As I noted in an earlier post, there are at least two competing rationales for constraints: the victim-focused rationale (VFR) and the agent-focused rationale (AFR). One worry that I have about VFR is that it seems to have a tough time accounting for the intuition that I and many others have in the Promise Case. Another worry that I have is that it doesn’t seem to be able to account for the intuition that I and many others have in Case C.
In Case C, Carl takes a pill that causes him to conceive a son (whom he names Oliver) who lives only 40 good years rather than a daughter (whom he would have named Patricia) who would have lived 80 good years. He does this so as to prevent five others from taking the pill. Of those survey-takers who both find constraints intuitive and think that taking such a pill without justification is wrong (these, I take it, are those who didn’t answer “It is not the case that both Abe and Bert acted impermissibly” in response to this survey), 89 percent thought that what Carl did was wrong. (These were the results as of 11:30 a.m. EST.) These people, as I do, have the intuition that there is a constraint against taking such a pill. But I don’t see how VFR can account for this intuition, for there is no victim whose rights have been violated in this case. Surely, Oliver doesn’t have a right not to be conceived just because those who conceived him could have conceived someone who would have lived a better life. And note that Oliver is not made worse off as a result of what Carl does. Had Carl not taken the pill, Oliver would have never been conceived. So I don’t see how Oliver can be said to be the victim. Carl may have been made worse off as a result of his taking the pill, but this needn’t be the case. And surely we don’t think that Carl’s rights are infringed by his decision to take the pill so as to prevent five others from taking the pill. In any case, I think that the intuition that what Carl did was wrong persists even after we stipulate that Carl is made no worse off as a result of his taking the pill. So I don’t see how we can say that Carl is the victim. And I don’t see how we can say that Patricia’s rights are infringed, for she doesn’t exist and the nonexistent have no rights. So Patricia can’t be the victim. Indeed, there doesn’t seem to be a victim at all. And, since there’s no victim, I don’t see how the rationale for this constraint can be victim focused. Of course, just because VFR can’t account for something doesn’t mean that it’s false, but it does seem to indicate that AFR has a leg up on VFR in that it is able to account for everything that VFR can account for and more.