Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2019

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors



First Advisor

Chris Heathwood


The goal of this paper is to defend the counterfactual, comparative account of harm by developing an account of when an omission harms someone. Intuitively, it seems as though omissions on the part of moral agents do sometimes count as a harm against someone else, as when a parent fails to feed their child. There are also other cases in which denying that an omission causes harm seems more natural, such as cases involving agents who could not have done otherwise or for whom acting to prevent the harm would be supererogatory. I examine several possible candidates for explaining the difference between cases in which an omission counts as a harm and those in which it doesn’t. I conclude that a proper account of harming by omission should be normative; it should appeal to the agent’s prima facie moral obligations to perform the relevant action. Finally, I defend this account against several potential objections.