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Hare on Possible People

Journal of Applied Philosophy
Wiley Blackwell (Blackwell Publishing)
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R. M. Hare claims that we have duties to take the preferences of possible people into consideration in moral thinking and that it can harm a merely possible person to have been denied existence. This essay has three parts. First, I attempt to show how Hare's universalizability argument for our obligations to possible people may fail to challenge the consistent proponent of the actuality restriction on moral consideration, regardless of whether this proponent is construed as an amoralist or a fanatic. Second, I raise some objections to Hare's claim that a merely possible person can be harmed. Even if Hare could successfully overcome the objection that a possible person cannot be the recipient of harm, he would still need to show that this harm is morally significant. Third, whether or not Hare is able to answer these objections, I indicate how his moral theory still supports his general position on possible people — namely, that we are ceteris paribus morally bound to bring happy people (and avoid bringing miserable people) into existence.

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