Reciprocity, Inequality, and Unsuccessful Rescues

Romy Eskens*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Forced choices between rescuing imperilled persons are subject to a presumption of equality. Unless we can point to a morally relevant difference between these persons' imperilments, each should get an equal chance of rescue. Sometimes, this presumption is overturned. For example, when one imperilled person has wrongfully caused the forced choice, most think that this person (rather than an innocent person) should bear the harm. The converse scenario, in which a forced choice resulted from the supererogatory action of one of the imperilled people, has received little attention in distributive ethics. I argue that, sometimes, we need not offer equal chances in these cases either. When the supererogatory act places the initially imperilled person under a reciprocal duty to bear risks for the supererogatory agent's sake in the forced choice, we may fulfil this duty for them if they are unable to do it themselves, by favouring the supererogatory agent.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)64-82
Issue number1
Early online date21 Dec 2023
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024


  • beneficence
  • distributive ethics
  • ethics of rescuing
  • gratitude
  • reciprocity


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