Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Boycott Ethics
by Pickard, Caleb, Ph.D., University of Colorado at Boulder, 2019, 223; 27542888
Abstract (Summary)

Recent decades have seen an explosion in consumer activism: boycotts, buycotts, divestments, ethical consumption campaigns, and certification/labeling schemes. Understandably, this period has also marked growing philosophical interest in the ethical contours of consumer activism and of boycotting broadly construed. This dissertation addresses some key moral questions about these activities.

In Chapter 1, I offer an argument in defense of consumer permissions to make morally-motivated consumption decisions (i.e. to boycott, with their own purchases), grounded in the presumptive admissibility of acting on our moral reasons. I defend this argument from one prominent and far-reaching objection which claims that ethical consumption is often impermissible for being incompatible with liberal democratic values.

In Chapter 2, I defend our permissions to make morally motivated purchases from a host of other objections, which claim, e.g., that boycotts wrongfully harm innocents and can be objectionably unfair to targets, harming them excessively, inconsistently, capriciously, or hypocritically. I reject these objections for overgeneralizing. Each fails to articulate a morally relevant difference between ethically motivated consumption and normal (i.e. not ethically motivated) consumption and implausibly implies that many untroubling consumer behaviors are in fact morally condemnable.

In Chapter 3, I consider what permissions we have to support and promote boycotts by means other than our own purchases. I argue that our permissions to make our own ethical purchases entail further permissions to support the ethical purchases of others. Making an argument from epistemic humility, I also defend the view that these permissions to support boycotting are relatively restrictive and don’t vary with the apparent moral urgency of our causes.

Chapter 4 addresses a common skeptical worry about the existence of consumer obligations and moral reasons. Given that individual consumers often seem helpless to make a difference (i.e. are ineffective, lacking in control, and causally impotent), “ethical” consumption does not actually seem to promote the good. I argue that all but two of the proposed solutions to this problem fail. The promising solutions either ground consumer reasons in what we can accomplish together, as collectives, or in the expected value or utility of our purchases.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Boonin, David
Commitee: Norcross, Alastair, Huemer, Michael, Heathwood, Chris, Hale, Benjamin
School: University of Colorado at Boulder
Department: Philosophy
School Location: United States -- Colorado
Source: DAI-A 81/6(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Ethics, Philosophy
Keywords: Boycott, Buycott, Causal impotence, Consumer activism, Ethical consumption
Publication Number: 27542888
ISBN: 9781392808313
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