Seminar: Katharina Berndt, 'Should the Probabilities Count?'

Past Event

27 October 2010, 4:00pm - 5:30pm

Lecture Theatre, Oxford Martin School
34 Broad Street (corner of Holywell and Catte Streets), Oxford, OX1 3BD

Abstract: When facing a choice between saving one person and saving many, it has been argued that fairness requires us to decide without aggregating numbers; rather we should decide by coin toss or some form of lottery, or alternatively we should straightforwardly save the greater number but justify this in a non-aggregating contractarian way. This paper expands the debate beyond well-known number cases to previously under-considered probability cases, in which not (only) the numbers of people, but (also) the probabilities of success for saving people vary. It is shown that, in these latter cases, both the coin toss and the lottery lead to what is called an awkward conclusion, which makes probabilities count in a problematic way. Attempts to avoid this conclusion are shown to lead into difficulties as well. Finally, it is shown that while the greater number method cannot be justified on (Scanlonian) contractarian grounds for probability cases, it may be replaced by another decision method which is so justified. This decision method is extensionally equivalent to maximising expected value.

Bio: Katharina Berndt is a DPhil student in philosophy at Stockholm University and has recently been a visiting student at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. Her doctoral thesis focuses on utilitarian arguments for democracy. Her research interests include moral philosophy, political philosophy, and meta-ethics. She has a MA in philosophy, history of ideas, Scandinavian studies, and psychology from Stockholm University and Ernst-Moritz-Arndt University, Greifswald.