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Nefsky on Tiny Chances and Tiny Differences

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In her Philosophy Compass survey article, 'Collective Harm and the Inefficacy Problem', Julia Nefsky expresses skepticism about appeals to "expected value" to address worries about the ability of a single individual to really "make a difference".  In section 4.2, she notes that the relevant cases involve either "(A) an extremely small chance (as in the voting case) or (B) a chance at making only a very tiny difference."  Addressing each of these in turn:(A) Tiny chances. Here Nefsky adverts to Budolfson's arguments that we might learn details about buffers in the supply chain (etc.) that allow us to be disproportionately confident (beyond what raw averages would lead us to expect) that we are far from the collective threshold for triggering a change in production levels.  Budolfson's arguments are theoretically interesting, but not obviously applicable in practice.  They depend upon our collective consumption levels being stable or otherwise highly predictable across time (otherwise we couldn't be so confident that we're still far from the relevant thresholds).  But in the face of social movements encouraging people to address collective action problems (e.g. by eating less factory-farmed meat), I'm not sure that the relevant degree of consumer predictability is satisfied.  Especially for those of us who are considering making consumption changes in our own lives on the basis of moral reasons, it seems reasonable for us to be highly uncertain about how many of our fellow citizens may soon do likewise.  But then we shouldn't be so certain that the relevant thresholds will remain distant.That's all a matter for reasonable dispute.  What I found more striking about this section was Nefsky's suggestion that "Lomasky and Brennan (2000, section IV) raise similar worries in the voting case, arguing that when all relevant empirical factors are taken into account, the expected utility calculus will rarely come. . .

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