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Response to: ‘Questioning the significance of the non-identity problem in applied ethics’ by Lawlor
  1. Tony Hope
  1. Correspondence to Tony Hope, Emeritus Professor, The Ethox Centre, University of Oxford, Oxford OX3 7LG, UK; tonyhope{at}

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I thank the editors of the Journal of Medical Ethics for allowing me to respond to the criticisms levelled against me by Rob Lawlor in his paper ‘Questioning the significance of the non-identity problem in applied ethics’.1

Lawlor's central argument, as I understand it, is about the interesting issue, not often discussed, as to what are our responsibilities as writers in applied ethics. Lawlor makes this point in the context of the non-identity effect, but his central argument seems to me to be more general. This central argument is that in the setting of significant disagreement among philosophers with respect to an issue that is substantially philosophical in nature, those making use of the issue in an argument in practical (or applied) ethics have a duty to explain the various philosophical disagreements. This duty is particularly strong when writing for a multidisciplinary audience.

In discussing the non-identity issue, Lawlor makes distinctions, which I like, between the non-identity effect, argument and problem.

With regard to his specific complaints against me, Lawlor cites two of my publications claiming that:

  1. I do not make clear that the non-identity argument is controversial.

  2. I do not make clear that my conclusions from the fact of the non-identity effect are not the same as those of Parfit.

  3. I do not defend my position against that taken by Parfit.

  4. I believe that the non-identity effect does make a moral difference in some situations.

  5. That my language is overconfident, at least when I wrote: “In this case, it seems to me, normal intuition is wrong: it is based on a false metaphysics”.

There are two further papers that I have co-authored dealing with the non-identity issue that Lawlor …

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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