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Guest Post: 'Save the Five: Meeting Taurek’s Challenge'

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[My thanks to Zach Barnett for writing the following guest post...]At its best, philosophy encourages us to challenge our deepest and most passionately held convictions. No paper does this more forcefully than John Taurek’s “Should the Numbers Count?” Taurek’s paper challenges us to justify the importance of numbers in ethics.Six people are in trouble. We can rescue five of them or just the remaining one. What should we do? This may not seem like a difficult question. Other things equal, you might think, we should save the five. This way, fewer people will die. Taurek rejects this reasoning. He denies that the greater number should be given priority. In effect, Taurek challenges us to convince him that the numbers should count. Can we meet his challenge?You might be pessimistic. Even if you yourself agree that the numbers do count, you might worry that... just as it’s hopeless to try to argue the Global Skeptic out of Global Skepticism... it’s equally hopeless to try to argue someone like Taurek, a Numbers Skeptic, out of Numbers Skepticism. But that’s what I’ll try to do.Let’s start by examining some different forms that Numbers Skepticism can take. Some Numbers Skeptics are driven by considerations of fairness. Often, they hold that we are required to randomize, to ensure that everyone is given an appropriate chance of rescue. For example, Taurek himself suggests flipping a coin to decide whom to save. Here are six human beings. I can empathize with each of them. I would not like to see any of them die. But I cannot save everyone. Why not give each person an equal chance to survive? Perhaps I could flip a coin. Heads, I [save] these five. Tails, I [save] this one. In this way I give each of the six persons a fifty-fifty chance of surviving. Where such an option is open to me it would seem to best express my equal concern and respect for each person. Who among them could complain that I have done wrong? And on what grounds? (p. 303)So that’s one view:. . .

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