Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy (MCMP)

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Zoom Talk: Hilary Greaves (Oxford)

Meeting ID: 980 1222 9580

14.07.2022 16:00  – 18:00 

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On the desire to make a difference


Agents intending to be benevolent often think in terms of the difference they make to how good the world is, rather than thinking directly in terms of how good the world is. At first sight, this seems innocuous. However, I will outline various pitfalls that thinking in terms of making a difference can lead one into – ways in which the ideology of difference-making can lead supposedly benevolent agents to preferences and actions that in fact conflict with benevolence. In particular, this happens if a focus on difference-making is coupled in a very natural way with risk aversion. Even after this is pointed out, however, many people continue to feel the pull of the problematic “difference-making” preferences. I will suggest that this arises from a concern with the meaningfulness of one’s life rather than from pure altruism, but I will also suggest that this rationale for the preferences in question is not ultimately coherent. Those who currently think in terms of the difference they make would be better advised to focus directly on the goodness of the world.