Harming by Failing to Benefit

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Abstract

In this paper, I consider the problem of omission for the counterfactual comparative account of harm. A given event harms a person, on this account, when it makes her worse off than she would have been if it had not occurred. The problem arises because cases in which one person merely fails to benefit another intuitively seem harmless. The account, however, seems to imply that when one person fails to benefit another, the first thereby harms the second, since the second person would have been better off if the first had benefited her. I argue that the cases of failing to benefit at issue are in fact cases of harming. They are cases of preventive harm. I also argue that we can explain away the intuition that no harm occurs in these cases, and that the relevant implication of the counterfactual comparative account is consistent with a variety of plausible views about the moral significance of harm.

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Feit, N. (2019). Harming by Failing to Benefit. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 22(4), 809–823. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10677-017-9838-6

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