Facing Up to Risk

40 Pages Posted: 11 Oct 2016 Last revised: 14 Oct 2016

Date Written: October 10, 2016


Whatever their other differences, the two dominant camps in academic moral philosophy over the past forty years — libertarianism and left-liberal Kantianism — are united in their opposition to utilitarianism, and in particular to its methodological commitment to allow harm to one person to be offset by greater aggregate benefits to others. That opposition is grounded, in Rawls’s words, in the belief that “[e]ach person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override.”

The appeal of that moral view is undeniable. But in a world of uncertainty about the consequences of our actions — which is to say, the world in which we live — it cannot tell us how to act. Inevitably, in making the ubiquitous tradeoffs we face, we will be driven to some form of aggregation in which the numbers of affected persons on each side will count, with the result that the grave interests of the few will routinely be sacrificed to the good of the many. This article is about why that is so, why many contemporary moral philosophers continue to believe otherwise, and the social costs to all of us when the same mistaken belief asserts itself in politics and policy-making.

Keywords: moral and political philosophy, tort law

JEL Classification: K13

Suggested Citation

Fried, Barbara H., Facing Up to Risk (October 10, 2016). Stanford Public Law Working Paper No. 2850587. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2850587 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2850587

Barbara H. Fried (Contact Author)

Stanford Law School ( email )

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