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True benevolence is, most fundamentally, a desire that the world be better. It is natural and common, however, to frame thinking about benevolence indirectly, in terms of a desire to make a difference to how good the world is. This would be an innocuous shift if desires to make a difference were extensionally equivalent to desires that the world be better. This paper shows that at least on some common ways of making a “desire to make a difference” precise, this extensional equivalence fails. Where it fails, “difference-making preferences” run counter to the ideals of benevolence. In particular, in the context of decision making under uncertainty, coupling a “difference-making” framing in a natural way with risk aversion leads to preferences that violate stochastic dominance, and that lead to a strong form of collective defeat, from the point of view of betterness. Difference-making framings and true benevolence are not strictly mutually inconsistent, but agents seeking to implement true benevolence must take care to avoid the various pitfalls that we outline.


Journal article


Philosophical Studies



Publication Date