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Whose Problem Is Non-Identity?

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Teleological theories of reason and value, which take reasons to be reasons to realize “best” states of affairs, cannot account for the intuition that victims in non-identity cases have been wronged. Deontological accounts, however, recognize second-personal reasons, reflective of the moral significance of each person regardless of outcomes. We argue that such deontological accounts are better positioned to identify the wrong to victims in non-identity cases because a person wrongs another on such accounts if she violates his second-personal claims. Parfit argues that non-identity victims would consent to the acts in question, thereby waiving any such second-personal claims. But his arguments misrepresent the role of consent by articulating it through appeal to the very teleological theory of reasons that deontologists reject. We argue that Parfit's conception of consent as retroactive endorsement only determines whether, given that the non-identity victim is second-personally wronged, he is nonetheless better off existing. It becomes clear that non-identity poses a problem for teleology – it cannot account for the intuition that non-identity victims have been wronged – but deontology can.

Affiliations: 1: Sexton Professor of Philosophy, Claremont McKenna College,; 2: Associate Professor of Philosophy, Scripps College,


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