Research Seminar

Julia Nefsky: Expected Utility, the Pond Analogy and Imperfect Duties

Date: 27 September 2023
Time: 10:00-12:00

Plats: Institute for Futures Studies, Holländargatan 13, Stockholm

Research seminar with Julia Nefsky, Associate Professor of Philosophy at University of Toronto. 

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This talk brings together ideas from two papers that I am co-writing with Sergio Tenenbaum. In the first half of the talk, I will discuss the expected utility approach to individual obligations in collective impact contexts (like climate change). We argue that in addition to concerns that myself and others have raised in the past (which focus on whether the expected utility calculus gives the correct results), there is a more basic problem with the approach –an internal error with the reasoning involved. I will illustrate this new, internal objection using examples like meat consumption, and transportation choices and climate change. I will then, in the second half of the talk, turn to a discussion of our duties to donate money, and specifically Peter Singer’s Pond Analogy and its implications. After arguing briefly that various seemingly promising replies to Singer do not actually succeed, I will set out what we think is the right way to reply. The objection to the expected utility approach presented in the first part of the talk plays an important role. It also informs what we think is the right way to understand our obligations in collective impact contexts – namely, as imperfect duties. I will close by suggesting that the same structure we describe for imperfect duties in those contexts generalizes to other imperfect duties as well.

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