Date of Award

Spring 4-23-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Alastair Norcross

Second Advisor

David Boonin

Third Advisor

Benjamin Hale


An act is usually thought of as wrong only if it harms someone and to harm someone is, roughly speaking, to make her worse off. However, the view that an act is wrong only if it harms some particular individual restricts us to a person-affecting view about wrongness. If an act is wrong that does not make any individual worse off, this wrongness cannot be explained in terms of person-affecting consequences. I want to propose that an action can be wrong even if no particular individual is harmed by that act. This argument relies on the idea that an action can be wrong because of the impersonal effects it has. It is the goal of this paper to show that not only is this a plausible view about wrongness, but it is the correct view. On this view, there can be wrongness in the harm caused by diminishing the overall value in the world or by making the world a worse place than it otherwise would have been. One way to demonstrate that an action can wrong without being wrong for anyone in particular is by referring to Derek Parfit’s Nonidentity Problem. In these cases, the only way to explain the wrongness is by appealing to a notion of impersonal harm. These acts are wrong because they do not maximize the overall expected value in the world.