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Philosophy Research Archives

Volume 14, 1988/1989

C. L. Sheng
Pages 143-163

“Marginal Consequences” and Utilitarianism

The purpose of this paper is to clarify the concept of marginal consequences of a group moral action. The situations in which a group action is taken are studied and classified. The assumption that the agents of a group action are similarly (or symmetrically) situated is clearly specified and emphasized. Then a probabilistic approach is used to determine the marginal consequences of a group action. It is shown that the refutation of utilitarian generalization by Bart Gruzalski is unjustified because of his misinterpretation of marginal consequences. Finally the delicate situations of maximizing and minimizing conditions are analyzed. It is concluded that if the probability of participation p is not known, then the contributory consequences approach is the only approach that can be used. If the probability of participation p is known or can be estimated, then the use of the marginal consequences approach seems to be justified and preferable.

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