Salience, choice, and vulnerability

Chappell, Sophie Grace (2022). Salience, choice, and vulnerability. In: Archer, Sophie ed. Salience: A Philosophical Inquiry. Routledge, pp. 130–139.



I begin with the notion of an option range, the notion of a list of alternative possible actions at a time. I criticise the myth of option ranges, i.e., the typical utilitarian assumption that our option ranges are just given us by the world—that their contents are a matter of fact, not of value; and that our option ranges are small, determinate, and fixed. I point out some of the harmful consequences of this assumption, for instance in trolleyology and the discussion of ticking-bomb scenarios, and I diagnose part of the attraction of the assumption as arising from our desire to be completely controlling, autonomous, independently rational agents.

If the myth is false, then what are the alternatives? The main obvious ones are (2) that we arrive at our option ranges randomly/contingently/non-rationally, and (3) that the answer to how we arrive at our option ranges is given by some account of practical wisdom. I suggest that (2) is not entirely to be dismissed: we do need to accept our own contingency and vulnerability to chance and moral luck. However, saying that there is some truth in it does not imply that we are completely non-rational in formulating our option ranges: the truth about our autonomy need not be all-or-nothing.

There is much to say about (3) as well, but too much for me to try to say it in this essay.

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