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A Puzzle About Self-Sacrificing Altruism

I present a puzzle concerning individual self-sacrificing altruism (SSA) that, to the best of my knowledge, has not been considered before. I develop an argument that challenges the common sense attitudes towards self-sacrificial altruism in typical, paradigmatic cases. I consider SSA involving sacrificing one’s life for other human beings, focusing, for the sake of simplicity, on saving a single person. We have reasons to think that many paradigmatic acts of SSA may, on reflection, be irrational, that typical moral heroes are mistaken, that dispositional self-sacrificers should perhaps resist their good urges to keep saving people, and that the enchantments of heroism should regularly be resisted.


Journal of Controversial Ideas

"A Puzzle About Self-Sacrificing Altruism", Journal of Controversial Ideas 1 (2021):  10.35995/jci01010007

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Choice-Egalitarianism and the Paradox of the Baseline

Choice-egalitarianism (or CE) is, broadly, a version of egalitarianism that gives free choice a pivotal role in justifying any inequality. Choice-egalitarianism is a particularly attractive form of egalitarianism, for it ties in with the high value that many put on choice and responsibility. I argue that the very emphasis on choice leads to a paradox, which creates severe principled and pragmatic difficulties for choice-egalitarianism.



"Choice-Egalitarianism and the Paradox of the Baseline", Analysis 63 (2003 ): 146-51.

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Choice-Egalitarianism and the Paradox of the Baseline: A Reply to Manor

I made two claims against CE. First, that under careful analysis, CE compels us to bring about states of affairs so unacceptable that the position becomes absurd. By virtue of its very conceptual structure, CE gives us manifestly wrong instructions. Second, that CE?s hope of reconciling a strong egalitarianism with robust personal choice and something like the prevailing market economy is a chimera. Manor?s paper does not dispute my second claim. Indeed, his own claim, that in fact CE leads to something close to strict equality, supports my pessimism about CE?s reconciliation project. My reply to Manor therefore focuses on his denial of my ?rst claim, that choice-egalitarianism leads to absurdity.



"Choice-Egalitarianism and the Paradox of the Baseline: A Reply to Manor", Analysis 65 (2005): 333-337.

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Control, Desert, and the Difference Between Distributive and Retributive Justice

Why is it that we think today so very differently about distributive and retributive justice? Why is the notion of desert so neglected in our thinking about distributive justice, while it remains fundamental in almost every account of retributive justice? I wish to take up this relatively neglected issue, and put forth two proposals of my own, based upon the way control functions in the two spheres.


Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition

"Control, Desert, and the Difference Between Distributive and Retributive Justice", Philosophical Studies 131 (2006 ): 511-524.

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Egalitarian Justice and the Importance of the Free Will Problem

Recent political philosophy has tended to neglect and discount the free will issue and this attitude has had important consequences, since the implications of the free will issue have a profound significance for our understanding of issues such as distributive justice. By discussing what I take to be the most intuitively coherent form that egalitarianism has taken, G.A. Cohen's, I attempt to show the crucial importance of the free will issue for the egalitarian agenda.


Philosophia: Philosophical Quarterly of Israel

"Egalitarian Justice and the Importance of the Free Will Problem", Philosophia 25 (1997 ): 153-161.

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Free Will, Egalitarianism and Rawls

I have argued that discussions of distributive justice, and in particular choice-based egalitarian ones, need to take much more seriously than they do the dreaded free will problem. Sung-Hak Kang challenges my views. His two main claims are, first, that putting metaphysical issues such as the free will problem as posterior to ethics are mistaken. Second, that a realistic, moderate egalitarianism has better prospects with John Rawls's "nonmetaphysical" orientation than with any free will-dependent one. I reply.


Philosophia: Philosophical Quarterly of Israel

"Free Will, Egalitarianism and Rawls", Philosophia 31 (2003 ): 127-138.

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Nagel on the Grounds For Compensation

I consider Thomas Nagel's treatment of the issue of the grounds for compensation, i.e., of what counts as a basis for the obligation to compensate people in a (more or less ideal) political system, in his recent "Equality and Impartiality". I argue that on the issue of compensation Nagel is unconvincing, and that he reflects here much of liberal thinking. It emerges that a consistent egalitarianism must see the grounds for compensation in very wide way, and this radically affects the acceptability of such a position.


Public Affairs Quarterly

"Nagel on the Grounds For Compensation", Public Affairs Quarterly 9 (1995 ): 63-73.

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Overpunishment and the Punishment of the Innocent

The deep, pervading sense is that punishing innocent people is abhorrent. We also have evidence indicating that the overpunishment of guilty people –
punishing them more than they morally deserve for the crimes they are convicted of – is a widely prevalent practice in many western countries, such as the US. Morally, overpunishment (OP) seems to be equivalent in terms of the injustice it involves to the punishment of the innocent (POI). This suggests a radical inconsistency: we acquiesce in and seem hardly troubled by practices (OP) that seem to be morally equivalent to other practices (POI) we hold to be abhorrent and go out of our way to prevent. So what are we to make of this? I explore the predicament, and conclude that, for strong and diverse moral reasons, the punishment of the innocent and the overpunishment of the guilty are not morally equivalent.


Analytic Philosophy

Overpunishment and the punishment of the innocent. Analytic Philosophy.

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Reflections on Equality, Value and Paradox

I consider two difficulties which have been presented to egalitarianism: Parfit?s ?Levelling Down Objection? and my ?Paradox of the Baseline?. I show that making things worse for some people even with no gain to anyone is actually an ordinary and indeed necessary feature of our moral practice, yet nevertheless the LDO maintains its power in the egalitarian context. I claim that what makes the LDO particularly forceful in the case against egalitarianism is not the very idea of making some people worse off with no gain to others, but the disrespect for value inherent in egalitarianism; and similarly that the POB is a reductio of choice -egalitarianism because of its inversion of the intuitively correct attitude to the generation of value. I conclude that in the light of the absurdity and paradox so frequently lurking in moral and social life, and particularly with the complexity of modern life and obliquity of change, we need to be much more modest than egalitarians have been in putting forth ambitious moral and social models.


Res Cogitans

"Reflections on Equality, Value and Paradox", special issue in honor of Juha Raikka, Res Cogitans 10 (2015 ): 45-60.

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