import of partially aggregative moral theories in distributive ethics. We conduct a series of three experiments (N=383): First, we document the widespread occurrence of the intuitions that motivate this position. Our study then moves beyond establishing the existence of partially aggregative intuitions in two dimensions: First, we extend experimental work in such a way as to ascertain which amongst existing versions of partial aggregation (localised vs. global) chimes more fully with moral common sense. Specifically, we document how, in tie-breaking cases, ‘irrelevant goods’ judgments (Kamm) are just as robust as the original aggregative/non-aggregative pair of judgments that constitute partial aggregation. Second, by pairing laypeople’s moral judgments in standard cases with their intuitions about the limits of permissible self-prioritisation, we investigate whether one prominent explanation of why irrelevant claims may not be aggregated (Voorhoeve’s ‘personal prerogative’ argument) can be said to underpin people’s intuitions about the (ir)relevance relation of claims in conflict cases. We close with a discussion of our findings’ practical and theoretical import and highlight avenues for future research.

Author Profiles

Juri Viehoff
Utrecht University
Markus Kneer
University of Graz


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