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Summary Consequentialists take the value of outcomes to ground or explain other important normative properties such as the rightness of acts. Act Utilitarianism, the view that we should maximize well-being (or "happiness"), is perhaps the paradigmatic form of consequentialism.  But many alternatives have been developed, as found under the "Varieties of Consequentialism" sub-category.  An obvious dimension of variation concerns the consequentialist's axiology or conception of the good -- what is to be promoted.  (Allowing agent-relative values, especially, can lead to dramatic divergence from the impartial welfarism of traditional utilitarianism.)  But there are also many different proposals concerning the relation between value and other normative properties, as seen, for example, in the debate between act and rule consequentialists. A lot of work has been done assessing a variety of arguments against consequentialism.  Less has been said (either positively or negatively) about arguments for consequentialism.
Key works The classical texts are Mill's Utilitarianism and Sidgwick 1907.  The contemporary debate owes much to Bernard Williams' criticisms in Smart & Williams 1973.  Especially significant developments occur in Parfit 1984Railton 1984, and Pettit & Smith 2000.
Introductions Smart & Williams 1973 offers an accessible introduction to the debate over utilitarianism, in particular.
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  1. Jonathan E. Adler (1993). Book Review:Moral Legislation: A Legal-Political Model for Indirect Consequentialist Reasoning Conrad D. Johnson. [REVIEW] Ethics 103 (4):814-.
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  2. Richard J. Arneson (2002). The End of Welfare As We Know It? Scanlon Versus Welfarist Consequentialism. Social Theory and Practice 28 (2):315-336.
    A notable achievement of T.M. Scanlon's What We Owe to Each Other is its sustained critique of welfarist consequentialism. Consequentialism is the doctrine that one morally ought always to do an act, of the alternatives, that brings about a state of affairs that is no less good than any other one could bring about. Welfarism is the view that what makes a state of affairs better or worse is some increasing function of the welfare for persons realized in it. I (...)
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  3. Charles A. Baylis (1952). Comments on Utilitarianism and Moral Obligation Symposium. Philosophical Review 61:327.
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  4. R. W. Beardsmore (1986). Common-Sense Morality and Consequentialism. Philosophical Books 27 (2):116-118.
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  5. Arnold Burms (2009). Disagreement, Perspectivism, Consequentialism. Ethical Perspectives 16 (2):155-163.
    Theoretical reflection on moral disagreement can be pertinent from a practical point of view. When far reaching policies depend on agreement about conflicting moral options, the need may be felt to reflect on strategies for reducing conflict and reaching a consensus. In such a context, it may for instance be useful to study mechanisms that tend to bring about bias and prejudice. In this paper, however, I will not be concerned with whatever might be done to reduce disagreement. My approach (...)
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  6. Zeljka Buturovic (2012). Deep Down: Consequentialist Assumptions Underlying Policy Differences. Critical Review 24 (2):269-289.
    A conditional survey establishes a preliminary case for believing that policy differences are to some extent driven by fundamental beliefs about empirical aspects of society and economics. The survey shows willingness in about a third of all respondents to shift their expressed policy preferences when asked a hypothetical question positing negative consequences of their initial preferences. This suggests that assumptions about the consequences of public policies may play as important a role in policy preferences, or a more important role, than (...)
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  7. David Elliott (1999). Against the Leveling of Virtue: Essentials of a Consequentialist Account. Journal of Social Philosophy 30 (1):65-82.
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  8. Avram Hiller, Ramona Ilea & Leonard Kahn (eds.) (2015). Consequentialism and Environmental Ethics. Routledge.
    This volume works to connect issues in environmental ethics with the best work in contemporary normative theory. Environmental issues challenge contemporary ethical theorists to account for topics that traditional ethical theories do not address to any significant extent. This book articulates and evaluates consequentialist responses to that challenge. Contributors provide a thorough and well-rounded analysis of the benefits and limitations of the consequentialist perspective in addressing environmental issues. In particular, the contributors use consequentialist theory to address central questions in environmental (...)
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  9. Christopher Alan Hoffman (1994). J. S. Mill's Utilitarianism. Dissertation, Washington University
    Contrary to a widely held view, a coherent and defensible picture of John Stuart Mill's utilitarianism can be constructed. To accomplish this his remarks in Utilitarianism and On Liberty must be interpreted strictly from the perspective of his more fundamental philosophical theories in logic and philosophy of mind. When this is done the principle of utility will be seen in a new light, the confusions associated with his "qualitative hedonism" evaporate, the connection between the principle of utility and morality is (...)
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  10. Ted Honderich (1996). Consequentialism, Moralities of Concern, and Selfishness. Philosophy 71 (278):499 - 520.
    Here are some kinds of reasons for taking an action to have been morally right. It was done out of a good intention or a pure good will on the part of the agent, or was owed to a virtue of hers. It issued from the agent's moral perception or intuition with respect to a situation, not from the application of a general principle or from calculation of the consequences of possible actions. Although it would give rise to distress or (...)
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  11. Nien-Hê Hsieh, Alan Strudler & David Wasserman (2006). The Numbers Problem. Philosophy and Public Affairs 34 (4):352 - 372.
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  12. Dreier Jamie (ed.) (2006). Contemporary Debates in Moral Theories. Blackwell Publishers.
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  13. F. M. Kamm (2000). Collaboration and Responsibility. Philosophy and Public Affairs 28 (3):169-204.
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  14. Irfan Khawaja (2005). Consequentialism. Teaching Philosophy 28 (3):281-284.
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  15. Jacqueline A. Laing (ed.) (1997). Human Lives Critical Essays on Consequentialist Bioethics. Macmillan.
    This book aims to redress the imbalance in moral philosophy created by the dominance of consequentialism and utilitarianism, the view that criterion of morality is the maximisation of good effects over bad without regard to intrinsic rightness or wrongness. This approach has become the orthodoxy over the last few decades particularly in bioethics, where moral theory is applied to bioethics. Human Lives critically examines the assumptions and arguments of consequentialism reviviing in the process such concepts as rights, justice, innocence, natural (...)
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  16. David McCarthy (forthcoming). Probability in Ethics. In Alan Hájek & Christopher Hitchcock (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Probability. Oxford University Press
    The article is a plea for ethicists to regard probability as one of their most important concerns. It outlines a series of topics of central importance in ethical theory in which probability is implicated, often in a surprisingly deep way, and lists a number of open problems. Topics covered include: interpretations of probability in ethical contexts; the evaluative and normative significance of risk or uncertainty; uses and abuses of expected utility theory; veils of ignorance; Harsanyi’s aggregation theorem; population size problems; (...)
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  17. Sean David Mckeever (2001). Completeness as an Ideal for Moral Theory. Dissertation, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    Must an acceptable moral theory be systematic and complete? Most philosophers agree we have no such theory now---at least not one which is plausible in other respects. But perhaps we should strive for such a theory and regard our current incomplete theories as at best useful stepping stones. Some theories, such as hedonistic utilitarianism, hold out the promise of being complete: provided all the empirical facts one could, in principle, determine whether any given act was right or not. Other theoretical (...)
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  18. Robert McKim (1992). Consequentialism, Incoherence and Choice. American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 66 (1):93-98.
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  19. T. Mooney (2011). Global Ethics: The Challenge of Loyalty Traditional Utilitarian Consequentialism and Deontology. Ethics Education 17 (1).
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  20. Kai Nielsen (1994). Methods of Ethics:Wide Reflective Equilibrium and a Kind of Consequentialism. Journal of Social Philosophy 25 (2):57-72.
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  21. Sven Nyholm (2014). Ingmar Persson, From Morality to the End of Reason (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), Pp. 336. [REVIEW] Utilitas 26 (3):321-325.
    Persson argues that common sense morality involves various “asymmetries” that don’t stand up to rational scrutiny. (One example is that intentionally harming others is commonly thought to be worse than merely allowing harm to happen, even if the harm involved is equal in both cases.) A wholly rational morality would, Persson argues, be wholly symmetrical. He also argues, however, that when we get down to our most basic attitudes and dispositions, we reach the “end of reason,” at which point we (...)
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  22. Francesco Orsi (2012). David Ross, Ideal Utilitarianism, and the Intrinsic Value of Acts. Journal for the History of Analytic Philosophy 1 (2).
    The denial of the intrinsic value of acts apart from both motives and consequences lies at the heart of Ross’s deontology and his opposition to ideal utilitarianism. Moreover, the claim that acts can have intrinsic value is a staple element of early and contemporary attempts to “consequentialise” all of morality. I first show why Ross’s denial is relevant both for his philosophy and for current debates. Then I consider and reject as inconclusive some of Ross’s explicit and implicit motivations for (...)
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  23. Philip Pettit (2012). A Question for Tomorrow: The Robust Demands of the Good. Les Ateliers de l'Éthique / the Ethics Forum 7 (3):7-12.
  24. Felix Pinkert (2015). What If I Cannot Make a Difference (and Know It). Ethics 125 (4):971-998.
    When several agents together produce suboptimal outcomes, yet no individual could have made a difference for the better, Act Consequentialism counterintuitively judges that all involved agents act rightly. I address this problem by supplementing Act Consequentialism with a requirement of modal robustness: Agents not only ought to produce best consequences in the actual world, but they also ought to be such that they would act optimally in certain counterfactual scenarios. I interpret this Modally Robust Act Consequentialism as Act Consequentialism plus (...)
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  25. Giuliano Pontara (2008). In Defence of Utilitarianism. Rivista di Filosofia 99 (3):467-490.
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  26. Maurizio Salvi (1997). How To Calculate The Utility Of Human Germline Gene Transformations? A Critique Of Utilitarianism. Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 7 (2):36-38.
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  27. Margrit Shildrick (2003). Book Review: Jonathan Glover. Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001. [REVIEW] Hypatia 18 (2):227-229.
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  28. David Sobel (1997). Well-Being and Consequentialism. Dissertation, University of Michigan
    There are two common assumptions about well-being that I am especially concerned to dispute in this dissertation. The first assumption is that differences in kinds of prudential values can be reduced to differences in amount of prudential value. That is, that differences in the qualities of values can reliably be reduced to mere differences in quantity. The second assumption is that well-being is the appropriate object of moral concern. Consequentialist moral theories typically argue that morality requires the maximization of well-being (...)
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  29. Sarah Stroud (2001). Moral Commitment and Moral Theory. Journal of Philosophical Research 26:381-398.
    This paper examines the nature of what I call moral commitment: that is, a standing commitment to live up to moral demands. I first consider what kind of psychological state moral commitment might be, arguing that moral commitment is a species of commitment to a counterfactual condition. I explore the general structural features of attitudes of this type in order to shed light on how moral commitment might function in an agent’s motivational economy. I then use this understanding of moral (...)
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  30. Douglas W. Portmore (2014). Commonsense Consequentialism: Wherein Morality Meets Rationality. Oxford University Press Usa.
    Commonsense Consequentialism is a book about morality, rationality, and the interconnections between the two. In it, Douglas W. Portmore defends a version of consequentialism that both comports with our commonsense moral intuitions and shares with other consequentialist theories the same compelling teleological conception of practical reasons. Broadly construed, consequentialism is the view that an act's deontic status is determined by how its outcome ranks relative to those of the available alternatives on some evaluative ranking. Portmore argues that outcomes should be (...)
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  31. Douglas W. Portmore (2011). Commonsense Consequentialism: Wherein Morality Meets Rationality. Oxford University Press Usa.
    Commonsense Consequentialism is a book about morality, rationality, and the interconnections between the two. In it, Douglas W. Portmore defends a version of consequentialism that both comports with our commonsense moral intuitions and shares with other consequentialist theories the same compelling teleological conception of practical reasons. Broadly construed, consequentialism is the view that an act's deontic status is determined by how its outcome ranks relative to those of the available alternatives on some evaluative ranking. Portmore argues that outcomes should be (...)
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  32. Mark Wells (2015). Meaning in Consequences. Journal of Philosophy of Life 5 (3):169-179.
    This paper aims to respond on behalf of consequentialist theories of meaning in life to criticisms raised by Thaddeus Metz and, in doing so, demonstrates how the debate over theories of meaning in life might make progress. By using conceptual resources developed for consequentialist theories of morality, I argue that Metz’s general arguments against consequentialist theories of meaning in life fail. That is, some consequentialist theories can accommodate Metz’s criticisms. However, using conceptual resources developed in debate concerning consequentialist theories of (...)
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Utilitarianism
See also: Utility, Well-Being
  1. Maurice Allais (1991). Cardinal Utility. Theory and Decision 31 (2-3):99-140.
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  2. Lincoln Allison (ed.) (1990). The Utilitarian Response: The Contemporary Viability of Utilitarian Political Philosophy. Sage Publications.
    "Nearly all the essays are theoretically informed, argumentative, and exceptionally interesting; nearly all try to paint the merits (and demerits) of utilitarianism as a political philosophy in the light of attempted solutions to theoretical problems that are explored in some detail. The result is a searching, thoughtful volume." --Ethics "The Utilitarian Response is unique in the breadth of problems and questions in utilitarian theory covered. It is more suggestive of strategies by which contemporary utilitarianism could be improved than a comprehensive (...)
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  3. Michael J. Almeida (1992). The Paradoxes of Feldman's Neo-Utilitarianism. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 70 (4):455 – 468.
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  4. Íñigo Álvarez Gálvez (2009). Utilitarismo y Derechos Humanos: La Propuesta de John Stuart Mill. Plaza y Valdés.
    Se dice que el utilitarismo es incompatible con la defensa de los derechos humanos, pues la búsqueda del mayor bien para el mayor número que prescribe el utilitarismo, puede exigir, en ocasiones, pasar por encima de los derechos. Sin embargo, quizá sea posible ofrecer una solución al conflicto presentando una doctrina utilitarista, reconocible como tal, que sea lo suficientemente amplia como para dar cabida a los derechos. La presente obra tiene como objeto exponer la doctrina de John Stuart Mill como (...)
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  5. S. Ambirajan (1992). Review of John Stuart Mill, Writings in India. [REVIEW] Utilitas 4 (1):154-157.
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  6. A. T. Anchustegui (2005). Biocentric Ethics and Animal Prosperity. International Journal of Applied Philosophy 19 (1):105-119.
    Singer’s utilitarian and Regan’s deontological views must be rejected because: (1) they rely on criteria for moral standing that can only be known a priori and (2) if these criteria were successful, they’d be too restrictive. I hold that while mental properties may be sufficient for moral standing, they are not necessary. (3) Their criteria of moral standing do not unambiguously abrogate needless harm to animals. I defend a theory of biocentric individualism that upholds the principle of species egalitarianism while (...)
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  7. John Anderson (1932). Utilitarianism. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 10 (3):161 – 172.
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  8. Linda F. Annis (1986). Merit Pay, Utilitarianism, and Desert. International Journal of Applied Philosophy 3 (1):33-41.
  9. Lennart Åqvist (1969). Improved Formulations of Act-Utilitarianism. Noûs 3 (3):299-323.
    The article deals with two problems that arise within moorean style act-utilitarianism (a.u.): (i) how is the notion of 'the alternatives to' a particular action to be explicated? (ii) how should a.u. be formulated in order for it to validate the laws of standard deontic logic? it is argued that these intertwined problems can be solved only if the traditional formulations a a.u. are rejected in favor of some new and more viable ones. in the literature the two problems seem (...)
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  10. A. Revised Impracticability Argument (1994). Act Utilitarianism and Decision Procedures. Utilitas 6 (1).
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  11. Richard Arneson, Introduction to Rawls on Justice and Rawls on Utilitarianism.
    According to Rawls, the principles of justice are principles that determine a fair resolution of conflicts of interest among persons in a society. “A set of principles is required for choosing among the various social arrangements which determine this division of advantages and for underwriting an agreement on the proper distributive shares” (p. 4). Different interpretations or conceptions of justice fill out this core concept; a theory of justice seeks a best conception. Justice takes priority over other normative claims—as Rawls (...)
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  12. Richard Arneson, Rawls Versus Utilitarianism in the Light of Political Liberalism.
    The critique of utilitarianism forms a crucial subplot in the complex analysis of social justice that John Rawls develops in his first book, A Theory of Justice.1 The weaknesses of utilitarianism indicate the need for an alternative theory, and at many stages of the argument the test for the adequacy of the new theory that Rawls elaborates is whether it can be demonstrated to be superior to the utilitarian rival. The account of social justice shifts in the transition to Rawls’s (...)
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  13. Nomy Arpaly (2002). The Utilitarian's Song. Utilitas 14 (1):1.
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  14. Richard Ashcraft (1994). Review of Kinzer, Robson and Robson's A Moralist In and Out of Parliament: John Stuart Mill at Westminster. [REVIEW] Utilitas 6 (1):140-143.
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  15. Elizabeth Ashford (2005). Utilitarianism with a Humean Face. Hume Studies 31 (1):63-92.
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  16. Robert B. Ashmore (1987). Utility and Rights. Edited by R. G. Frey. Modern Schoolman 64 (2):122-124.
  17. Robert Audi (2007). Can Utilitarianism Be Distributive? Maximization and Distribution as Criteria in Managerial Decisions. Business Ethics Quarterly 17 (4):593-611.
    Utilitarianism is commonly defined in very different ways, sometimes in a single text. There is wide agreement that it mandates maximizing some kind of good, but many formulations also require a pattern of distribution. The most common of these take utilitarianism to characterize right acts as those that achieve “the greatest good for the greatest number.” This paper shows important ambiguities in this formulation and contrasts it (on any plausible interpretation of it) withthe kinds of utilitarian views actually defended by (...)
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  18. Guy Axtell, Utilitarianism and Dewey's “Three Independent Factors in Morals”.
    The centennial of Dewey & Tuft’s Ethics (1908) provides a timely opportunity to reflect both on Dewey’s intellectual debt to utilitarian thought, and on his critique of it. In this paper I examine Dewey’s assessment of utilitarianism, but also his developing view of the good (ends; consequences), the right (rules; obligations) and the virtuous (approbations; standards) as “three independent factors in morals.” This doctrine (found most clearly in the 2nd edition of 1932) as I argue in the last sections, has (...)
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1 — 50 / 1964