“The Costs of Rescue”
with Kerah Gordon-Solmon
February 23, 2023
A stranger, through no fault of their own, is in dire financial straits. I could save them with a substantial cash gift. Alternatively, I could employ them in my warehouse. The work-hours are punishing and the pay is terrible; the job involves being constantly surveilled and micromanaged. But it would improve their prospects relative to the status quo. (It would enable them to avoid losing their home, etc.).
Presumptively, I don’t have to gift this person money: I’m allowed not to involve myself with them at all. It also seems like, if the terms of the job are bad enough, I would wrong them by so employing them. And yet, compared to leaving them to their fate, my employing them, even in an intrinsically lousy job, is in their interest. So whence the wrong?
The paper concentrates on a more general correlate of this question, namely: what licences do we have to reduce or offset the costs to ourselves of our otherwise supererogatory conduct, when, foreseeably, doing so involves questionably treating our beneficiaries — intentionally harming them, or using them in ways that harm them, or treating their crises as opportunities for personal gain?
It develops an answer via close analysis of three stylized (unrealistic) cases. The gambit is that the insights gleaned by working through these will help us eventually to think more clearly and more fruitfully about their real-life counterparts.
Pizza will be provided after the talk!
Kerah Gordon-Solmon is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Queen’s University (Canada). She received her D.Phil. from the University of Oxford in 2012.
Her research lies in normative ethics, practical ethics and political philosophy; much of it is where they overlap. Within ethics, her focus is on delineating the boundaries of permissible harm. This work began in the context of the morality of defensive violence; it now extends beyond it, in a few different directions. Within political philosophy, her focus is luck-egalitarian distributive justice. She is interested both in explicating the egalitarian conception of distributive fairness, and in unpacking the range of moral considerations, beyond fairness, that underpin the luck-egalitarian ideal.