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If You’ll Be My Bodyguard: Discriminatory Saving and Contracting to Save

The CEU Campus
Tuesday, December 6, 2016, 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm

Consider Rescue:

Rescue: Alice and Bryony are drowning in a lake. Passer-By can pull only one to safety. She can do so at no risk to herself. She can toss a coin before saving either Alice or Bryony, giving each an equal chance of rescue.

I assume that, ordinarily, Passer-By is required to save either Alice or Bryony, and that she ought to toss the coin to give each a fair chance of rescue. This paper explores the circumstances in which this default position – that Passer-By must choose fairly between saving Alice and saving Bryony – can be altered such that Passer-By may choose to save Alice without first giving Bryony a fair chance of rescue. I refer to this as discriminatory saving.

Plausibly, our agent-relative prerogatives permit us to discriminately save ourselves and those with whom we have special relationships. Several authors have recently defended what I will call the Outsourcing View of discriminatory saving. According to this view, one can outsource one’s agent-relative prerogatives to third parties, making it permissible for those otherwise impartial third parties to engage in discriminatory saving on one’s behalf. I examine several arguments in favour of the Outsourcing View and find them wanting. We cannot contract with people, or otherwise authorize them, to act in ways that conflict with their existing moral duties. Pre-contract, or pre-authorisation, one is required to equally weight the interests of strangers when deciding who to rescue from harm. One cannot free oneself from this obligation by contracting with one of the strangers. I further suggest that the Outsourcing View is incompatible with the widespread and plausible view that agent-relative prerogatives cannot justify harming.

The talk will be live-streamed at