The Center for Values and Social Policy is pleased to announce the winners of this year's Young Ethicist Prize, awarded at CVSP's tenth annual Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress, which took place from August 10-13. They are Amanda Askell, a PhD student at NYU, and Tyler John, a PhD student at Rutgers, for their paper "Moral Offsetting". The abstract is below
ABSTRACT: Many people try to offset the harm their behaviors do to the world. People offset carbon, river and air pollution, risky clinical trials, and consuming animal products. Yet it is not clear whether and when such offsetting is permissible. We give a preliminary conceptual analysis of moral offsetting: offsetting is performing a morally good act that renders the conjunction of that act and a counterfactually-connected morally bad act better than failing to perform either act. We then argue that it is very plausible that at least some offsetting is permissible. Finally, we show that every comprehensive moral theory faces a trilemma: (i) any bad action can in principle be permissibly offset; (ii) no actions can in principle be permissibly offset; or (iii) there is a bad act that can be permissibly offset such that another act worse by an arbitrarily small degree cannot be offset, no matter how great the offset.