On What Counts: Priority, Aggregation and the Separateness of Persons
Imagine a case where several individuals have a claim to some good while it is impossible to fully satisfy the claims of all. Who should receive treatment when some flu pandemic is imminent but there is not enough of the anti-viral drug to go around the entire population? There are numerous principles that have been put forward to account for what we think is the correct answer to variants of this distributive question. The aspiration of this paper is simple. My arguments show that some of the principles traditionally thought to answer the distributive question actually fail to convince. The challenge is that of finding theoretical grounds that are both independently plausible and support our considered convictions across a wide range of cases. Section I introduces Derek Parfit’s Priority View and explains why it appears superior to alternative principles, such as simple maximizing consequentialism, leximin and some versions of egalitarianism. Section II presents an objection to the Priority View that has recently been formulated by Michael Otsuka and Alex Voorhoeve. They argue that the Priority View fails to take seriously the separateness of persons. Section III and IV present two alternative principles, which appear to take the separateness of persons seriously, namely a version of telic egalitarianism and a version of individualist egalitarianism.3 I briefly touch upon the problems that befall telic egalitarianism in section III and discuss what I think is the persistent force of the levelling down objection. Section V points out that individualist egalitarianism faces an equally serious but different objection. Section VI concludes.