Measuring the consequences of rules

Utilitas 22 (4):413-433 (2010)
Rule utilitarianism has recently enjoyed a resurgence of interest triggered by Brad Hooker’s sophisticated treatment in Ideal Code, Real World.1 An intriguing new debate has now broken out about how best to formulate rule utilitarianism – whether to evaluate candidate moral codes in terms of the value of their consequences at a fixed rate (such as 90%) of social acceptance (as Hooker contends), or to evaluate codes in terms of the value of their consequences throughout the entire range of possible acceptance rates (as Hooker’s opponent Ridge contends).2 I shall argue that both Hooker’s fixed-rate ruleutilitarianism and Ridge’s variable-rate rule-utilitarianism, suitably interpreted and revised, survive the criticisms that each theorist lodges against the other. But I shall use the insights gained through this examination to argue that both these forms of rule utilitarianism, arguably the best available, fall prey to two fatal problems that have gone unnoticed in these debates, or indeed in most debates about rule utilitarianism. The weaknesses I describe in Hooker and Ridge’s forms of rule utilitarianism threaten to undermine all versions of rule utilitarianism, not just the nuanced versions developed by Hooker and Ridge.
Keywords rule utilitarianism  consequences  consequences of rules
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DOI 10.1017/S0953820810000324
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