PHIL Seminar: “Can’t Kant Count: Innumerate Views and Saving the Many”, Sergio Tenenbaum, 3:30PM 21 April (EN)

Title: Can’t Kant Count: Innumerate Views and Saving the Many

By Sergio Tenenbaum (Toronto, Philosophy)

Date: Thursday April 21, 2022

This is an online event. All are welcome.
Zoom: go to

Abstract: here are many views that reject the idea of aggregating the value of persons’ lives (or well- being) when determining our duties to aid. The grounds can be very different: for Kantians, it might be that the dignity of persons does not allow adding the values of lives in this manner; for contractualists, it might be that principles cannot be reasonably rejected by aggregating the complaints of different persons; for neo-Aristotelians, it might be suspicions about the kind of impersonal value that seems to be presupposed by such aggregation. However, these views all seem to have the embarrassing consequence that in a case in which I could either save two strangers by, say, sailing left or save one stranger by sailing right, it would be permissible for me to sail right and save fewer people. These traditions seem all committed to what Parfit calls “Innumerate Ethics”. Philosophers in these “innumerate” traditions have dealt with these cases in different ways. They might accept the consequence and try to argue for its plausibility, they might try to find within the confines of their specific view ways of rejecting the embarrassing consequence. I argue in this paper, from very general considerations about the nature of defeasible reasoning that innumerate ethics is not committed to this embarrassing consequence. These considerations are such that any form of innumerate ethics must accept, and they show that the kind of reasoning that allows all these positions to avoid the embarrassing consequence is already present in contexts that are radically different and in which no moral duties are involved. At the end, I discuss how and whether these results can be extended to more complex cases.

About the speaker: Sergio Tenenbaum is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto, specializing in ethics and the philosophy of action. In addition to over thirty articles in such venues as Noûs, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Philosophical Quarterly, and Oxford Studies in Metaethics, he has published two monographs: Appearances of the Good: An Essay on the Nature of Practical Reason (Cambridge University Press, 2007) and Rational Powers in Action: Instrumental Rationality and Extended Agency (Oxford University Press, 2020).