Most Ways I Could Move: Bennett's Act/Omission Distinction and the Behaviour Space

Mind 120 (477):155-182 (2011)
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Abstract

The distinction between action and omission is of interest in both theoretical and practical philosophy. We use this distinction daily in our descriptions of behaviour and appeal to it in moral judgements. However, the very nature of the act/omission distinction is as yet unclear. Jonathan Bennett’s account of the distinction in terms of positive and negative facts is one of the most promising attempts to give an analysis of the ontological distinction between action and omission. According to Bennett’s account, an upshot is the result of an agent’s action if and only if the relevant fact about her conduct is positive. A proposition about an agent’s conduct is positive if and only if most possible movements of the agent would not have made that proposition true. However, Bennett’s account will fail unless it is possible to make sense of claims about ‘most possible movements of the agent’. We need a way of comparing the size of subsets of the behaviour space (the set of possible movements). I argue that Bennett’s own method of comparison is unsatisfactory. I present an alternative method of comparing subsets of the behaviour space

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