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The Quality of Gooditude

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In this review essay, I first analyze the main tenets of Larry Temkin’s Rethinking the Good and, in particular, his claim that the goodness of state of affairs may not be transitive. I examine one of the key examples of the book, and how it is intended to underwrite this claim. Next I describe the difference between the threat of non-transitivity and the idea of incommensurability. I also consider the plausibility of what Temkin calls the Essentially Comparative View, and explore possible responses to examples of seeming non-transitivity. I also raise some doubts regarding Temkin’s interpretation of ‘the separateness of persons’ and Rawls’ complaints against utilitarians. Finally, I envisage whether Temkin’s theoretical perspective helps us understand practical dilemmas that organizations such as the World Health Organization face.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Philosophy, University College London and Department of Philosophy, University of California at Berkeley,;


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1. Foot Philippa. 1985. ‘"Utilitarianism and the Virtues",’ Mind, Vol 94: 370398 (reprinted in P. Foot, Moral Dilemmas, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2002, chapter 4, pp. 59–77).
2. Kraut Richard. 2011. Against Absolute Goodness, Oxford University Press.
3. Rawls John. 1971. "A Theory of Justice", Harvard University Press (revised edition 1999).
4. Scanlon, T.M. 1982. ‘Contractualism and Utilitarianism,’ in Amartya Sen and Bernard Williams (eds.), Utilitarianism and Beyond, Cambridge: Cambridge UniversityPress, pp. 103–128.
5. Sugden, Robert, and Gold, Natalie (eds.). 2006. Beyond Individual choice: Teams and Frames in Game Theory, Princeton UniversityPress.
6. Thomson Judith Jarvis. 2008. Normativity, Open Court.
7. Wiggins David. 2006. Ethics: Twelve Lectures on the Philosophy of Morality, Harvard University Press.
8. Williams Bernard. 1973. ‘The Idea of Equality,’ in Problems of the Self, Cambridge UniversityPress.
9. ———. 1981. Moral Luck, Cambridge University Press.

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