MANY PEOPLE think not only that individuals have reasons to act, but that groups do too. (1) Suppose that they are correct about this. Do the members of a group "inherit" the group's reason? Alexander Dietz has recently argued that they do so in some circumstances. (2)
Dietz considers two principles. The first one--which he calls the "Simple Principle"--claims that the members of a group always inherit the group's reason. The second one--which I call "Dietz's Principle," since it is the one Dietz advocates--claims that the members of a group inherit the group's reason when they cooperate. Although Dietz thinks that the Simple Principle is intuitively appealing, he argues that it has to be rejected because there is a powerful counterexample to it. In this article, I show that there is a powerful counterexample to Dietz's Principle as well.
I proceed as follows. In sections 1-2, I present the Simple Principle and Dietz's argument against this principle. In section 3, I introduce Dietz's Principle and show that it has the intuitively correct implications in the case that is a counterexample to the Simple Principle. In section 4, I turn to my case against Dietz's Principle. Finally, in section 5, I consider a natural revision of Dietz's Principle but conclude that it is unsatisfactory.
THE SIMPLE PRINCIPLE
The description I gave of the Simple Principle above was incomplete. It is not only concerned with reasons in favor of actions but also with reasons against actions. Here is the complete principle:
The Simple Principle: If a person is a member of a group such that the group has a reason (not) to perform a group action [phi], then that person has a reason (not) to do her part of [phi]. (3) Some comments are in order. First, a group action is a combination of actions. If I perform action [A.sub.1] and you perform action [A.sub.2] you and I also perform the combination of actions . Furthermore, the combinations of actions a group of people can perform in some circumstances are a function of what individual actions the members of the group can perform in those circumstances. For example, if I can perform action [A.sub.1] and action [B.sub.1] and you can perform action [A.sub.2] and action [B.sub.2], you and I can together perform , , , . There are several views on under what circumstances a combination of actions qualifies as a group action. For the sake of simplicity I assume that all combinations of actions performed by at least two agents are group actions. Second, Dietz thinks that the Simple Principle applies to several other moral reasons apart from reasons to make outcomes better; for example, reasons not to harm and reasons to benefit oneself. I am exclusively concerned with reasons to make outcomes better. Third, Dietz calls a reason that is inherited from a group's reason a "group-based" reason. Fourth, Dietz takes the Simple Principle to be an explanatory principle. For example, he takes the fact that a person is a member of a group that has a reason to perform a certain action to explain why that person has a reason to perform a certain action (i.e., his part of the group action in question).
AN ARGUMENT AGAINST THE SIMPLE PRINCIPLE
Dietz advances two arguments against the Simple Principle. (4) For our purposes, it is sufficient that we consider what Dietz takes to be the most important one. (5) This argument proceeds from the following case, which I call "Impending Disaster." A million lives are at risk and you and I face the following options (our actions are counterfactually independent):
You [A.sub.2] [B.sub.2] [A.sub.1] 100 saved All die I [B.sub.1] All die All saved Let us first record the implications of the Simple Principle. It implies that I have one group-based reason against performing [B.sub.1] and one group-based reason against performing [A.sub.1] since you and I together have a reason against performing and a reason against performing . (For our purposes, we may ignore your reasons.) This is so because each of these group actions would produce suboptimal outcomes if they were performed. According to Dietz, these two conflicting reasons "cancel each other out." (6)
The Simple Principle also implies that I have a group-based reason in favor of performing [B.sub.1] since you and I together have a reason to perform group action , which we have because would produce the optimal outcome in the circumstances if it were performed. Furthermore, it implies that I have a group-based reason against performing [A.sub.1] since you and I have a reason against performing group action , which we have since would produce a suboptimal outcome if it were performed. These two reasons are not in conflict but rather point in the same direction. Although it will not be important here, it is plausible to assume that these two reasons do not add up.