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Setting Health-Care PrioritiesWhat Ethical Theories Tell Us$
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Torbjörn Tännsjö

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190946883

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: July 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190946883.001.0001

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(p.44) 5 Prioritarianism
Setting Health-Care Priorities

Torbjörn Tännsjö

Oxford University Press

The rationale behind prioritarianism is the idea that suffering has a special moral importance. This means that a person who momentarily suffers has a special moral claim for improvement of her hedonic situation. It is the other way around with happiness. Prioritarianism is seen as a possible amendment to utilitarianism. Since suffering takes place at a definite time, momentary suffering, not suffering within an entire life, is what matters, according to prioritarianism. While the maximin/leximin theory gives absolute priority to those who are worst off prioritarinism presents a more nuanced view. Some special weight is given to an amount of happiness/unhappiness depending on where it falls, on a happy or on a miserable moment. There are many ideas, however, about how to specify the exact weight which should be given to an instant of happiness/unhappiness depending on where it appears on the hedonistic scale. This means that prioritarianism presents us with a family of theories rather than with one theory in particular. They all agree on the claim, however, that what should be maximized is a weighted sum of happiness rather than the sum total of happiness.

Keywords:   priority, suffering, weight of happiness, diminishing moral importance of happiness

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