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Rethinking the Person-Affecting Principle

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In Rethinking the Good, Larry Temkin argues for a principle that he calls the Narrow Person-Affecting View. In its simplest formulation, this principle states that a first outcome can be better than a second outcome only if there is someone who fares better in the first outcome than in the second. Temkin argues that this kind of principle gives us reason to reject the Transitivity Thesis, according to which, if A is better than B, and B is better than C, then A must be better than C. In this paper, I argue that the various formulations which Temkin has offered of the Narrow Person-Affecting View all face serious problems. I then propose an alternative view that captures the spirit of Temkin’s formulations while avoiding their difficulties. I conclude by arguing that, even if we accept such a person-affecting view, we needn’t reject the Transitivity Thesis.

Affiliations: 1: University of Southern California,


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1. Kamm F. M. 2007. Intricate Ethics . New York: Oxford University Press.
2. Norcross Alistair . 1999. “ "Intransitivity and the Person-Affecting Principle".” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research Vol 59( 3): 769776.
3. Parfit Derek . 1984. Reasons and Persons . Oxford: Oxford University Press.
4. Temkin Larry . 1987. “ "Intransitivity and the Mere Addition Paradox".” Philosophy and Public Affairs Vol 16( 2): 138187.
5. Temkin Larry . 2012. Rethinking the Good: Moral Ideals and the Nature of Practical Reasoning . New York: Oxford University Press.

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