Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics

New England Consequentialism Workshop

The New England Consequentialism Workshop (NECW) provides a forum for discussing works-in-progress in normative ethics, understood broadly to include, e.g. political philosophy and bioethics. Past presenters have included Shelly Kagan, Jeff McMahan, Debra Satz, Tim Scanlon and others. Workshop participants come from Harvard, other Boston-area institutions, and New England at large. To see details from previous meetings of the NECW, please visit the NECW archives.

NECW is hosted and funded by the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. It was founded and continues to be coordinated by Nir Eyal of Harvard University Program in Ethics and Health and Harvard Medical School Division of Medical Ethics. If you would like to participate or join the mailing list, please contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it at the Center for Ethics.

The NECW meetings take place from 4:30 PM - 6:00 PM in the seminar room at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics (124 Mt. Auburn Street, Suite 520N) in Cambridge.

2012-13 SCHEDULE (4:30 - 6:00 PM)
September 26, 2012: Peter Vallentyne (joint paper with Bertil Tungodden)
"Resourcism for Advantage and Wellbeing"

October 3, 2012: Gillian Brock
"Emigration, Losses, and Burden-Sharing: Which arrangements are fair?"

November 28, 2012: Gustaf Arrhenius
"Inequality and Population Change"

February 13, 2013: I. Glenn Cohen
"Rationing Legal Services"

March 27, 2013: Toby Ord
"Moral Trade" **Please note that this event has been rescheduled from its prior 3/13 date.

April 3, 2013: Jennifer Hawkins
"Well-Being, Time, and Dementia"

May 8, 2013: Sarah Conly
"One Child: Do We Really Have a Right to More?"




Peter Vallentyne

Florence G. Kline Chair in Philosophy, University of Missouri-Columbia

Resourcism for Advantage and Wellbeing

Abstract: We explore a problem faced by resourcist theories of wellbeing (e.g., objective list theories) and by resourcist theories of distributive justice (e.g., the primary goods approach). Resourcist theories of each kind impose a standard interpersonal resource dominance condition: more of some relevant resources, and less of none, is always better. That condition, however, generates problems when combined with the weak requirement that the wellbeing, or advantage, generated by a resource bundle can vary between individuals. We explore the significance of this problem and some ways to avoid it. Our discussion has immediate implications for the "equality of what" debate.

Gillian Brock

Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Auckland-New Zealand

Emigration, Losses, and Burden-Sharing: Which arrangements are fair?

Abstract: This paper focuses on several justice questions surrounding emigration from developing countries. I discuss why important harms may frequently follow emigrants' departure from developing countries. My concern is with the normative responsibilities to address these losses and with fair ways to distribute the burden of tackling them. I argue that it can be permissible for particular states to place certain conditions on citizens who would like to live outside source countries (such as taxation or service requirements). I also argue that it may be fair to expect residents of developed countries who will benefit from these movements to absorb some costs of emigration. I canvas a variety of arguments to show why such burden-sharing arrangements are fair, and defend the view against some key anticipated objections, especially those concerning inappropriate interference with freedom.


Gustaf Arrhenius

Professor of Practical Philosophy, Stockholm University

Inequality and Population Change

Abstract: We usually examine our considered intuitions regarding inequality by comparing populations of the same size. Likewise, the standard measures of inequality and its badness have been developed on the basis of such comparisons alone. Many real world policies, however, will affect the size of a population, especially in the long run. For example, many health policies are very likely to prevent deaths and affect procreation decisions. Trivially, policies directly aimed at increasing or curbing population growth affect the population size. In addition, if we are interested in measuring the development of global inequality during the last thirty years or so, we have to take into account the great population expansion in countries such as India and China. Hence, we need to consider how to extend measures of inequality to different number cases, that is, how to take into account the complication that population numbers are often unequal between the compared alternatives. Moreover, it turns out that examining different number case is a fruitful way of probing our ideas about egalitarian concerns. It reveals as yet unnoticed complexities and problems in current conceptualizations of the value of equality and points to a new understanding of this value, or so I'll argue.


I. Glenn Cohen

Assistant Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Rationing Legal Services

Abstract: There is a deepening crisis in the funding of legal services for the poor in the United States. This crisis only makes more pressing and manifest the sad and persistent scarcity in available criminal and civil legal assistance: not everyone who wants legal assistance can get it, and certainly not everyone gets as much assistance as they want. This article will focus on how existing Legal Service Providers (LSPs), both civil and criminal, should ration their services when they cannot help everyone. For example, should the Public Defender Service allocate more resources to offenders facing death-eligible offenses or life sentences? Should it favor offenders under the age of 25 instead of those older than 55? How should law school legal aid bureaus prioritize their civil cases and clients? Should they favor clients with cases better suited for impact litigation over those that fall in the direct service category? Should they prioritize clients with the greatest need? Should they allocate their assistance by lottery? These are but a few of the difficult questions facing legal service allocators. Surprisingly, hardly any legal scholarship has aimed to derive principles for rationing legal services. This article seeks to fill that gap, taking its inspiration from bioethics thinking about rationing scarce medical goods such as organs, ICU beds, and pandemic flu vaccine doses.


Toby Ord 

British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Philosophy, University of Oxford

Moral Trade 

Abstract: If two parties have different resources, tastes, or needs, they can exchange goods or services such that they each feel they have been made better off. This is trade, and despite problems, it has made the world a much better place. If the two parties have different moral beliefs, then there is another type of trade that is possible: they can exchange goods or services such that both parties feel that the world is a better place, or that their moral obligations are better satisfied. We can call this moral trade. For instance, one person might offer to donate $1,000 to Oxfam if their friend will avoid eating meat for a year, or a political party might agree to refrain from legalising euthanasia in exchange for securing tough CO2 emissions targets. In this paper, I explore the possibilities of moral trade, including its relationship to moral uncertainty, and its implications for theoretical and applied ethics. I show how the possibility of moral trade undermines some non-consequentialist theories and that it suggests we should develop practical frameworks to start achieving the moral gains from moral trade.


Jennifer Hawkins

Associate Professor of Philosophy, Duke University

Well-Being, Time, and Dimentia

Abstract: Philosophers often discuss what makes a life good as a whole. Moreover, it is sometimes assumed that beneficence, which is directed at the well-being of another person, is concerned with the good of that person's life as a whole. Consider a woman who writes an advance directive at 50 saying that if she develops dementia, she does not want any life-sustaining treatments. At 65 she develops dementia. Yet, in the mid-stages of the illness, she is enjoying her life. If she now develops pneumonia, what would be best for her—treatment or no treatment? (Pneumonia can be life threatening if untreated, but is easily treated with antibiotics.) By appealing to what would be best for her life as a whole, Ronald Dworkin and Jeff McMahan have both argued that it is in her interests to die. I call the conception they appeal to the 'life-object view.'

The life-object view is mistaken and discovering why can tell us something about well-being. Certainly, one can view a life as an extended narrative and ask what would best contribute to the life, given that certain themes have already been established. However, I argue that the life-object view bears no real relation to genuine prudential value. To defend a life-object view of prudential value, we would have to be able to locate an atemporally authoritative perspective for the evaluation of individual lives. But no such perspective exists, since prudential value is value-at-a-time.


Sarah Conly

Professor of Philosophy, Bowdoin College

One Child: Do We Really Have a Right to More? 

Abstract: We know—from global warming, from species loss, from pollution of air and water—that the environment is suffering from human use, and there is good evidence that the only way to prevent such harms is to reduce the number of humans. However, when we think of state regulations on the number of children a person may have, we immediately think of the impermissibility of forced abortions and sterilizations, and conclude that any such regulations are morally wrong. That said, the fact that it's wrong to prevent an action in certain ways doesn't actually mean we have a right to perform the action that those unjust sanctions are intended to prevent. So even if we justifiably conclude that forced sterilizations and such shouldn't be allowed, it is still possible that government regulations on how many children you have could be morally permissible. I argue further that even if you have a right to reproduce, it doesn't follow that from that that you have a right to more than one child. That question turns on other issues. One is how strong your interest is in having more than one child, and whether that interest constitutes a right. Another is what the state's interest is in preventing you from having a certain number of children. I argue that there are no independent grounds for thinking we have a right to more than one child: the right to privacy, the right to control over our bodies, and the right to control over our own reproductive processes do not yield a right to have howsoever many children one may happen to want. Secondly, I argue that in certain circumstances—not too distant from our own—the state has a legitimate interest in controlling population by controlling the number of children individuals produce.