A de dicto solution to the non-identity problem : why what we do to future people matters morally (thesis)
When faced with non-identity cases, we intuitively begin to think of our obligation to future individuals in the de dicto sense; yet, these individuals, when considered from a de re perspective, are not harmed due to facts regarding the precariousness of human existence. Upon reflection, we can begin to establish criteria for establishing when and why the de dicto sense of future individuals is morally salient due to the nature of morality. We should think of our obligations in this sense when we have a duty to objects of concern and we posses limited knowledge about the object of moral concern and when our actions will cause all potential objects of concern to be either always worse off or better off if they become objects of concern. Non-identity cases place agents in such circumstances. Using this distinction and the criterion for when to use the de dicto sense, we can explain why conceiving a blind child instead of a sighted one and adopting a "risky policy" violate our moral obligation not to harm other individuals. This account can also be used to solve cases more troubling to other proposed solutions, such as Parfit?s population problems. By focusing on our obligation to not harm unnecessarily, we can determine which actions to take in cases where the effect of our actions on the size of future populations is known. Because my distinction can resolve the paradox within the non-identity problem and successfully address a wide array of cases, I suggest that we should consider our obligations to future individuals in the de dicto sense. [From the Conclusion]
Thesis; [FULL-TEXT RESTRICTED TO WASHINGTON AND LEE UNIVERSITY LOGIN]Melissa Beth Henzel is a member of the Class of 2011 of Washington and Lee University.
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