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2012 Passmore Lecture - Self and other, now and later: An extended critique of the priority view

Michael Otsuka shall offer a challenge to prioritarianism, which is, in Derek Parfit’s words, the view that “We have stronger reasons to benefit people the worse off these people are”. We have such reasons simply by virtue of the fact that a person’s “utility has diminishing marginal moral importance”. In challenging this view, he shall renew and extend a critique of prioritarianism that first appeared in an article entitled “Why It Matters that Some are Worse off than Others”. This article has recently elicited a 17,000 word essay from Parfit, entitled ‘Another Defence of the Priority View’.

With the brilliantly imaginative deployment of cases and the clarity and ingenuity that are his trademarks, Parfit defends a version of prioritarianism there that is invulnerable to “the crucial argumentative move of” the aforementioned critique. Nevertheless, he shall explain why even this version of the priority view cannot fulfil Parfit’s ambition of replacing egalitarian or otherwise comparative or relational principles of distributive ethics. It cannot do so because this view still fails—as was the original charge of “Why It Matters”—to register the full moral significance of the distinction between the unity of the individual and the separateness of persons.

Michael Otsuka is professor of philosophy at University College London. He has also taught at UCLA, Yale, and Pittsburgh. His publications include Libertarianism without Inequality (Oxford University Press, 2003), ‘Saving Lives, Moral Theory, and the Claims of Individuals’ (Philosophy & Public Affairs, 2006), ‘Incompatibilism and the Avoidability of Blame’ (Ethics, 1998), and ‘Killing the Innocent in Self-Defense’ (Philosophy and Public Affairs, 1994).

Speaker/Host: Professor Michael Otsuka, University College London
Venue: Sparke Helmore Lecture Theatre 2, ANU College of Law, Fellows Road, ANU
Date: Tuesday, 7 August 2012
Time: 5:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Enquiries: Di Cross on 6125 2341

Professor Michael Otsuka
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