Alexander Dietz

I'm a PhD student in philosophy at USC. My main interests are in ethics. Here's my resume.

You can write me at

Papers in progress
Comments welcome!

Jointly Caused Harms Jointly caused harms are cases in which many acts of some kind would together do some harm, making things worse in some way, but in which fewer such acts would not do any harm. In such cases, some people say that what they do cannot make a difference, and that if each of our acts does not do any harm, we could not have reason not to perform these acts, at least in virtue of their effects.

However, I argue first that all jointly caused harms that meet a certain condition must have threshold sets of acts at which a single act would make a difference. The risk that my act might cause such a threshold to be crossed can thus give me a reason not to perform it. I argue next that the fact that a set of acts would together cause harm gives us a reason not to perform them, regardless of the effects of any individual act.
What We Together Ought to Do
There are things, I believe, that we together ought to do and not to do, distinct both from what we each ought to do, and from what groups may be held responsible for doing. For example, if our together acting in some way, such as releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, would do great harm, this may give us a strong reason not to do so. This can be so even if no one of our contributions would make any difference.

To determine what we together ought to do, I will argue, we should extend individualistic principles to cover groups: if some feature of my acting in some way gives me a reason to do so, then the same feature of our acting in some way gives us a reason to do so. We should next consider what we together ought to do implies for what we each ought to do. I will argue that if we together have a reason to act in some way, then I may have a reason to do my part, but only if others will do theirs. I will then show that my views have some significant implications. These include a new refutation of Egoism.
Consequentialism about Reasons for Action
According to Consequentialism about Duty, we are always morally required to do whatever makes things go best. On the Excessive Demands Objection, this theory implausibly implies that we may be required to make enormous sacrifices for the greater good. On the Intrusive Demands Objection, this theory implausibly implies that when facing choices that mainly affect ourselves, we may be morally required to give ourselves greater benefits, such as by watching football instead of baseball.

According to Consequentialism about Reasons for Action, we always have most reason to do whatever makes things go best. This theory avoids the Excessive and Intrusive Demands Objections. If we accept this theory, we may then combine it with a weaker theory about duty, such as Satisficing Consequentialism or some version of Rule Consequentialism.

This paper illustrates the importance of distinguishing between our duty and what we have reason to do. We should recognize that even if we could not be required to make significant sacrifices for the less fortunate, this may be what we ought, all things considered, to do.

Other sites

Philosophy Summaries This site aims to do two things. First, it lists texts in various areas of philosophy, sorted by importance as measured by citations, and by number of inclusions in anthologies. The aim here is to answer questions like, "What are the ten or twenty most important texts in all of philosophy, or about ethics, or about Consequentialism? If I've read all of those, what are the next most important?"

Second, it provides hierarchical summaries of some of these texts. For example, Derek Parfit's On What Matters is divided into parts, which are divided into chapters, which are divided into sections. 
A summary of the whole book is listed on the normative ethics page. This summary links to summaries of each of the parts, which link to summaries of each of the chapters, which link to summaries of each of the sections. The aim here is to enable users to quickly get a sense of what the major texts in some area say, and drill down to find particular parts of a text that might be of interest. Submissions welcome!
Cultured Lists
Shows the posters of the movies on the Sight & Sound polls, on the AFI list of the top 100 movies, and that won the Oscar for Best Picture; links to trailers; and says whether they're on Netflix, iTunes, or YouTube.