On the Strength of the Reason Against Harming

In: Journal of Moral Philosophy
Author: Molly Gardner1
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According to action-relative accounts of harming, an action harms someone only if it makes her worse off in some respect than she would have been, had the action not been performed. Action-relative accounts can be contrasted with effect-relative accounts, which hold that an action may harm an individual in virtue of its effects on that individual, regardless of whether the individual would have been better off in the absence of the action. In this paper, I argue that our judgments about the strength of the reason against harming lend support to effect-relative accounts over action-relative accounts. I first criticize Fiona Woollard’s argument for the claim that an effect-relative account of harming could ground only a weak reason against harming. I then argue for a set of three principles that can be conjoined with an effect-relative account to explain the strength of the reason against harming.

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