Bailey, Adam D. (2011) - The Nonworseness Claim and the Moral Permissibility of Better-Than-Permissi

Bailey, Adam D. (2011) - The Nonworseness Claim and the Moral Permissibility of Better-Than-Permissi

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The Nonworseness Claim and the Moral Permissibility of Better-Than-Permissible Acts Adam D. Bailey Received: 12 May 2010 /Revised: 20 September 2010 /Accepted: 30 September 2010 / Published online: 12 October 2010 # Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010 Abstract Grounded in what Alan Wertheimer terms the nonworseness claim, it is thought by some philosophers that what will be referred to herein as better-than- permissible acts ”— acts that, if undertaken, would make another or others better off than they would be were an alternative but morally permissible act to be undertaken are necessarily morally permissible. What, other than a bout of irrationality, it may be thought, would lead one to hold that an act (such as outsourcing production to a sweatshop in a developing country) that produces more benefits for others than an act that is itself morally permissible (such as not doing business in the developing country at all) with respect to those same others, is not morally permissible? In this article, I argue that each of the two groups of philosophers that are most likely to accept the nonworseness claim consequentialists and non-consequentialists have reason to reject it, and thereby also have reason to reject the belief that better-than- permissible acts are necessarily morally permissible. Keywords Better-than-permissible acts . Ethical theory . Nonworseness claim . Political philosophy Introduction Suppose that after an extended analysis of various strategic alternatives, Abby Acton, owner of Global Shoe Corporation, concludes that, all things considered, outsourcing production to a factory in Zimbabwe is the most profitable alternative presently available to her. Further, suppose that she concludes that given that the unemployment rate in Zimbabwe is 80%, 1 thousands of Zimbabweans would be better off if she were to carry out this outsourcing alternative. Philosophia (2011) 39:237 250 DOI 10.1007/s11406-010-9285-2 1 This unemployment statistic was retrieved 4 May 2010 from lab_une_rat-labor-unemployment-rate . A. D. Bailey ( * ) Department of Business, Black Hills State University, Spearfish, SD, USA e-mail: [email protected]
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Assuming her conclusions are correct, is Abby therefore morally required to outsource production to Zimbabwe? Many would claim that she is not. One possible ground for such a claim is that Abby has certain moral rights that, among other things, permit her to undertake less-than-the-best alternatives. To illustrate, one could claim that while it would be good, reasonable, or prudent for Abby to outsource production to Zimbabwe, given that she has certain rights, she is morally permitted to, say, sit at home and write novels if this is what she prefers to do, just as she is morally permitted to spend $10 to go to the movies, even though presumably more good could be done if she were to donate the money for famine relief.
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