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Doing, allowing, gains, and losses

Colombo, Camilla (2018) Doing, allowing, gains, and losses. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice. ISSN 1386-2820

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Identification Number: 10.1007/s10677-018-9949-8


This paper examines Kahneman and Tversky’s standard explanation for preference reversal due to framing effects in the famous "Asian flu" case. It argues that, alongside with their "loss/no gain effect" account, an alternative interpretation, still consistent with the empirical data, amounts to a more reasonable psychological explanation for the preference reversal. Specifically, my hypothesis is that shifts in the baseline induce shifts in the agents’ classification of the same action as "doing harm" rather than "allowing harm to occur", and that people are risk-seeking when it comes to avoid causing extra deaths–doing harm–and risk-averse when it comes to preventing more deaths–by the means of allowing other deaths to occur as a side effect. I then survey the two most influential concurrent accounts in the moral literature, with respect to the relation between the loss/no gain and the doing/allowing distinction: Horowitz’s reductionist conclusion, which argues that the latter collapses into the former, and Kamm’s rebuttal, which claims instead that the two distinctions can be pulled apart. I eventually explain why my interpretation differs from both these positions.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2018 The Author
Divisions: LSE
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
Date Deposited: 29 Nov 2018 10:16
Last Modified: 20 Aug 2021 01:30

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