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Doing Less Than Best



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This thesis is about the moral reasons we have to do less than best. It consists of six chapters. Part I of the thesis proposes, extends, and defends reasons to do less than best. In Chapter One (“The Conditional Obligation”) I outline and reject two recent arguments from Joe Horton and Theron Pummer for the claim that we have a conditional obligation to bring about the most good. In Chapter Two (“Agglomeration and Agent-Relative Costs”) I argue that agent-relative costs can justify permissions to less than best in a far greater range of decisions contexts than we currently believe. In Chapter Three (“Risk and Aggregation”) I discuss how anti-aggregative moral theories deal with risk, whilst proposing an argument in favour of ex-post moral theories.

In Part II of the thesis, I discuss longtermism, presenting a series of reasons to believe we have both significant permissions and obligations to prioritise those in the short-term. In Chapter Four (“Listening to Future People”) I criticise a recent argument presented by Andreas Mogensen for the claim we cannot have obligations grounded in the wellbeing of future people. I then show that, even permitting the existence of obligations to future people, we still have significant reasons to resist longtermism on the grounds of partiality. In Chapter Five (“The Complaints of Future People”) I argue that scepticism about aggregation is inconsistent with an obligation, or indeed even a permission, to help far future people. In Chapter Six (“Leaving the Present Behind”) I explore the moral significance of “dooming”, whilst arguing that we have a pro tanto reason of fairness to prioritise aiding those currently in existence.





Ahmed, Arif
John, Stephen


aggregation, beneficence, fairness, longtermism, nonconsequentialism, normative ethics, partiality, philosophy


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Arts and Humanities Research Council (2252530)
Arts and Humanities Research Council - Trinity Hall Full Doctoral Studentship. Forethought Foundation Global Priorities Fellowship.