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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Persons and partiality: limitations on consequentialist justifications Christie, Timothy William


Should the authorities observe the rules regarding the treatment of enemy combatants, or is it morally justified for the authorities to violate some human rights in order to make everyone safer? Some moral theorists are committed to the claim that using torture for the greater good is not only permissible but also obligatory. One of the key goals of my thesis is to undermine this sort of claim. Contemporary consequentialists, such as Philip Pettit, hold that an agent is always permitted to bring about a certain state of affairs solely on the grounds that the state of affairs is the best state of affairs, impersonally judged. Derek Parfit agrees with Pettit's claim, arguing that a reductionist account of persons offers support for moral theories tha tfail to acknowledge the fact that each person is a separate unit of moral concern. I reject Parfit's assumption that the natural separateness of persons is morally insignificant: if we imagine a species of person that is not naturally separate from each other, it is reasonable to suppose that the moral norms of this different species of person would be drastically different from deeply entrenched human moral norms. I conjecture that the separateness of persons offers a rationale for restrictions against grossly assaulting and killing innocent persons. Samuel Scheffler argues that restrictions are so strong they are paradoxical. I counter this charge by arguing that restrictions need not categorically bar types of actions like killing innocent people, but rather should limit consequentialist justifications for these types of actions. Such a distinction addresses the air of paradox that surrounds restrictions because it allows for the possibility that agent-relative reasons justify why agents may assault or kill when the agent is confronted with a tragic moral dilemma. Agent-relative reasons are relevant to moral justification because human persons value the world around them from the first person point of view. In order for morality to appropriately acknowledge this feature of human persons, it must be permissible for humans to adopt a partial attitude toward their own actions, lives and loved ones.

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