Project Abstract

Issues to do with thresholds arise in many different areas of moral philosophy. Nonetheless, there is a striking lack of a general, unified, and systematic treatment of thresholds in ethics. In this project, we shall provide such a treatment. Our point of departure is a certain suspicion. While appeals to thresholds in ethics often have common sense and intuition on their side, they are often accused of being arbitrary and unprincipled. We aim to show that this dismissive attitude is unjustified in a number of different fields. One example is cases of collective action, where it is often assumed that one individual’s action makes no difference. We will argue against this assumption by showing that many individual actions in fact cause a threshold to be crossed. Another field is theories of welfare and our obligations to future generations, where we will argue that, contrary to popular belief, appeal to non-arbitrary thresholds can solve several persistent issues. Yet another example is satisficing consequentialism, according to which an action is permissible if its outcome is “good enough”. The most common objection to this view is that it is impossible to locate a non-arbitrary threshold for permissibility. We will argue, however, that such a non-arbitrary threshold can be identified. The expected result of the project is thus that thresholds in ethics are much more defensible than their poor reputation suggests; in fact they can solve a number of resilient ethical problems.

Last modified: 2022-09-22