Assessing the person-affecting approach to the non-identity problem

Harrington, Olan Thomas (2022) Assessing the person-affecting approach to the non-identity problem. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The non-identity problem is an intriguing and important problem in moral philosophy, which has considerable implications for our thinking about the morality of some seemingly immoral acts of conception. Suppose, for example, that a prospective parent – Mary – is given two options by her doctor after being told she has a serious illness. She can take medication every day for the next three months to clear her illness and then conceive a healthy child in three months’ time or she can take no medication and conceive a child now – but that child will be born with significant health problems. Mary goes ahead and conceives a child now. The child that is born – Mariette – is born with significant health problems and yet, despite a widely held belief that such an act is morally wrong because of what that act has done to Mariette, the non-identity problem presumes to show that this belief is in error: such an act cannot be worse for Mariette, because the alternative for her is not better – she would simply not exist in that alternative; nor does such an act wrong her because her life, although impacted by serious health problems, is still a life worth living – and one does not wrong someone by bringing them into a life worth living. But this means that knowingly conceiving Mariette is not – after all – morally wrong, for we cannot do moral wrong to her without wronging her in the first place.

In response to the above case, some philosophers have argued that Mary’s act of conception is still wrong because her act violates an impersonal moral principle – such as a utility-maximizing principle – and this would mean that the act of conception can still be wrong without wronging Mariette. However, establishing that Mary’s act of conception wrongs Mariette is still desirable because most people's intuitive belief about this case is that Mary’s act wrongs her. I argue that, actually, there are some promising person-affecting proposals which show that the act is wrong. I assess three recent proposals; the de-dicto proposal, wherein I develop novel cases to respond to its most challenging objections; as well as the harm and rights-based proposals, wherein I argue that the act of conception is ambiguous and this ambiguity prevents us from appealing to person-affecting proposals. I argue that an alternative understanding of the act is most relevant and this allows person-affecting proposals to overcome their most salient objections. Ultimately, while I do not aim to favour any one person-affecting proposal over another, I aim to have developed several novel arguments that, I argue, allow me to conclude that the prospects for these have not just been underestimated but that there are promising person-affecting proposals that allow us to conclude that Mariette is wronged by the act of conception.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Humanities > Philosophy
Funder's Name: Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Supervisor's Name: Brady, Professor Michael and Cowan, Dr. Robert
Date of Award: 2022
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2022-83234
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 27 Oct 2022 09:12
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2022 12:24
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.83234

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