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Article

Volume 49 • Number 4

October 2012



 

 

A DEFENSE OF THE COUNTERFACTUAL COMPARATIVE ACCOUNT OF HARM


by Justin Klocksiem


Harm has often been thought to have particular moral significance. It seems that one of our primary moral obligations is to refrain from harming others—that some action would cause or constitute a harm is a strong moral reason against performing it. According to J. S. Mill, for example, harm is of central political importance: the state is justified in interfering with our activities only if we would harm our fellow creatures. And according to Ross, the duty of nonmaleficence is a crucial part of the correct normative ethical theory; he claims that the duty to refrain from harming others is more basic, stringent, and binding than the corresponding positive duty of beneficence. But what is harm? A natural and intuitive way of thinking of harm is that someone is harmed when things go worse for her than they otherwise would have. On this view, an event, e, constitutes a harm for S if and only if S is better off in the nearest possible world in which e does not occur than she is in the relevant e–world. This account explains why, for example, we generally regard gunshot wounds as harmful, why we think it would be harmful to prevent someone from acquiring a benefit such as medical attention for a gunshot wound, and how you could harm a person by seeing to it that she receive twenty million dollars.


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American Philosophical Quarterly is published by the University of Illinois Press on behalf of North American Philosophical Publications.

ISSN: 2152-1123