Sorites On What Matters

In Jeff McMahan, Timothy Campbell, Ketan Ramakrishnan & Jimmy Goodrich (eds.), Ethics and Existence: The Legacy of Derek Parfit. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 498–523 (2022)
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Ethics in the tradition of Derek Parfit’s Reasons and Persons is riddled with sorites-like arguments, which lead us by what seem innocent steps to seemingly false conclusions. Take, for example, spectrum arguments for the Repugnant Conclusion that appeal to slight differences in quality of life. Several authors have taken the view that, since spectrum arguments are structurally analogous to sorites arguments, the correct response to spectrum arguments is structurally analogous to the correct response to sorites arguments. This sorites analogy is here argued against. There are potential structural disanalogies between spectrum arguments and sorites arguments. But even if these arguments are relevantly structurally analogous, they differ in their content in ways that show the sorites analogy to be implausible. Two content-based disanalogies are here explored—one is inspired by Parfit’s work on reductionism, and the other involves hypersensitivity. The chapter concludes with a methodological lesson.

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Theron Pummer
University of St. Andrews


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