Collective beneficence in threshold casesDr Anne Schwenkenbecher (Murdoch University)
142A (Old Quad)
University Park, Melbourne
The world is an imperfect place. Many of its imperfections have people live worse lives than they could live. And many of those lives could be substantially improved if we collectively worked on solutions to them. But when are we morally required to do that?
This paper examines the idea of moral obligations of collective beneficence – obligations we have to collectively help others in need where we bear no responsibility for their need. Acts of collective beneficence can either provide so-called threshold goods or contribute to incremental goods. For incremental goods, every contribution counts and the more we contribute the better. However, this paper will focus on moral obligations to collectively produce threshold goods, that is, goods the production of which requires a minimum number of contributions. Providing such goods may require all available agents to assist (joint necessity) or only a subgroup of them (overdetermination cases). When moving away from uncontroversial threshold cases towards more complex scenarios, it will become apparent that duties to contribute to collective beneficence are less stringent the greater the number of agents involved.
While the case for moral obligations of collective beneficence can be convincingly argued for small-scale threshold scenarios, such duties are more difficult to justify once the problem in need of remedy exceeds a certain scale and complexity. This may mean that such obligations – in their most stringent form – can only be held by agents in relatively small groups.
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