Victor Chandler Net Worth

Born28 October 1941 (age 79)
London, England
Occupationbookmaker, businessman, race horse owner
Net worth £629 million (Sunday Times Rich List, 2019)
ChildrenAshley Tabor
HonorsKeeneland Mark of Distinction (2002)

Victor joined LifePoint in 2013 as chief operating officer for the Eastern Group, before becoming Western Group president in 2015. A fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives, Victor has more than 30 years of progressive management and leadership experience in operations, legal, financial, clinical and strategic aspects of. As of mid-2016, sources inform us of a net worth that was at $100,000, mostly accumulated through his extensive television career. He also made numerous films, mostly playing minor roles. Dawson also became a regular panelist on game shows, and all of these ensured the position of his wealth. Eric Burdon is an English singer-songwriter who was the founding member of the band Animals, known for their wild performances as well as being one of the leading bands of British Invasion, a cultural aspect of the 1960s when various genres of music especially rock, pop, and blues from British started becoming extremely popular in America. In total 221 former billionaires fell off the list (though 198 newcomers joined) and the average billionaire’s net worth dropped $280 million, from $3.86 billion to $3.58 billion, last year.

Michael Barry Tabor (born 28 October 1941) is a British businessman, bookmaker, gambler and owner of thoroughbredracehorses.

Tabor regularly appears on the Sunday Times Rich List of the richest people in Britain. In 2012 his fortune was estimated to be £550 million;[1]two years previously the business magazine Management Today had suggested it was $2 billion.[2] According to The Sunday Times Rich List in 2019 his net worth was estimated at £629 million.[3]

Early life[edit]

Michael Tabor was brought up in Forest Gate in east London, the son of a glassmaker.[4] Tabor's grandparents were Russian-Jewish immigrants, originally called Taborosky, who had moved to London from Vilna, Russia.[5][6] He was educated at East Ham Grammar School, leaving when he was 15 to get a job in the local Co-op.[5] He was nearly a hairdresser, enrolling at the Morris School of Hairdressing in Piccadilly,[4] but instead turned to bookmaking. Tabor's father had for a time been in partnership with a bookmaker at Romford Greyhound Stadium[5] and Tabor himself became interested in gambling in his teens, spending Monday and Friday afternoons at Hendon's greyhound stadium in north London and regularly attending the track at White City.[4][7]

Victor Chandler Net Worth

Bookmaking business[edit]

Tabor worked for commission agents and credit bookmakers before setting up in business for himself in 1968. He borrowed £30,000 from a financier to buy two bankrupt betting shops from Andrew Gordon, retaining the name Arthur Prince and expanding the business until he owned a chain of 114 shops. In 1995 he sold the business to Coral for a reported £27 million.[5][6][8] 'There's an old saying I like,' Tabor said, 'which is that good punters make good bookmakers. I have found that to be very true.'[4]


Tabor gained a reputation as a shrewd, daring and successful gambler, whose actions could dramatically affect the odds being offered on a horse.[5][9][10] Speculation in the press linked him to bets of tens of thousands of pounds.[5] His later horseracing associate, Derrick Smith, told The Racing Post that when he was working with Ladbrokes in the 1980s they had to stop taking Tabor's bets.[11]


Tabor's first horse was Tornado Prince, bought for £2,850 in 1973. He bought several more, including Royal Derbi, trained, as was Tornado Prince, by Neville Callaghan in Newmarket.[4][12][13]

His great successes as an owner, however, came in association with the expert Irish horsemen connected to the Coolmore Stud of John Magnier. In 1994 Tabor paid more than $400,000 for the promising two-year-old thoroughbred Thunder Gulch. The horse went on to win the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont Stakes and the Travers Stakes, narrowly missing the American Triple Crown when he was beaten by less than a length in the Preakness Stakes. Tabor had been looking for a horse to race in America having moved to Miami, Florida, and had been pointed for advice to John Magnier by a mutual friend, J.P. McManus. Demi O'Byrne, the bloodstock adviser to Magnier, advised Tabor on his purchase and Magnier bought half of Thunder Gulch to stand at stud at Coolmore's Kentucky annexe at Ashford.[4][7][12]

Tabor joined the Coolmore partnership. His money allowed Magnier to become once again a major buyer in the top yearling sales, a role he had not played since the mid-1980s when he had acted in conjunction with Robert Sangster and other associates. In 1995 they bought three of the top four yearlings at the Keeneland Sales and paid 600,000 guineas for the leading lot at Tattersalls' Houghton Sale. That colt, Entrepreneur, went on to win the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket.[14]

Tabor became the owner and co-owner of an extraordinary catalogue of some of the world's best racehorses, generally owning the Coolmore horses in a three-way partnership with Magnier and his wife Sue, and with another former London bookmaker, Derrick Smith, who became involved in the mid-2000s.[4][7][14] His Desert King won the Irish 2,000 Guineas and the Irish Derby in 1997, while Entrepreneur took the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket that same year to give Tabor his first victory in an English Classic. Montjeu won the Irish Derby and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in 1999, while Tabor won The Derby in 2001 and 2002 with Galileo and then High Chaparral, the latter horse also winning the Irish Derby and the Breeders' Cup Turf.[12] Tabor won the Derby again, with Pour Moi in 2011 and with Camelot in 2012, the year that horse also took the 2,000 Guineas and the Irish Derby at the Curragh, though he missed out on the English Triple Crown by finishing second in the St Leger.[4] Tabor was also the breeder, as well as the owner, of Giant's Causeway, winner of numerous Group One races, and in 1995 his Hurricane Run was voted the world's top-ranked racehorse by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities. His Derby victories made Tabor one of only four men to have raced a winner of both the Epsom and the Kentucky Derbies; the others are Paul Mellon, John W. Galbreath and Prince Ahmed bin Salman.[8]

Tabor acknowledged the superiority of his Irish associates in their judgment of horses, telling The Independent newspaper: 'I enjoy going round looking at the horses and I like to think I've got a fair idea. But I don't know a lot really and a little knowledge is dangerous.' Discussing the economics of Coolmore's extremely successful breeding operation, Tabor said: 'I get enormous pleasure out of the horses but, it goes without saying, that you're trying to make stallions. You need a stallion, maybe a stallion and a half, every year.'[7]

Other business interests[edit]

In May 2014 Tabor assumed a 100% control of Victor Chandler International after Victor Chandler sold his interest in the firm.

Victor Chandler Net Worth

His racing associations have also extended into other areas of business. With Magnier, Derrick Smith and J.P. McManus, Tabor is one of the co-owners of the luxury Sandy Lane hotel in Barbados.[11][15][16][17] In addition, Tabor, Magnier, McManus, and another Irish associate and Sandy Lane owner, Dermot Desmond, collectively owned 60 per cent of the Next Generation chain of fitness clubs sold to London & Regional Properties for around £200 million in 2006.[18][19][20][21] Tabor, Magnier, Smith, McManus and the currency trader Joe Lewis also own a large stake in the Mitchells & Butlers pub chain.[15][16][17] This group of businessmen is also reported to have profited extensively from currency speculation, activity sometimes attributed to their association with Lewis.[11][15][17][22]

In 2008 the company Global Radio, founded by Tabor's son, Ashley, took over GCap Media, owners of Capital Radio, and Classic FM. That move was backed with £375 million from investors including Magnier, McManus, and Tabor.[15][23] The deal made Global Radio the largest radio group in the United Kingdom.[24]

Tabor's other business dealings include an investment in two London hotels[25] and a failed attempt in 1996 to buy West Ham United football club, whom he has supported since he was a boy.[5][9][26][27][28]

Personal life[edit]

Tabor divides his time between Monte Carlo, and Barbados.[15] He has been married, to Doreen, since 1975. They have a son, Ashley Tabor.[5][10]


  1. ^'Reuben brothers top of racing's Rich List ', Racing Post, 30 April 2012. Retrieved 1 October 2012.
  2. ^Gwyther, Matthew. 'The MT Interview: Victor Chandler', Management Today, 10 July 2008. Retrieved 13 October 2012.
  3. ^'Sunday Times Rich List 2019: profiles 201-249'.
  4. ^ abcdefghMuscat, Julian. 'Life's a gamble', Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder, 2 July 2012. Retrieved 1 October 2012.
  5. ^ abcdefghCunningham, Peter. 'The Cockney horse trader', The Observer, 23 March 1997. Link to article on InfoTrac National Newspapers Database (login required). Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  6. ^ abReilly, Jerome. 'Coolmore leaves rest of field as mere also-rans', The Irish Independent, 17 June 2001. Retrieved 12 October 2012.
  7. ^ abcdEdmondson, Richard. 'Tabor harvests rich dividends of relentless journey', The Independent, 26 October 2000. Retrieved 1 October 2012.
  8. ^ ab'Owner Profile: Michael Tabor', Retrieved 1 October 2012.
  9. ^ abReid, Jamie. 'Tabor stakes claim to a football fortune: A former bookie wants to put £30 million into West Ham.', The Guardian, 31 January 1997. Link to article on InfoTrac National Newspapers Database (login required). Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  10. ^ abNevin, Charles. 'The bookie's runners', The Guardian, 29 May 1997. Link to article on InfoTrac National Newspapers Database (login required). Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  11. ^ abcMuscat, Julian. 'To have a horse who is being mentioned in the same context as Nijinsky- it's unbelievable', The Racing Post, 14 September 2012. Link to article on Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  12. ^ abc'Owners: Michael Tabor'Archived 31 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine, British Horseracing Authority. Retrieved 1 October 2012.
  13. ^Thomas, Peter. 'The big interview: Neville Callaghan', The Racing Post, 20 November 2007. Link to the article on The Free Library. Retrieved 25 October 2012.
  14. ^ ab'Coolmore: the growth of an empire',, 26 April 2006. Retrieved 12 October 2012.
  15. ^ abcdeFinch, Julia. 'Revealed: the other two billionaires with a stake in Mitchells & Butlers', The Guardian, 13 December 2009. Retrieved 1 October 2012.
  16. ^ abFinch, Julia. 'Mitchells & Butlers: the giant pub company with no one to call 'time', The Guardian, 18 September 2011. Retrieved 1 October 2012.
  17. ^ abcFoster, Mike. 'Rich List 2011: The financiers', Financial News, 9 May 2011. Retrieved 1 October 2012.
  18. ^Curran, Richard. 'Top Irish business tycoons back €23m deal for Diana's exclusive London gym', The Irish Independent, 6 January 2005. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  19. ^Walsh, Dominic. 'David Lloyd serves up second fortune with Pounds 200m sale plan', The Times, 29 November 2005. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  20. ^Quinn, James. 'Bidders in chase for fitness chain reach home straight', The Daily Telegraph, 4 April 2006. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  21. ^Barriaux, Marianne. 'David Lloyd fitness clubs sold for £925m', The Guardian, 4 June 2007. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  22. ^Bowers, Simon. 'Profile: Joe Lewis', The Guardian, 14 September 2007. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  23. ^Andrews, Amanda and Kennedy, Siobhan. 'Private backers of Global ready to put up cash for GCap bid', The Times, 19 March 2008.
  24. ^Piasecka, Isabella. 'Silent face of Global Radio emerges', Brand Republic, 8 April 2008. Retrieved 1 October 2012.
  25. ^Reece, Damian. 'Racehorse owner Tabor backs hotels deal', The Independent, 22 June 2004. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  26. ^'West Ham say no to tax exile's Pounds 30m', The Guardian, 24 March 2005. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  27. ^Bose, Mihir. 'Phantom bids failing to spook West Ham board', The Daily Telegraph, 24 March 2005. Retrieved 1 October 2012.
  28. ^'Tabor's warning for West Ham', The Independent, 31 January 1997. Retrieved 1 October 2012.
Retrieved from ''
First published Tue May 14, 2002; substantive revision Tue Nov 1, 2016

Is there a moral difference between doing harm and merely[1] allowing harm? If not, there should be no moral objection to activeeuthanasia in circumstances where passive euthanasia is permissible;and there should be no objection to bombing innocent civilians wheredoing so will minimize the overall number of deaths in war. Thereshould, however, be an objection—indeed, an outcry—at ourfailure to prevent the deaths of millions of children in the thirdworld from malnutrition, dehydration, and measles.[2] Moreover, it seems that the question is pertinent to whetherconsequentialism is true, as consequentialists believe that doing harmis no worse than merely allowing harm while anti-consequentialists,almost universally, disagree. But is there a moral difference betweendoing harm and merely allowing harm? We might divide approaches tothis question into two broad kinds. First, those that attempt toanswer it without saying anything about the nature of the distinctioneither by use of examples (‘the contrast strategy.’) or byappealing to considerations that are purportedly independent of theprecise nature of distinction. And, second, those that analyze thedistinction in depth and try to show that its underlying naturedictates an answer to the moral question.

  • Bibliography

1. The Contrast Strategy and Analysis-Independent Justifications

James Rachels (1975) provides a classic example of the contrast strategy.[3] He offers us a pair of cases—in one, Smith drowns his youngcousin in the bathtub; in the other, Jones plans to drown his youngcousin, but finds the boy already unconscious under water and refrainsfrom saving him. The two cases are exactly alike except that the firstis a killing and the second a letting die. Rachels invites us to agreethat Smith’s behavior is no worse than Jones’s. He thenconcludes that killing per se is no worse than letting die per se, andthat if typical killings are worse than typical lettings die that mustbe because of other factors.

Although most people struggle to see a moral difference betweenSmith’s behavior and Jones’ behavior, Frances Kamm (2007)argues that the cases might not be intuitively morally equivalent. Shesuggests that we test the apparent moral equivalence by asking whetherwe could imposes the same losses on Jones and Smith, assuming thesewere necessary to bring the child back to life. Kamm claims that itwould be permissible to kill Smith to bring the child back to life butimpermissible to kill Jones for this reason (Kamm 2007, 17). If Kammis right, then there is an intuitive difference between the two cases.[4]

Even if Rachels were correct that Smith’s and Jones’sbehavior is morally equivalent, we may not be able to infer the moralequivalence of killing and letting die in general (where other thingsare equal) from this. Shelly Kagan argues that this inference assumesthat “if a factor has genuine moral relevance, then for any pairof cases, where the given factor varies while others are heldconstant, the cases in that pair will differ in moral status”(Kagan 1988). He claims, moreover, that this assumes the AdditiveAssumption, the view that “the status of the act is the netbalance or sum which is the result of adding up the separate positiveand negative effects of the individual factors” (Kagan 1988,259). He raises several objections to the Additive Assumption.Firstly, one might describe a pair of cases that are exactly alikeexcept that one is a killing and the other a letting die, where thefirst intuitively seems far worse than the second. If this pair ofcases is as good as Rachels’ pair, then either the inference isvalid in both cases—to prove the contradiction that killing isboth worse and not worse than letting die—or it is invalid inboth cases. Secondly, one might raise the rhetorical question: whyaddition—rather than, say, multiplication or some otherfunction? Similarly, Kamm (1996, 2007) defends a Principle ofContextual Interaction according to which a property can behavedifferently in one context than another.[5]

Quinn (1989) argues that would-be counterexamples like the Bathtubcase involve a misunderstanding of the claim that the distinctionbetween doing and allowing harm is morally significant. This claimshould be understood as more about moral justification than aboutother forms of moral evaluation. Quinn thinks that the distinctionbetween doing and allowing is morally significant not because there issome kind of intrinsic disvalue attached to doing harm, but becausedoing and allowing harm run up against different kinds of rights. OnQuinn’s view, the right against doing harm is stronger in thatit takes much more to defeat or over-ride it. Thus much strongerconsiderations are needed to justify doing harm than to justify merelyallowing harm (other things being equal). Suppose doing harm is muchharder to justify than merely allowing harm (other things beingequal). An unjustified killing and an unjustified letting die maystill be equally bad. Quinn illustrates this with an example: You havea right of privacy that the police not enter your home without yourpermission. This right is easier to defeat than your right that otherordinary citizens not enter your home without permission. Nonetheless,unjustified break-ins by the police are, if anything, morally worsethan unjustified break-ins by ordinary citizens. Quinn claims thatthis is because “moral blame for the violation of a rightdepends very much more on motive and expected harm than on the degreeto which the right is defeasible” (Quinn 1989, 290)

Samuel Scheffler (2004) also attempts to settle the moral significanceof the distinction between doing and allowing without offering anaccount of the distinction. He argues that: “ despite the lackof consensus about which candidate is to be preferred, our practice oftreating one another as responsible agents requires us to make somedistinction of this kind” (Scheffler 2004, 216).Scheffler’s paper is extremely rich and correspondinglydifficult to interpret. However, the main argument seems to consist oftwo parts. In the first part, Scheffler argues that to hold oneselfand others to moral requirements, one must already (a) draw adistinction between what one does and what one merely allows (or someother similar distinction) and (b) treat this distinction as morallyimportant. To hold oneself to moral requirements involves seeingoneself as having reason to act in one way rather than another. Onemust therefore see oneself as an agent who is charged with the task ofregulating one’s conduct in accordance with reasons. However,regulating one’s behavior is something one does, not somethingone merely allows to happen. Thus to hold oneself to a moralrequirement is to attach a special importance to, and accept specialresponsibility for, what one does (Scheffler 2004, 220–227). Inthe second part, Scheffler argues that this distinction in moralsignificance needs to be included in the moral requirementsthemselves: i.e. the set of requirements we hold each other to mustdraw a distinction between what the agent does and what she merelyallows. Scheffler argues that holding oneself to a set of moralrequirements which require one to make optimal use of the causalopportunities is unstable. Such a set of moral requirements wouldrequire a purely instrumental view of the agency of oneself andothers: we assess conduct purely in terms of whether it produces theoptimal available outcome. However, holding oneself and others tomoral requirements involves adopting a non-instrumental view ofagency: (1) The reasons one has to regulate one’s conduct mustbe non-instrumental; (2) Holding oneself and others to moralrequirements involves seeing failure to live up to such requirementsas meriting responses such as blame. Because whether blame is meritedis not settled by whether it would produce the best outcome, thisrequires us to recognise non-instrumental reasons (Scheffler 2004, 227–236).[6]

Others have taken an account of the nature of the doing/allowingdistinction to be a necessary starting point for assessing its moralrelevance. On this view, we cannot assess whether the differencebetween doing and allowing is morally significant until we know whatthat distinction is. Before discussing some prominent approaches tothe analysis of the doing/allowing distinction and related assessmentsof its moral relevance, we will clear the way by identifying somerelated distinctions that are sometimes confused with thedoing/allowing distinction.

2. Distinguishing Distinctions

Suppose some upshot occurs and would not have occurred if the agenthad behaved in some different way. The question of whether the agentcounts as doing or allowing may be conflated with or distorted byquestions that should be kept distinct from it, like the questions of(i) whether the agent intended the upshot, (ii) whether she couldeasily have prevented the upshot, (iii) whether she guaranteed theupshot or merely made it probable, and even (iv) whether theagent’s behavior was morally objectionable. It can easily beseen that these do not coincide with the distinction between doing andallowing.

(i) Consider the distinction between cases where an agent intends theupshot and cases where she does not. If you drive your car intosomeone’s body, without realizing it, or because you were tryingto avoid killing a larger number, and she dies as a result, youundoubtedly killed her, even if you did not intend her death.Conversely, someone may intentionally allow a child to drown in orderto inherit his fortune.

(ii) It tends to be easier to avoid killing than to avoid letting die,but this is only a tendency. Sometimes saving is easier than notkilling. It is easy to throw a life preserver, and it may be difficultto refrain from killing someone who is threatening one or who hastreated one appallingly. There are even cases where it is physicallydifficult to avoid killing; as for example, where one has to holdtight to a tree to prevent one’s (light) vehicle whose brakeshave failed from running into a pedestrian.

(iii) Sometimes the terms ‘making’ and‘allowing’ are used to suggest the difference betweenmaking certain and making possible or probable. For example, indiscussions of the problem of evil, people sometimes say, “Well,God didn’t actually make the murder occur. He just allowed it tooccur.” This is best understood as a distinction between raisingthe probability of murder to 1 from something less than 1, on the onehand, and raising the probability of murder from 0 to something higherbut still less than 1. This is a morally significant distinction butit is not the distinction between doing and allowing. An agent cankill without guaranteeing death. For example, by adding smallquantities of poison to her victim’s meals she may bring aboutthe death, even though there was a 20% chance that the poison wouldnot kill her. On the other hand, an agent might guarantee the demiseof a plant by failing to water it in a situation where she is the onlyone who can do so.

(iv) Finally, the distinction between doing and allowing harm issometimes thought to have, as part of its conceptual content, a moralelement. This thought is rarely made explicit, but the way people areinclined to classify cases suggests that they are guided by it. Thereare two main difficulties with this way of drawing the line. Firstly,if it is true by definition that killing is worse than letting die,then the question of whether killing is worse than letting die issettled in a trivial, circular, uninteresting way. Secondly, there areobvious counterexamples to this crude account—morally appallingcases of letting die—failing to feed one’schildren—and morally acceptable cases of killing. We have nohesitation talking of killing in self-defense.

A more controversial question is whether the doing/allowingdistinction should be distinguished from another related distinction.Sometimes harms occurs because the agent performed some action:because she pressed a switch or pushed a rock. Sometimes the harmoccurs because the agent did not perform some action: because she didnot press a switch or did not push a rock. We will refer to this asthe action/inaction distinction. There do appear to be cases where theaction/inaction distinction and the doing/allowing distinction comeapart. An actor might spoil a performance by failing to turn up (doingby inaction) (Foot 1978, 26). A potential benefactor might let astarving child die by ringing up her attorney to cancel a direct debit(allowing by action) (Bennett 1981, 91). However, the status of thesecases is a matter of disagreement. The relationship between thedoing/allowing distinction and the inaction/inaction distinction willbe particularly relevant in discussion of ‘Safety Net’ Cases.

At this point, it is worth discussing the relationship between thedoing/allowing distinction and the famous Trolley Problem. The TrolleyProblem dates back to Philippa Foot’s (1978) discussion of apair of examples: In the first case, a judge must choose betweenframing and killing an innocent man and allowing five innocents to bekilled in a riot. In the second, a trolley driver must choose betweenturning a trolley so that it runs over an innocent man attached to atrack and allowing the trolley to run over and kill five innocentpeople. Foot, claimed that it was wrong to kill in the first case, butnot wrong in the second. Foot noted that such cases might motivatesomeone to accept the Doctrine of Double Effect, which distinguishesbetween harm that is strictly intended and harm that is merelyforeseen. However, Foot argues that the cases can be explained by thedistinction between doing and allowing harm: the judge must choosebetween killing one and merely allowing five to die, while the trolleydriver must choose between killing one and killing five. Judith JarvisThomson (1986) modified the case so that it was a bystander, not thedriver, who had to make the choice. The difference was important,since the bystander is clearly choosing between killing and lettingdie and yet it still seems permissible to turn the trolley. Thisundermines Foot’s claim that the difference between doing andallowing explains our intuitions about these cases. So what made thedifference? A considerable amount of ink has been spilled in the last35 years attempting to answer this question. Recently, Thomson (2008)has argued that the consensus that it is permissible for the bystanderto turn the trolley was mistaken. She argues by way of offering thereader a third option, of turning the trolley onto and killingoneself. Obviously, few of us would take that option. If so, sheargues, we are not entitled to turn the trolley onto a stranger. Doingso would be like stealing someone’s wallet to give to charity.In response, it might be noted, first, that some few of us would bewilling to make the sacrifice; second, in the original case, andperhaps in many real world cases, we are not faced with that thirdoption. Thomson carefully urges that in these cases, it is still wrongto turn the trolley. Fitzpatrick (2009) has responded to Thomson bycasting doubt on the analogy between stealing money to give to charityand turning the trolley on a stranger rather than oneself. We knowthat stealing is wrong except in exceptional cases — and thefact that the agent would prefer not to donate her own moneydoesn’t make it an exceptional case. The Trolley Case isexceptional, which is precisely why it has generated so muchdiscussion. Fitzpatrick argues that it must be permissible tosacrifice others when we would not sacrifice ourselves: moralitycannot demand such extreme self-sacrifice but nonetheless the reasonsto minimise damage remain compelling.[7]

Although the Trolley Problem is often associated with thedoing/allowing distinction, if Thomson is right that the bystanderwould be doing harm by turning the trolley, the two should be keptseparate. First, we must settle whether the doing/allowing distinctionis morally significant. If it can be shown that the doing/allowingdistinction is morally significant, the Trolley Problem should beunderstood as a further challenge. To respond to this challenge onemust either (a) appeal to some additional distinction to explain whyit is permissible for the bystander to turn the trolley towards fiveto save one, even though it is not normally permissible to kill one tosave five or (b) show that we should abandon the intuition that it ispermissible for the bystander to turn the trolley.

Let’s turn to some candidate accounts of the doing/allowingdistinction, and where appropriate, the moral significance orinsignificance of each account. In both doing and allowing, an agentis responsible for or relevant to a bad upshot—such as a deathor injury—in the sense that she could have prevented it. Thecontrast is most naturally picked out by the terms ‘doing’and ‘allowing’, or ‘making’ and‘allowing’. We will in general use the former but due tooccasional awkwardnesses in practice, we will sometimes use the terms“positively relevant to an upshot” and “negativelyrelevant to an upshot” for cases of “doing” and“allowing”, respectively.[8]

3. Causing and Not Causing Not to Occur

One natural suggestion is that the agent who does harm causes it tooccur; whereas the agent who allows harm doesn’t cause it, butsimply fails to prevent it where she could have done so.[9] This suggestion has immediate moral implications. It seems true bydefinition (almost) that you can be causally responsible only forupshots that you cause. And it is arguably true that you can bemorally responsible only for what you are causally responsible for.So, if you cause a bad state of affairs, you’ve probably donewrong; whereas if you don’t cause a bad state of affairs, youhaven’t. In choosing between killing and letting die, you arechoosing between doing wrong and not doing wrong. (Of course, thisdoesn’t apply to non-harmful cases of killing, such as,arguably, some cases of active euthanasia.) The question of what youought to do is then tautologously easy.

This argument begins to get into trouble when we reflect on the factthat we are often responsible for upshots we allow: the death of thehouseplants or the child’s illiteracy. When we notice that, inthese cases, the plants die or the child remains uneducated because ofsome failure on the agent’s part, it becomes clear that theagent does, in some sense, cause the upshots. Moreover, most widelyaccepted contemporary accounts of causation imply that some event orfact involving these agents causes the deaths or illiteracy. Forexample, the counterfactual account of causation—according towhich (very roughly) event E causes F if and only ifhad E not occurred F would not have occurredeither—implies that it was the agent’s failure to waterthe plants that caused the deaths.[10] John Mackie’s INUS condition[11]—according to which E causes F if and only if E isa(n insufficient but) necessary part of a(n unnecessary but)sufficient condition for F—implies that the fact thatthe agent failed to water the plants causes the plants to die.[12]

4. Counterfactual Accounts

We are concerned then with a contrast between two ways the behavior ofagents causes upshots. One suggestion is to say that when the agent ispositively relevant to the upshot, the upshot would not have occurredif the agent had never existed. Suppose, for example, the victim diesbecause I push his head under water. He wouldn’t have died if Ihad never existed. On the other hand, suppose he is in deep water andcannot swim and I don’t save him. He would have drowned anywayif I had never existed. In these two cases, the counterfactual accountdraws the line in the intuitively correct way.

However, suppose that the youngest son of a King squanders hisinheritance and begs his elder brother, the new King, for food. Thenew King refuses and the younger brother starves to death. If theelder brother had never existed, the younger brother would haveinherited the throne and would not have starved to death. Yet, it isclear that the new King merely allows his brother to die and does notkill him (Kagan 1989, 96).

This may lead us to revise the counterfactual test and ask whether theupshot would have happened if the agent had not been present.Howard-Snyder (2002) argues that this narrower counterfactual alsofails. She asks us to “suppose an SS officer, Franz, torturessomeone to death. But this is standard practice in the Gestapo. IfFranz had stayed home with a sore throat, or if Franz had neverexisted, his pal Hans would have done the torturing, in the same way,at the same time Franz did. If the counterfactual account is correct,then Franz is negatively relevant to the victim’s death bytorture. That is, Franz merely allowed the death to occur”(Howard-Snyder 2002). Yet, it is very clear that Franz killed thevictim. Moreover, as Howard-Snyder points out “the fact thatHans was waiting in the wings in no way diminishes Franz’swrongdoing in this case.” (Howard-Snyder 2002).

Alan Donagan (1977) suggests a similar account of the distinction. Todetermine whether the agent is positively or negatively relevant to anupshot, we should consider what would have happened if the agent hadnot acted at the relevant moment, or what would have happened if theagent had ‘abstained from intervening in the course ofnature’. It isn’t entirely clear what we are supposed toimagine when we imagine this but perhaps it’s that the agent isasleep or in a trance or in some other way unable to exercise heragency. Now—with respect to some behavior that led to someupshot, we might ask: would that upshot have occurred if the agent hadabstained from intervening in the course of nature? If it would have,the agent allowed the upshot. If it would not have, then she did it(her relevance to the upshot is positive).

Bennett offers the following counterexample to Donagan’saccount: Suppose that an alarm will go off if Henry pushes a buttonwhich requires a fairly specific movement. Henry is subject to abarely controllable muscular spasm which, if allowed to run itscourse, would jerk his hand up, hitting the button and setting off thealarm. Bennett argues that on Donagan’s account Henry counts aspositively relevant to the alarms silence (as keeping it silent)whereas intuitively he seems to have merely refrained from setting thealarm off (Bennett 1995, p. 113).[13]

After discussing, and dismissing, a similar stream of counterfactualaccounts, Kagan notes we may be tempted to refine the counterfactualtest still further. We may want to say that an agent does harm whenthe harmful upshot would not have occurred if the given reaction hadnot occurred. However, on this account the distinction between doingand allowing simply disappears. For in the classic cases of merelyallowing harm, the harm would not have occurred if the agent had acteddifferently. Suppose I watch Maude drown. If I had reacteddifferently, if I had not refused to save her, then she would not havedrowned. Thus this revised test still fails to capture the intuitivedistinction (Kagan 1989, pp. 97–98).

Counterfactual accounts may be used to support the claim that doingharm is worse than allowing harm on the grounds that, on suchaccounts, allowing harm is simply a matter of not interfering orletting nature take its course. The underlying thought seems to bethis: if something bad happens when you do not exist (or are notpresent or are unable to exercise your agency) then you aren’tresponsible for it. If we turn our attention to another world whereyou do exist (or are present or able to exercise your agency), butwhich is otherwise exactly like the first, it seems that yourcontribution to, and thus your responsibility for, the upshot is thesame. Thus we should not hold you responsible in the second caseeither. Bennett (1995) argues that this is a mistake. If some badupshot occurs when you do not exist or cannot exercise your agency,then you are not responsible for it. Your agency is not involved andthe bad upshot’s occurrence implies nothing about the moralityof your behaviour. But this is simply not true in the other cases. Inthese cases, you could have prevented the bad upshot and did not. Thebad upshot is a consequence of how you exercised your agency and doeshave implications for the morality of your behaviour. “ Only amuddle could lead anyone to think that ‘I could have preventedit, but I did not’ is significantly like ‘I had nothing todo with it’” (Bennett 1995, 119).

5. Sequences, Action, Inaction and Positive and Negative Rights

Both Philippa Foot and Warren Quinn attempt to defend the moralrelevance of the doing/allowing distinction by connecting it with amoral distinction between positive and negative rights.

Foot (1978, 1984, 1985) argues that the difference between doing andallowing harm is at heart a difference in the agent’srelationship to a harmful sequence. We are able to pick out thesequence leading to a harmful upshot. Foot distinguishes betweeninitiating (setting the harmful sequence going); sustaining (keepingthe harmful sequence going when it would otherwise have stopped);enabling (removing some barrier which would have brought the harmfulsequence to a halt) and forbearing to prevent (failing to take someaction which would have brought the sequence to a halt). Initiatingand sustaining both count as doing harm; enabling and forbearing toprevent are ways of merely allowing harm. Foot is clear that, in herview, the doing/allowing distinction is not the same as theaction/omission distinction. “[Forbearing to prevent] requiresan omission but there is no other general correlation between omissionand allowing, commission and bringing about or doing. An actor whofails to turn up for a performance will generally spoil it rather thanallow it to be spoiled” (Foot, 1978, 26)

Foot (1978, 1984, 1985) argues that the moral relevance of the doing/allowing distinction rests on a distinction between positive andnegative rights. Negative rights are rights against interferencewhereas positive rights are rights to aid or support. Negative rightsare, in general, stronger than positive rights: it typically takesmore to justify an interference than to justify the withholding ofgoods and services. Foot connects this to her analysis of thedoing/allowing distinction by arguing that interference impliesbreaking into an existing sequence and initiating a new one and thattherefore violation of a right of non-interference must involve doing,rather than merely allowing, harm (Foot, 1984, 284).

Warren Quinn (1989) shares Foot’s view that the doing/allowingdistinction rests on the difference between positive and negativerights, but offers both an alternative analysis and a deeper defenseof the claim that negative rights are stronger than positive rights.While Foot argues that these is no necessary connection between actionand doing or inaction and mere allowing, Quinn treats theaction/inaction distinction as fundamental to the analysis of thedoing/allowing distinction. On Quinn’s view, an agent ispositively relevant to a harmful upshot when his most directcontribution to the harm is an action, whether his own or that of some object.[14] His relevance is negative when his most direct contribution is aninaction, a failure to prevent the harm. An agent’s most directcontribution to a harmful upshot of his agency is the contributionthat most directly explains the harm. One contribution explains harmmore directly than another if the explanatory value of the second isexhausted in the way it explains the first.

The key difference for Quinn is between cases where the agent producesthe result by an action and cases where she produces it by aninaction—pushing someone’s head under water or refrainingfrom throwing a life preserver. Quinn holds that we do not needfurther analysis of the action/inaction distinction. However, Quinnadds a modification to his account which means that he does not treatthe doing/allowing distinction and the action/inaction distinction asthe same. Sometimes, Quinn says, your relevance to a death can bepositive, you can kill, in other words, even though you don’tact. This happens, for example, when you are on a train headed towardssome drowning victims you wish to save when you notice someone tied tothe tracks ahead of you. You can stop the train but you choose not toin order to reach your destination. Quinn believes that you kill inthis case, because the train acts as your agent, taking you where youwant to go, and crushing the person tied to the tracks in the process.On the other hand, if you had chosen not to stop the train for someother reason but you would have not minded had someone else stoppedthe train, then your failure to stop the train would not haveconstituted a killing.

Like Foot, Quinn believes that the key here is the distinction betweennegative and positive rights.[15] Doing harm involves the violation of negative rights; merely allowingharm involves the violation of positive rights. Since negative rightsare more stringent than positive rights, doing harm is harder tojustify than merely allowing harm (ceteris paribus). Quinnagrees with Foot that negative rights are intuitively stronger thanpositive rights. However, Quinn seeks to provide further argument bylinking the precedence of negative rights over positive rights withthe conditions for a person’s body to genuinely belong to him:

[i]n such a morality [neutral vis á vis killing and lettingdie] the person trapped on the road has a moral say about whether hisbody may be destroyed only if what he stands to lose is greater thanwhat others stand to gain. But then surely he has no real say at all.For, in cases where his loss would be greater than the gain to others,the fact that he could not be killed would be sufficiently explainednot by his authority in the matter but simply by the balance ofoverall costs. And if this is how it is in general—if we mayrightly injure or kill him whenever others stand to gain more than hestands to lose—then surely his body (one might say his person)is not in any interesting moral sense his. It seems rather to belongto the human community, to be dealt with according to its best overallinterest…. Whether we are speaking of ownership or morefundamental forms of possession, something is, morally speaking, hisonly if his say over what may be done to it (and thereby to him) canoverride the greater needs of others (Quinn 1989, 308–309).

To say that one has a negative right against being harmed is to saythat it is (at least, prima facie) wrong to harm one unless one wishesto be harmed. It is crucial that we add the phrase “unless onewishes to be harmed”, since without it, the precedence ofnegative rights wouldn’t give the victim any special say abouthis own body, because it would be just as wrong to harm him even if heasked to be harmed, and it would be wrong for him to harm himself. So,the crucial thing is that the victim has some sort of a say about whathappens to himself(i.e., others are morally bound to respect hiswishes with respect to his body to a certain extent). Quinn’sclaim is that if there is no extent to which someone’s wisheswith respect to his body, etc. are to be respected, then we’vecompletely done away with the idea of ownership of one’s body,etc. One person’s wishes about what happens to her body do oftenclash with someone else’s wishes about what happen to his. Forexample, Susan wishes to marry Paul, but Paul doesn’t wish tomarry Susan. Morality obviously cannot give all such wishesprecedence. So, we need to give some subset of them precedence. Quinnargues that we cannot give positive rights precedence over negativerights without incoherence.[16] And, hence, he concludes that we must give negative rights precedenceover positive rights.

Howard-Snyder(2002) has argued that Quinn’s defense does notshow that we should endorse the distinction between doing and allowingrather than some alternative distinction: “..there are otherways to divide up rights than the division into positive and negativerights. We might divide them into the rights of children and therights of adults, rights concerning the upper half of the body andrights concerning the lower half, etc. and then give precedence to oneset over the other whenever they come into conflict. These seemarbitrary and wasteful, but their rationale seems no worse thanQuinn’s. Quinn’s is a funny sort of defense of negativerights. Unless I’m missing something, it doesn’t pick outany special feature of negative rights that makes them specially worthrespecting” (Howard-Snyder 2002).

Woollard (2013, 2015) attempts to fill this gap in Quinn’sargument, offering a new analysis of the doing/allowing distinctionand using the notion of imposition to link the distinction, soanalysed, to the conditions for genuine ownership.

Woollard returns to Foot’s (1978, 1984, 1985) sequence account.However, she argues that Foot’s account is incomplete because itdoes not tell us how to distinguish enabling from sustaining, whyenabling is grouped with forbearing to prevent, or what sustaining andinitiating have in common. On Woollard’s view, the key questionis whether the relevant fact about the agent’s behavior is partof the sequence leading to harm. Woollard distinguishes betweensubstantial and non-substantial facts. Substantial facts are by naturesuitable to be part of a sequence. Non-substantial facts normallycount as mere conditions for a sequence. Thus anything that isrelevant to a sequence through a non-substantial fact will normally bea mere condition rather than part of the sequence. However,non-substantial facts can count as relatively substantial and part ofa sequence under special circumstances, if for example, they are factsabout the absence of a barrier that belongs to the victim.

This leaves Woollard with the following account: If an agent is merelyrelevant to a harm through a non-substantial fact about her body orbelongings then her behavior will be merely a condition for, ratherthan part of, the harmful sequence. She will count as merely allowingharm. In contrast, if there is a complete sequence of substantialfacts leading from the agent to an harmful affect on what belongs tothe victim or a third party, her behavior will be part of the harmfulsequence and she will count as doing harm. Woollard uses this analysisto connect the doing/allowing distinction and imposition. Impositioninvolves the needs or behavior of one person intruding upon the propersphere of another. When an agent does harm, there is a sequence ofsubstantial facts connecting her behavior to an unwanted effect onwhat belongs to this victim: this is a harmful causal imposition. Whenan agent is forbidden from allowing harm, she is required to make somesubstantial fact about her body or her belongings true for the sake ofanother. Finally, Woollard argues that for our bodies and otherbelongings to genuinely belong to us we require protection from bothcausal and normative imposition: we require constraints against doingharm and permissions to allow harm.

Like Quinn and Woollard, Frances Kamm (1996, 2007) also appeals to theidea of rights or entitlements. Kamm argues that letting die has twoessential properties which can make letting die more acceptable thankilling: (1) the victim only loses life that he would have had withthe agent’s help at that time; (2) the alternative is for theagent to be interfered with. These features make a moral differencebecause the victim has a stronger claim (relative to the agent) towhat he has independently of that agent’s current efforts. Kammargues that these features are essential properties of a letting die,but may also be found in some cases of killing and such killings willbe morally equivalent to merely letting die.

6. The ‘Most of the Things He Could have Done’ Account

Jonathan Bennett thinks that the fundamental distinction between doingand allowing is between cases where the upshot occurs because ofone’s action and cases where the upshot occurs because ofone’s inaction—although he prefers to replace“action/inaction” talk with “positive/negativefact” talk (Bennett 1967, 1981, 1993, 1995). When Bennettdiscusses the contrast between positive and negative relevance toharm, he is attempting to capture a deep, philosophically interestingdistinction that underlies our talk of ‘doing andallowing’ ‘making and letting’,‘killing andletting die’. He acknowledges that the correspondence betweenhis distinction and the distinctions we make in everyday life andlanguage may be inexact. He says that my behavior is negativelyrelevant to an upshot if a negative fact about my behavior is theleast informative fact that suffices to complete a causal explanationof it; whereas my behavior is positively relevant to that upshot if apositive fact about my behavior is the least informative fact about myconduct that suffices to complete a causal explanation of it. Forexample, if I jog while you drown, your drowning could be explained bythe fact that I jogged, but it could also be explained by the lessinformative fact that I did not pull you out of the water.

In a nutshell, on Bennett’s view, an agent’s relevance toan upshot is positive if most of the ways she could have behaved atthe time would not have led to the upshot; otherwise, it is negative.[17] For example, suppose I douse a slug with salt and it dies as aresult. My relevance to its demise is positive, since most of the waysI could have behaved would not have led to the death. On the otherhand, if it dies because I fail to move it from the path of a car,then most of the ways I could have behaved at the time would have ledto its death, so my relevance to the death is negative.

Most people conclude that on this account doing harm is in itself noworse than allowing harm. If some upshot obtains because of the wayyou behaved, then the fact that there were many ways (rather than onlya few) you could have behaved which would also have had that resultmay seem obviously morally insignificant.[18] This conclusion is surprising, even shocking. Bennett’saccount, however, does offer an alternative explanation of why we tendto think of killing as worse than letting die. He claims, quiteplausibly, that it is morally worse to be causally relevant to a badupshot one could easily have avoided than a similarly bad upshot onecould have avoided only with great difficulty. If most of the ways onecould have behaved would have led to an upshot, then it was probablysomewhat difficult or onerous to avoid the upshot; whereas if most ofthe ways one could have behaved would not have led to an upshot, thenit was probably fairly easy to avoid the upshot. However, onBennett’s view when killing and letting die are equallydifficult to avoid, and all other factors are equal, then there is nomoral difference between them. Thus the doing/allowing distinction isnot itself morally relevant.

The two most persistent objections to Bennett’s accounts are theImmobility Objection and the Sassan Counterexample. There are twotypes of Immobility Counterexample:

Immobility 1: If Henry stays completely still, dust will settle andclose a tiny electric circuit, setting off an explosion which willkill Bill. If Henry makes any move whatsoever, the dust will notsettle and the circuit will not close (Quinn 1989, 295).

Immobility 2: If Henry makes any move whatsoever, he will set off amotion detector which will set off an explosion, killing Bill. If hestays completely still, the motion sensor will not go off and Billwill not die (Quinn 1989, 296).

Most ways Henry could move in Immobility 1 would not lead to Bill’sdeath. Thus on Bennett’s account, Henry counts as positivelyrelevant to Bill’s death if he stays still and the dust settleson the circuit in Immobility 1. This conflicts with our intuition thatHenry would merely allow Bill to die by staying still. On the otherhand, most ways Henry could move in Immobility 2 would lead toBill’s death. Thus on Bennett’s account Henry isnegatively relevant to Bill’s death if he waves an arm and setsoff the motion sensor in Immobility 2. Again, this conflicts with ourintuitions: intuitively waving an arm and setting off the explosionwould be killing Bill. As Quinn (1989, 296) notes, Bennett’saccount also clashes with our moral intuitions. It seems permissiblefor Henry to stay still in Immobility 1 if this is necessary to savefive other lives even if Bill will die, but impermissible for him tomove to save five others in Immobility 2 if he would thereby set offthe motion sensor and kill Bill.

Some philosophers[19] argue that such examples refute Bennett’s account becauseBennett wrongly classifies immobility as positive and motion asnegative. The suggestion is that immobility is incompatible withpositive relevance to an upshot. Nifty slogan: ‘You cannot doanything by doing nothing.’

However, there are some cases which do intuitively involve doing harmby remaining still. In Bennett’s example, Agent finds himselfsitting on Patient’s chest. If he makes any move, this willrelieve the pressure enough for her to breathe, but if he stays stillshe will suffocate and die (Bennett 1995, 98).

Bennett attempts to explain away the intuition that immobility isnegative by arguing that we are misled by the fact that in most actualstates of affairs, for any upshot that we care about, staying stillwill be on “the roomy side of the line.” As Bennett notes:“It takes work to rig things so that keeping still is almost theonly route to some interesting upshot. Perhaps this is why, whenpeople confront a result that is produced by Agent’s immobility,they immediately and invalidly infer that this is a case ofallowing” (Bennett 1995, 99). Cash frenzy reddit online.

Bennett also suggests that our intuitions about doing and allowing areresponsive to two distinctions: his positive/negative distinction andthe active/passive distinction identified by Alan Donagan (see thesection on counterfactual accounts). An agent is active relative to an upshot if the upshot would not haveoccurred if the agent had temporarily lost the power of agency, i.e.had been temporarily asleep or unconscious. Bennett asks us to imaginethat Henry finds it very difficult to stay still and he “sweatsand strains” against bodily spasms to do so. He suggests that inthis case, where both analyses agree, we will see Henry’sbehaviour as doing. On the other hand, when the two distinctionsdisagree, the resulting uncertainty will allow our rule of thumb (restequals allowing and motion equals doing) to prevail (Bennett 1995, 99,113).

Howard-Snyder (2002) is responsible for the second persistentobjection to Bennett’s account. In Howard-Snyder’s Sassancounterexample, “An assassin, A. Sassan, is preparing toassassinate Victor by shooting him. A second assassin, Baxter, iswaiting across the street watching Sassan to ensure his success. IfSassan shows any signs of hesitation, Baxter will shoot Victorhimself. Suppose Sassan knows about Baxter and his intentions and alsoknows that he can turn his gun on Baxter instead of on Victor if he sochooses. Although this thought crosses his mind, he quickly suppressesit, since he is committed to Victor’s annihilation. He shootsVictor and Victor dies instantly.” Most of the ways Sassan couldhave behaved would have led to the shooting and death of Victor(either by himself or by Baxter). So it looks like Bennett’saccount will classify Sassan as negatively relevant to Victor’sdeath e.g. as merely letting Victor die. But as Howard-Snyder pointsout, “I just said that Sassan shot Victor. He pulled thetrigger. The gun fired. A bullet flew out of the barrel and enteredVictor’s body. Victor died from the bullet wound. A clearer caseof killing is impossible to find” (Howard-Snyder 2002). Bennettmight repeat the point that positive relevance to a death is notexactly the same as killing. Nevertheless, insofar as we have anypre-theoretical grip on (and interest in) the concept of positiverelevance to a death, Sassan’s relevance to Victor’s deathmust strike us as positive rather than negative.[20] And yet Bennett’s account implies that it is negative.

Howard-Snyder (2002) discusses and responds to three possibleresponses to the Sassan counterexample. First, she notes that someonesympathetic with Bennett’s account may attempt to demonstratethat that account does accommodate our intuitions on this score byclaiming that it implies that Sassan’s behavior is positivelyrelevant to the actual death that Victor died, since if Baxter hadkilled him, he would have died a different death. This response is notconsistent with Bennett’s approach, however, since the phrases‘the actual death’ and ‘a different death’seem to be referring to events rather than facts. And Bennett isclearly concerned with relevance to facts not events.

Howard-Snyder (2002) then turns to Bennett’s own response.Bennett has pointed out that the upshot that concerns us is not thefact that Victor died (no-one could prevent that) but the fact thatVictor died at T (or perhaps, the fact that Victor died nolater than T).[21] He suggested that perhaps Sassan is positively relevant to that,since most of the ways he could have behaved would have resulted inVictor’s dying later than T. But we could, with minimalartifice, ensure that Baxter is disposed to kill Victor at exactlyT if Sassan does not. For example, we could imagine thatthere is only a fraction of a second when Victor is vulnerable to abullet and that Baxter is located closer to him (or has a fasteracting gun) so that there is a moment T2 such thatif Sassan does not shoot at T2, he will notsucceed in killing Victor, but such that Baxter still has a chance toget a shot off at T1 with the result that Victorwill die at T (Howard-Snyder 2002).

Finally, Howard-Snyder (2002) explores responses which try to get theright result by narrowing the description of the upshot. Perhapssomeone may try to argue that Sassan is positively relevant tosomething—the fact that Victor is killed with this bullet ratherthan that, or more simply the fact that Victor is killed by him ratherthan by Baxter. Howard-Snyder argues that the latter suggestion willnot do, since it begs the question. Bennett cannot assume that hisaccount implies that Sassan kills Victor, since that is the very claimat issue. Howard-Snyder (2002) also dismisses the suggestion thatSassan is positively relevant to Victor’s being killed with thisbullet rather than that, for we can modify the story in such a waythat if Sassan does not pull the trigger, Baxter can push a switchthat will guarantee that the gun fires.T).[22]

7. ‘Safety Net’ Cases

Let us now discuss some types of case that raise issues for anyattempt to analyse the doing/allowing distinction.

When we first describe the doing/allowing distinction, it is temptingto use standard doings and standard allowings of harm as examples. Instandard doings of harm, the agent performs some action, setting somephysical forces in motion which then run to the victim: Bob pushes aboulder which rolls down the hill and crushes Victor to death;Bystander pulls a lever turning the trolley towards the one. Instandard allowing, the agent does not perform some action, refusing tointervene in some harmful sequence.

What about cases where the agent removes a safety net from beneath afalling victim, unplugs a respirator, kicks a rock out of the path ofthe runaway vehicle, and other similar cases? In these cases, theagent performs some action but does not act on the victim directly.Instead, she removes some barrier to a harmful sequence. Such caseshave received increasing attention in the last couple of decades, inpart because of the recognition that some apparently standard cases ofdoing in fact involve removing a barrier. As Jonathan Schaffer (2000)has argued, in many guns, pulling the trigger fires a bullet byessentially removing a barrier.

There are four main approaches to such ‘Safety Net’Cases.

  1. Unified All Doings Accounts: The first approach treats all safetynet cases as doings because the upshot occurs because the agent doessomething. This in effect, seems to treat the action/inactiondistinction and the doing/allowing distinction as identical. Quinn(1989) and Bennett (1995) both endorse this approach to safety netcases.
  2. Unified All Allowings Accounts: The second approach treats allsafety net cases as mere allowings. This approach is commonly seen asfollowing Philippa Foot in holding that all safety net cases count asenabling harm (removing a barrier that would have prevented a harmful sequence).T).[23] For Foot, enabling is a species of allowing. Rickless (2011) endorsesthis approach.
  3. Non-Unified Accounts: Others, most prominently McMahan (1993),argue that some safety-net cases should be treated as doings andothers as merely allowings.
  4. 3rd Category Accounts: Finally, others such as Matthew Hanser(1999) and Timothy Hall (2008), argue that safety net cases cannot beclassified alongside either standard doings of harm or standardallowings of harm. They fall into a third category.

Non-Unified Accounts may seem attractive because there are safety netcases that seem like clear cases of doing harm and others that seemvery much like merely allowing harm. For example,

Impoverished Village: Having given one’s accountant full powerof attorney one learns that because of a misunderstanding he ispreparing to sign away 10% of one’s income to save the lives ofpeople in a remote impoverished village. One phones to instruct himnot to do it (McMahan 1993, 258).[24]

Hospital: A doctor has just plugged one person into a respirator. Ifthe patient is moved or unplugged from the respirator, he will die.Five more patients arrive and will die unless plugged into therespirator. The doctor unplugs the first patient into order to savethe five (Rickless 2011, 68).

Burning Building (Enemy): A person trapped atop a high burningbuilding leaps off. Seeing this, a firefighter quickly stations aself-standing net underneath and then dashes off to assist with otherwork. The imperilled person’s enemy, however, is also presentand, seeing his opportunity, swiftly removes the net so the imperilledperson hits the ground and dies. (McMahan 1993, 254)

Gallows: A innocent man is standing on a gallows with a noose aroundhis neck. The agent pulls the lever, releasing the trap door. As theinnocent man falls through the trap door, the noose tightens aroundhis neck, killing him. (See Vihvelin and Tomkow 2005, 194.)

Impoverished Village and Hospital seem like clear cases of merelyallowing harm whereas Burning Building (Enemy) and Gallows seem likeclear cases of doing harm. The challenge for Unified All DoingsAccounts is to explain our intuitions in Impoverished Village andHospital, either by arguing that our intuition that these cases countas allowings is misleading or by showing that these cases have somespecial feature which means they should not be seen as standard safetynet cases. Unified All Allowings Accounts face an analogous challengewhen it comes to Burning Building (Enemy) and Gallows. Non-UnifiedAccounts and 3rd Category Accounts must give a convincing account ofthe status of safety net cases which explains—or explainsaway—our intuitions about all such cases.

Rickless (2011) uses both the above-mentioned tactics to defend theUnified All Allowings Account. He argues that our intuitions in caseslike Burning Building (Enemy) are distorted by the agent’smalicious intentions. He suggests that if we remove the distortingfactor of malicious intentions, we will see the Burning Building caseas morally equivalent to merely allowing harm (Rickless 2011, 71).[25] Thus, for example, in McMahan’s original Burning Building Case,when a firefighter removes a net from beneath one imperilled person inorder to save five others, he counts as merely allowing harm (McMahan1993, 262, Rickless 2011, 72). Rickless argues that this would also betrue of a passerby who moved the net from beneath one to save five(Rickless 2011, 73). Instead of arguing that our intuitions are wrongabout Gallows, Rickless argues that it differs from other safety netcases. In Gallows, there is no pre-existing threatening sequence.Gallows should be understood as the initiation of a harmful sequence,and thus as doing harm.

McMahan (1993) picks out three key factors which he claims affectwhether withdrawal of a barrier counts as doing or allowing“..whether the person who terminates the aid or protection isthe person who has provided it, whether the aid or protection isself-sustaining or requires more of the agent, and whether the aid orprotection is operative or as yet inoperative” (McMahan 1993,262). Withdrawal of a barrier counts as merely allowing harm if andonly if the barrier was (a) provided by the agent and the barrier iseither (b) not self-sustaining or (c) not yet operative. ThusMcMahan’s account seems to correctly classify ImpoverishedVillage and Hospital as merely allowing harm and Burning Building(Enemy) as doing harm. It may, however, counterintuitively classifyGallows as merely allowing harm if the trap door belongs to the agent.If the trap door belongs to the agent, the continued use of hisresources is required to keep the barrier in place, so the barrier maynot count as self-sustaining. McMahan also allows that sometimes oneagent can act on behalf of another, or they can act as a team. This issupposed to explain the intuition that in the Burning Building casewhere the net is moved to catch five imperilled persons instead ofone, it doesn’t matter whether it is the original firefighter ora second firefighter who does the moving.[26]

Matthew Hanser (1999) and Timothy Hall (2008) both argue that safetynet cases should not be classified as either doing or merely allowingharm. They fall into a third category. Hanser argues that this thirdcategory is ‘preventing people from being saved’ and it isconceptually distinct from both doing and allowing harm, but morallyequivalent to merely allowing harm, other things being equal. Otherthings are not equal i.e. preventing someone from being saved is worsethan merely allowing harm if the resources the victim needs in orderto survive do not belong to the agent. The moral implications ofHanser’s account are thus similar to those of McMahan’saccount.

Hall argues that safety net cases belong to the category‘denials of resources’ which are both conceptually andmorally distinct from standard doings and standard allowings. Halloffers three main arguments. First, he argues that previous analyseshave failed to show that allowing harm by denying resources hasanything significant in common with allowing harm by failing to act.Second, he argues that the moral status of denials of resources dependto a large extent on which person has a right to the resource inquestion while the moral status of standard doings and standardallowings does not. Third, he argues that constraints against standarddoings of harm and permissions for standard allowings of harm arerooted in pre-political personal rights but constraints andpermissions regarding denials of resources are not.

8. Letting Yourself Do Harm

Recent work raises another important challenge for defenders of theDoctrine of Doing and Allowing (see Persson 2013 and Hanna 2014,2015). The challenge is to provide an account of the moral status ofallowing oneself to do or to have done harm. Consider:

Poisoner: Earlier this morning, Agent deposited a dose of lethalpoison into a teapot from which one person drinks tea at the same timeeach afternoon. Unless Agent warns her potential victim now, he willdrink the tea and die.[27]

Spasm: Agent feels the onset of a spasm in her finger. If she does notrepress the spasm, her finger will contract around the trigger,setting off a gun, killing Vic (Persson 2013, 96).

As Hanna points out, failure to warn the potential poison victim wouldnot be killing, instead Agent would be failing to prevent her pastbehavior from constituting killing (Hanna 2014, 679). She would beallowing herself to have killed. Similarly, failure to repress thespasm seems significantly different from normally killing. It isperhaps best characterized as letting oneself (non-intentionally) kill(Persson 2013, 96).

But is either allowing oneself to have done harm or allowing oneselfto non-intentionally harm morally equivalent to doing harm? Perssonsuggests that deciding the moral status of allowing oneself to havedone harm requires us to choose between a“present-self-focus”, which gives primary importance towhat you do now, and a “self-other divide”, based on thedifference between your own agency and agency that is external to you(Persson 2013, 102–103). He argues that the neither of these issatisfactory. The present-self focus is mysterious: “why shouldwhat we are doing at the present time have this specialimportance?” (110). The self-other divide has “an air ofrepulsive moral self-indulgence… why be especially concernedabout your own rights violations rather than the rights-violations ofall people, in proportion to the stringency of the rightsviolated?” (110).[28] Persson has similar worries about holding that letting yourself killnow is harder to justify than “merely” letting die, evenwhen the killing would not be intentional under any description. Wemust place a lot of weight on whether a natural or non-intentionalcause of death is external or internal to us. Persson challenges thisidea: “The fact that a twitch is internal rather than externalto us cannot make any moral difference” (Persson 2013, 105).

Hanna’s discussion of cases suggests that intuitively allowingoneself to have done harm is neither morally equivalent to doing harmnor morally equivalent to merely allowing harm. Normally, if we face achoice between merely allowing harm to one and merely allowing thesame harm to five, we should allow harm to one. However, if Agentfaces a choice between warning her potential poison victim and savingfive others from drowning, then intuitively, she is morally requiredto save the one potential poison victim. This suggests that allowingoneself to have done harm is not morally equivalent to merely allowingharm (Hanna 2014, 678–9). If we face a choice between doing harmto one and doing the same harm to five, we should do harm to the one.But suppose that Agent can give her warning and prevent the poisoningonly by driving down a narrow mountain path, which is blocked by thebody of an innocent, unconscious person. It seems impermissible forher to do so even if there are five people about to drink from thepoisoned teapot. This suggests that allowing oneself to have done harmis not morally equivalent to doing harm (Hanna 2014, 681). Thisexacerbates the challenge for defenders of the Doctrine of Doing andAllowing for they must find a justification for treating the fact thatthe Agent will be allowing herself to have done harm as somewhatmorally significant but not as so morally significant that it rendersher current behaviour morally equivalent to doing harm.[29] In Persson’s terms, we seem to need to defend both theself-other divide and the present-self-focus.

9. X-Phi and the Doing/Allowing Distinction

The majority of work on the doing/allowing distinction has appealed tothe author or reader’s own intuitions about cases. However, somerecent work has used experimental data in relation to thedoing/allowing distinction. This is part of a wider phenomenon of useof empirical data in philosophy known as ‘X-Phi’.

The most widely known use of empirical data in relation to thedoing/allowing distinction is Cushman et al’s (2008) study whichthey claim shows that moral appraisals affect classification ofbehaviour as doing or allowing. Cushman et al do not see this aspresenting a special challenge for the doing/allowing distinction.They see these findings as adding to “a growing list of folkconcepts influenced by moral appraisal, including causation andintentional action” concluding that: “the present findingfavors the view that moral appraisal plays a pervasive role in shapingdiverse cognitive representations across multiple domains”(Cushman et al 2008, 281). In contrast, Sinnott-Armstrong et al (2008)argue that their experimental data suggests that whether a bad effectoccurs before or after an aimed at good effect influences whetherbehavior is classified as killing, but prior moral judgments do not.

Barry et al (2014) use empirical studies to support the 3rdcategory approach to safety net cases. They argue that empiricalstudies show that removing a barrier to harm (enabling) is treated asa distinct category, both morally and conceptually distinct from doingand allowing. Most philosophical work on the doing/allowingdistinction seeks to reflect something that is claimed to be part ofcommonsense morality while noting that common intuitions aboutparticular cases could be incorrect. Given this, there are interestingquestions about how to respond to such empirical studies: does thefact that enabling is treated as a distinct category settle whether itis a distinct category for the purposes of the defender (or critic) ofthe doing/allowing distinction?

10. Conclusion

The early critics of the doing/allowing distinction focus on appealingto intuitions to cast doubt on the claim that commonsense moralityattributes significance to the doing/allowing distinction. Rachels(1975) and Tooley (1972) offer contrast cases in which all otherfactors are held constant and killing and letting die seem morallyequivalent. Kamm (2007) and Frowe (2007) respond by arguing that we donot treat these cases as morally equivalent, while Kagan (1988) andQuinn (1989) challenge the inference from the moral equivalence of thecases described to the general equivalence of doing and allowing ingeneral.

The next wave of critics argues that no account could both provide ananalysis of the distinction that matched our intuitive understandingof the distinction and was morally relevant (Bennett 1995, Kagan1989). Quinn(1989), Woollard (2015) Kamm (1996), amongst many others,attempt to respond to this challenge.

Recent work has produced new challenges about how to account for theremoval of barriers (McMahan 1993, Rickless 2011, Hanser 1999, Hall2008), past behaviour (Persson 2013, Hanna 2014, 2015) and thesignificance of empirical research (Cushman et al 2008, Barry et al2014).


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Further Reading

  • –––, 1981, “Modern MoralPhilosophy,” in Ethics, Religion, and Politics(Collected Philosophical Papers: Volume III), Minneapolis: Universityof Minnesota Press.
  • Casey, John, 1980, “Killing and Letting Die: A Reply toBennett,” Killing and Letting Die, 1st edition, B.Steinbock (ed.), Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • Chan, David K., 2010, “A Reappraisal of the Doctrine ofDoing and Allowing” in J. Campbell, M. O’Rourke and H.Silverstein (eds.) Action, Ethics, and Responsibility.Cambridge MA: Bradford Book Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
  • Chandler, John, 1990, “Killing and Letting Die—Puttingthe Debate in Context,” Australasian Journal ofPhilosophy, 68: 420–431.
  • Chappell, Timothy, 2002, “Two Distinctions That Do Make aDifference: The Action/Omission Distinction and the Principle ofDouble Effect, ” Philosophy, 77 (2):211–233.
  • Clarke, Randolph, 2014, Omissions: Agency, Metaphysics, andResponsibility, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Conway, David, 1988, “Is Failing to Save Lives as Bad asKilling?” Journal of Applied Philosophy, 5:109–112.
  • Draper, Kai, 2005, “Rights and the Doctrine of Doing andAllowing” Philosophy and Public Affairs, 33 (3):253–280.
  • Feinberg, Joel, 1970, Doing and Deserving, Princeton:Princeton University Press.
  • Glover, Jonathan, 1977, Causing Death and Saving Lives,London: Penguin.
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  • Howard-Snyder, Frances, 1994, “The Heart ofConsequentialism,” Philosophical Studies, 76 (1):107–129.
  • Kamm, Frances Myrna, 1989, “Harming Some to SaveOthers,” Philosophical Studies, 57: 227–260.
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  • Lichtenberg, Judith, 1982, “The Moral Equivalence of Actionand Omission,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy, SupplementaryVolume, 8: 19–36.
  • Liu, Xiaofei, 2012, “A Robust Defence of the Doctrine ofDoing and Allowing,” Utilitas, 24 (1):63–81.
  • McCarthy, David, 2000, “Harming and Allowing Harm,”Ethics, 110 (4): 749–779.
  • McMahan, Jeff, 2002, The Ethics of Killing: Problems at theMargins of Life, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • McMahon, Christopher, 1991, “The Paradox ofDeontology,” Philosophy & Public Affairs, 20:350–377.
  • Nagel, Thomas, 1986, The View from Nowhere, Oxford:Oxford University Press.
  • Norcross, Alastair, 2003, “Killing and Letting Die,”in A Companion to Applied Ethics, R.G. Frey (eds), Oxford:Blackwell.
  • Oddie, Graham, 1997, “Killing and Letting Die: BareDifferences and Clear Differences,” PhilosophicalStudies, 88 (3): 267–287.
  • Rickless, Samuel, 1997, “The Doctrine of Doing andAllowing,” Philosophical Review, 106 (4):555–575.
  • Russell, Bruce, 1980, “On the Relative Strictness ofNegative and Positive Duties,” in Killing and LettingDie, 1st edition, B. Steinbock (ed.), Englewood, Cliffs, NJ:Prentice-Hall.
  • Sartorio, Carolina, 2008, “Moral Inertia,”Philosophical Studies, 140 (1): 117–133.
  • Trammell, Richard, 1978, “The Presumption Against TakingLife,” The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 3:53–67.
  • –––, 1979, “The Nonequivalency of SavingLife and Not Taking Life,” The Journal of Medicine andPhilosophy, 4 (3): 251–262.
  • Tooley, Michael, 1994, “An Irrelevant Consideration: KillingVersus Letting Die,” reprinted in Steinbock and Norcross (eds.)1994, pp. 103–111.

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This entry is based on an earlier entry single-authored by FrancesHoward-Snyder. Fiona Woollard has kept significant parts ofHoward-Snyder’s work but has made substantial revisions.

Frances Howard-Snyder is grateful to Jonathan Bennett, Tom Downing,Dan Howard-Snyder, Hud Hudson, Phillip Montague, Alastair Norcross,John Hawthorne, Stuart Rachels and Kadri Vihvelin for comments onearlier drafts of the single-author entry on which this paper isbased. She is also grateful to the Bureau for Faculty Research atWestern Washington University for support while writing it.

Fiona Woollard is grateful to a very long list of people who havecontributed to her understanding of the doing/allowing distinction.The list includes, but is not limited to, Brad Hooker, JohnCottingham, Frances Howard-Snyder, Frances Kamm and Jeff McMahan.

The editors and authors thank Jack Painter for spotting and notifyingus of several important typographical errors that changed the meaningof sentences.

Copyright © 2016 by
Fiona Woollard<[email protected]>
Frances Howard-Snyder