Can't Kant count? Innumerate Views on Saving the Many over Saving the Few

Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics 13:215-234 (2023)
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Abstract

It seems rather intuitive that if I can save either one stranger or five strangers, I must save the five. However, Kantian (and other non-consequentialist) views have a difficult time explaining why this is the case, as they seem committed to what Parfit calls “innumeracy”: roughly, the view that the values of lives (or the reasons to save them) don’t get greater (or stronger) in proportion to the number of lives saved. This chapter first shows that in various cases, it is permissible to save fewer lives, contrary to what is implied by “numerate” views. Then it argues that in the cases in which it is intuitive that we must save the greater number, Kantians (and other deontologists) can not only deliver this verdict but also explain why it is correct, without presupposing that the value of our action depends on “adding up” the values of the lives saved.

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Sergio Tenenbaum
University of Toronto, Mississauga

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