Friday, February 15, 2008

Free riders - Philosophy Bites

The latest issue of Philosophy Bites addresses the philosophical problem of free riding. The problem is defined as: Why should anyone contribute to a joint enterprise if their contribution is tiny and they can just as easily 'free ride' (i.e. get the benefit without making the sacrifice)? For example: why should I vote, if my vote dissolves in the sea of votes. Why should I not pollute, if my contribution is inconsequential to the environment?

I remember we discussed a similar problem when I studied philosophy of law. The example we took was about a polluted river. The question was: what justifies the prohibition to throw waste in this river, when it is so severely polluted that any addition doesn't make it worse? If justifications are only related to consequences we can't. Ethical thinking that is consequential will see here a dilemma, but if we assume value can be inherent, there is no problem. Throwing waste is in itself worng and therefore it is justified to prohibit it.

It seems to me, the free rider problem also gets entangled in consequentialism. If however we evaluate our actions also on their inherent qualities, we are capable of rationally deciding against taking a free ride. That is, as far as we can. Aren't we all free riders on the planet? Aren't we profiting left and right in our lives from the past, from the environment without making contribution?

Richard Tuck is invited to present his solution to the problem, which, according to the introduction by David Edmonds, is regarded by some as insolvable, and therefore a true dilemma. Tuck is not particularly easy to follow, so the listener be prepared. He tends to mumble a bit. Otherwise his explanations are thought provoking and take a whole different direction than my idea.

More Philosophy Bites:
Is war innate?

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