# Objective and Subjective Consequentialism

Edited by Douglas W. Portmore (Arizona State University)
 Summary On objective consequentialism, the permissibility of S's X-ing (where S is a subject and X is an act) depends solely on the facts and not at all on what S's evidence is. More specifically, it depends on facts concerning the possible outcomes associated with X and its alternatives. Now, if determinism is true, there is, for each act, only one possible outcome. But if indeterminism is true, then there may be no determinate fact about what X's outcome would be. Instead, there would be only a probability distribution over the possible outcomes associated with S's X-ing. In contrast to objective consequentialism, subjective consequentialism holds that the permissibility of S's X-ing depends not on the facts but on S's evidences concerning possible outcomes. To illustrate, suppose that someone has shaken a die in a cup and has then inverted the cup onto the table top. Underneath the cup the die lies with the six side facing up. But I don't know this. Now if I pay six dollars, I can have the cup removed. And if the cup is removed to reveal a six facing up, I will win twelve dollars and double my money. If I don't pay six dollars, I can win nothing. If I pay six dollars, and something other than a six is revealed, I lose my six dollars. According to objective consequentialism, I should pay six dollars to play the game. For if I do, I will win twelve dollars and double my money. According to subjective consequentialism, I should not pay six dollars to play the game. Given that I don't know what side of the die faces up, I can only assume that there is, given my evidence, a one-in-six chance that a six will be revealed. But a 1-in-6 chance at twelve dollars isn't worth six dollars; it's worth only two dollars. Thus, according to subjective consequentialism, I shouldn't pay six dollars to play this game.
 Key works The classic piece on this is Jackson 1991. Some other very important papers are Carlson 1999, Howard-Snyder 1997, Wiland 2005, and Feldman 2006.
 Introductions Jackson 1991 in conjunction with Feldman 2006 provides a nice overview of the main issues.
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1. Are the later Mohists preference-satisfaction consequentialists? A discussion of Daniel Stephens’ “Later Mohist ethics and philosophical progress in ancient China”.Bradford Jean-Hyuk Kim - 2023 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 32 (1):218-30.
The Mohists may have been the first consequentialists on earth. Their most important principles are that right action is what benefits the world and that the underlying outlook for benefiting the world is inclusive care, whereby each person receives equal consideration. The early Mohists are clearly objective-list consequentialists, whereby benefiting the world amounts to promoting the most basic goods. Stephens argues that the later Mohists shift to a preference-satisfaction consequentialism whereby benefiting the world amounts to promoting what happens to please (...)
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2. A Buddha Land in This World: Philosophy, Utopia, and Radical Buddhism.Lajos Brons - 2022 - Earth: punctum.
In the early twentieth century, Uchiyama Gudō, Seno’o Girō, Lin Qiuwu, and others advocated a Buddhism that was radical in two respects. Firstly, they adopted a more or less naturalist stance with respect to Buddhist doctrine and related matters, rejecting karma or other supernatural beliefs. And secondly, they held political and economic views that were radically anti-hegemonic, anti-capitalist, and revolutionary. Taking the idea of such a “radical Buddhism” seriously, A Buddha Land in This World: Philosophy, Utopia, and Radical Buddhism asks (...)
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3. Reply to Jay on Subjective Consequentialism and Deontic Variance.Scott Forschler - 2022 - Utilitas 34 (3):344-347.
Christopher Jay has recently argued that one version of subjective consequentialism is objectionable because it entails ‘arbitrary deontic variance’ in which the permissibility of some action can depend upon an arbitrary, non-moral choice of which possible results of the action to investigate or even reflect upon. This author argues that this deontic variance is actually entirely innocuous, and results from what may be the best subjective strategy for such investigation and reflection in cases involving uncertainty and cognitive limitations.
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4. From Value to Rightness: Consequentialism, Action-Guidance, and the Perspective-Dependence of Moral Duties.Vuko Andric - 2021 - New York, NY, USA: Routledge.
This book develops an original version of act-consequentialism. It argues that act-consequentialists should adopt a subjective criterion of rightness. The book develops new arguments which strongly suggest that, according to the best version of act-consequentialism, the rightness of actions depends on expected rather than actual value. Its findings go beyond the debate about consequentialism and touch on important debates in normative ethics and metaethics. The distinction between criterion of rightness and decision procedures addresses how, why, and in which sense moral (...)
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5. On what we should believe (and when (and why) we should believe what we know we should not believe).Clayton Littlejohn - 2020 - In Kevin McCain & Scott Stapleford (eds.), Epistemic Duties: New Arguments, New Angles. Routledge.
A theory of what we should believe should include a theory of what we should believe when we are uncertain about what we should believe and/or uncertain about the factors that determine what we should believe. In this paper, I present a novel theory of what we should believe that gives normative externalists a way of responding to a suite of objections having to do with various kinds of error, ignorance, and uncertainty. This theory is inspired by recent work in (...)

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6. Is Objective Act Consequentialism satisfiable?Johan E. Gustafsson - 2019 - Analysis 79 (2):193-202.
A compelling requirement on normative theories is that they should be satisfiable, that is, in every possible choice situation with a finite number of alternatives, there should be at least one performable act such that, if one were to perform that act, one would comply with the theory. In this paper, I argue that, given some standard assumptions about free will and counterfactuals, Objective Act Consequentialism violates this requirement.
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7. Consequentialism: New Directions, New Problems.Christian Seidel (ed.) - 2019 - Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press.
Consequentialism is a focal point of discussion and a driving force behind important developments in moral philosophy. Recently, the debate has shifted in focus and in style. By seeking to consequentialize rival moral theories, in particular those with agent-relative characteristics, and by framing accounts in terms of reasons rather than in terms of value, an emerging new wave consequentialism has presented - at much higher levels of abstraction - theories which proved extremely flexible and powerful in meeting long-standing and influential (...)

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8. Subjective and Objective Reasons.Andrew Sepielli - 2018 - In Daniel Star (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Reasons and Normativity. New York, NY, United States of America: Oxford University Press.

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9. Objective Consequentialism and the Rationales of ‘ “Ought” Implies “Can” ’.Vuko Andrić - 2017 - Ratio 30 (1):72-87.
This paper argues that objective consequentialism is incompatible with the rationales of ‘ “ought” implies “can” ’ – with the considerations, that is, that explain or justify this principle. Objective consequentialism is the moral doctrine that an act is right if and only if there is no alternative with a better outcome, and wrong otherwise. An act is obligatory if and only if it is wrong not to perform it. According to ‘ “ought” implies “can” ’, a person is morally (...)
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10. Is Objective Consequentialism Compatible with the Principle that “Ought” Implies “Can”?Vuko Andrić - 2016 - Philosophia 44 (1):63-77.
Some philosophers hold that objective consequentialism is false because it is incompatible with the principle that “ought” implies “can”. Roughly speaking, objective consequentialism is the doctrine that you always ought to do what will in fact have the best consequences. According to the principle that “ought” implies “can”, you have a moral obligation to do something only if you can do that thing. Frances Howard-Snyder has used an innovative thought experiment to argue that sometimes you cannot do what will in (...)
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11. Multidimensional Consequentialism and Risk.Vuko Andrić & Attila Tanyi - 2016 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 19 (1):49-57.
In his new book, The Dimensions of Consequentialism, Martin Peterson proposes a version of multi-dimensional consequentialism according to which risk is one among several dimensions. We argue that Peterson’s treatment of risk is unsatisfactory. More precisely, we want to show that all problems of one-dimensional (objective or subjective) consequentialism are also problems for Peterson’s proposal, although it may fall prey to them less often. In ending our paper, we address the objection that our discussion overlooks the fact that Peterson’s proposal (...)
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12. Consequentialism with Wrongness Depending on the Difficulty of Doing Better.Johan E. Gustafsson - 2016 - Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 5 (2):108-118.
Moral wrongness comes in degrees. On a consequentialist view of ethics, the wrongness of an act should depend, I argue, in part on how much worse the act's consequences are compared with those of its alternatives and in part on how difficult it is to perform the alternatives with better consequences. I extend act consequentialism to take this into account, and I defend three conditions on consequentialist theories. The first is consequentialist dominance, which says that, if an act has better (...)
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13. The value of practical usefulness.Rob van Someren Greve - 2014 - Philosophical Studies 168 (1):167-177.
Some moral theories, such as objective forms of consequentialism, seem to fail to be practically useful: they are of little to no help in trying to decide what to do. Even if we do not think this constitutes a fatal flaw in such theories, we may nonetheless agree that being practically useful does make a moral theory a better theory, or so some have suggested. In this paper, I assess whether the uncontroversial respect in which a moral theory can be (...)
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14. Objective consequentialism and the licensing dilemma.Vuko Andrić - 2013 - Philosophical Studies 162 (3):547-566.
Frank Jackson has put forward a famous thought experiment of a physician who has to decide on the correct treatment for her patient. Subjective consequentialism tells the physician to do what intuitively seems to be the right action, whereas objective consequentialism fails to guide the physician’s action. I suppose that objective consequentialists want to supplement their theory so that it guides the physician’s action towards what intuitively seems to be the right treatment. Since this treatment is wrong according to objective (...)
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15. Objectivism and Prospectivism about Rightness.Elinor Mason - 2013 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 7 (2):1-22.
In this paper I present a new argument for prospectivism: the view that, for a consequentialist, rightness depends on what is prospectively best rather than what would actually be best. Prospective bestness depends on the agent’s epistemic position, though exactly how that works is not straightforward. I clarify various possible versions of prospectivism, which differ in how far they go in relativizing to the agent’s limitations. My argument for prospectivism is an argument for moderately objective prospectivism, according to which the (...)
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16. Objective Consequentialism and Avoidable Imperfections.Rob van Someren Greve - 2013 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 16 (3):481-492.
There are two distinct views on how to formulate an objective consequentialist account of the deontic status of actions, actualism and possibilism. On an actualist account, what matters to the deontic status of actions is only the value of the outcome an action would have, if performed. By contrast, a possibilist account also takes into account the value of the outcomes that an action could have. These two views come apart in their deontic verdicts when an agent is imperfect in (...)
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17. The Case of the Miners.Vuko Andric - 2012 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy (1):1-8.
This discussion note attempts to show that, pace Niko Kolodny and John MacFarlane, the Miners case intuitively speaks in favor of subjectivism. I argue that properly understood the intuitively correct judgements concerning the case are compatible with subjectivism. My argument is based, among other things, on a comparison between the Minders case and other cases as well as on considerations of blameworthiness.
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18. Consequentialism.Julia Driver - 2012 - New York: Routledge.
Consequentialism is the view that the rightness or wrongness of actions depend solely on their consequences. It is one of the most influential, and controversial, of all ethical theories. In this book, Julia Driver introduces and critically assesses consequentialism in all its forms. After a brief historical introduction to the problem, Driver examines utilitarianism, and the arguments of its most famous exponents, John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, and explains the fundamental questions underlying utilitarian theory: what value is to be (...)

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19. True and Useful: On the Structure of a Two Level Normative Theory.Fred Feldman - 2012 - Utilitas 24 (2):151-171.
Act-utilitarianism and other theories in normative ethics confront the implementability problem: normal human agents, with normal human epistemic abilities, lack the information needed to use those theories directly for the selection of actions. Two Level Theories have been offered in reply. The theoretical level component states alleged necessary and sufficient conditions for moral rightness. That component is supposed to be true, but is not intended for practical use. It gives an account of objective obligation. The practical level component is offered (...)
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20. Subjective Normativity and Action Guidance.Andrew Sepielli - 2012 - In Mark Timmons (ed.), Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Vol. II. Oxford University Press.

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21. 7 Consequentialism.Douglas W. Portmore - 2011 - In Christian Miller (ed.), Continuum Companion to Ethics. Continuum. pp. 143.
A general introduction to consequentialism.

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22. You Don't Have to Do What's Best! (A problem for consequentialists and other teleologists).S. Andrew Schroeder - 2011 - In Mark Timmons (ed.), Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics. Oxford University Press.
Define teleology as the view that requirements hold in virtue of facts about value or goodness. Teleological views are quite popular, and in fact some philosophers (e.g. Dreier, Smith) argue that all (plausible) moral theories can be understood teleologically. I argue, however, that certain well-known cases show that the teleologist must at minimum assume that there are certain facts that an agent ought to know, and that this means that requirements can't, in general, hold in virtue of facts about value (...)

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23. Two meanings of "subjective consequentialism" are distinguished: conscious deliberation with the aim of producing maximally-good consequences, versus acting in ways that, given one's evidence set and reasoning capabilities, is subjectively most likely to maximize expected consequences. The latter is opposed to "objective consequentialism," which demands that we act in ways that actually produce the best total consequences. Peter Railton's arguments for a version of objective consequentialism confuse the two subjective forms, and are only effective against the first. After reviewing the (...)
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24. Decision-Value Utilitarianism.Wesley Cooper - 2008 - Polish Journal of Philosophy 2 (2):39-50.
A decision value alternative is proposed to the various formulations of the principle of utility, which counsel maimization of expected utility as utility is variously conceived. Decision value factors expected utility into causal expected utility and evidential expected utility, and it adds a third factor --- symbolic utility. This latter introduces deontological and a ‘perceived value’ elements into calculations of utility. It also suggests a solution to a lingering problem in population ethics, the so-called Repugnant Conclusion that consequentialist thinking demands (...)
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25. Objective consequentialism, right actions, and good people.Eric Moore - 2007 - Philosophical Studies 133 (1):83 - 94.
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26. The Probabilistic Nature of Objective Consequentialism.Jean-Paul Vessel - 2007 - Theoria 73 (1):46 - 67.
Theorists have consistently maintained that the most plausible forms of objective consequentialism must be probabilistic if and only if indeterminism is true. This standard position, however popular, lacks sufficient motivation. Assume determinism to be true and an attempt will be made to show that attractive forms of objective consequentialism must be probabilistic - and not for reasons related to our epistemic limitations either. -/- Here it is argued that all extant objective formulations of consequentialism fail to deliver the normative implications (...)
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27. Actual Utility, The Objection from Impracticality, and the Move to Expected Utility.Fred Feldman - 2006 - Philosophical Studies 129 (1):49-79.
Utilitarians are attracted to the idea that an act is morally right iff it leads to the best outcome. But critics have pointed out that in many cases we cannot determine which of our alternatives in fact would lead to the best outcome. So we can’t use the classic principle to determine what we should do. It’s not “practical”; it’s not “action-guiding”. Some take this to be a serious objection to utilitarianism, since they think a moral theory ought to be (...)
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28. Monkeys, typewriters, and objective consequentialism.Eric Wiland - 2005 - Ratio 18 (3):352–360.
There have been several recent attempts to refute objective consequentialism on the grounds that it implies the absurd conclusion that even the best of us act wrongly. Some have argued that we act wrongly from time to time; others have argued that we act wrongly regularly. Here I seek to strengthen reductio arguments against objective consequentialism by showing that objective consequentialism implies that we almost never act rightly. I show that no matter what you do, there is almost certainly something (...)
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29. Consequences for Non-consequentialists.Onora O'neill - 2004 - Utilitas 16 (1):1-11.
Both consequentialist and non-consequentialist ethical reasoning have difficulties in accounting for the value of consequences. Taken neat, consequentialism is too fierce in its emphasis on success and disregard of luck, while non-consequentialism seemingly over-values inner states and undervalues actual results. In UneasyVirtue Julia Driver proposes a form of objective consequentialism which claims that characters are good if they typically (but not invariably) produce good results. This position addresses the problems moral luck raises for consequentialism, but requires some form of realism (...)
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30. Consequentialism and the "Ought Implies Can" Principle.Elinor Mason - 2003 - American Philosophical Quarterly 40 (4):319-331.
It seems that the debate between objective and subjective consequentialists might be resolved by appealing to the ought implies can principle. Howard-Snyder has suggested that if one does not know how to do something, cannot do it, and thus one cannot have an obligation to do it. I argue that this depends on an overly rich conception of ability, and that we need to look beyond the ought implies can principle to answer the question. Once we do so, it appears (...)
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31. The Oughts and Cans of Objective Consequentialism.Erik Carlson - 1999 - Utilitas 11 (1):91-96.
Frances Howard -Snyder has argued that objective consequentialism violates the principle that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’. In most situations, she claims, we cannot produce the best consequences available, although objective consequentialism says that we ought to do so. Here I try to show that Howard -Snyder's argument is unsound. The claim that we typically cannot produce the best consequences available is doubtful. And even if there is a sense of ‘producing the best consequences’ in which we cannot do so, objective consequentialism (...)
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32. Response to Carlson and Qizilbash.Frances Howard-Snyder - 1999 - Utilitas 11 (1):106-111.
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33. The Rejection of Objective Consequentialism: A Comment: Mozaffar Qizilbash.Mozaffar Qizilbash - 1999 - Utilitas 11 (1):97-105.
Frances Howard-Snyder argues that objective consequentialism should be rejected because it violates the principle of ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ in asking us to do what we cannot. In this comment I suggest that Howard-Snyder does not take sufficiently seriously the chief defence of objective consequentialism, which reformulates it so that it applies only to actions we can perform. Nonetheless, I argue that there are arguments relating to ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ which discredit objective consequentialism even if it is thus reformulated. These arguments (...)
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34. Actions, beliefs, and consequences.David McCarthy - 1998 - Philosophical Studies 90 (1):57-77.
On the agent-relativity thesis, what an agent ought to do is a function of the evidence available to her about the consequences of her potential actions. On the objectivity thesis, what an agent ought to do is a function of what the consequences of her potential actions would be, regardless of the evidence available to her. This article argues for the agent-relativity thesis. The main opposing argument, due to Thomson, points to cases where a bystander can see that an agent (...)
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35. The Rejection of Objective Consequentialism.Frances Howard-Snyder - 1997 - Utilitas 9 (2):241-248.
Objective consequentialism is often criticized because it is impossible to know which of our actions will have the best consequences. Why exactly does this undermine objective consequentialism? I offer a new link between the claim that our knowledge of the future is limited and the rejection of objective consequentialism: that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ and we cannot produce the best consequences available to us. I support this apparently paradoxical contention by way of an analogy. I cannot beat Karpov at chess in (...)
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36. Reflections on consequentialism.Lars Bergström - 1996 - Theoria 62 (1-2):74-94.
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37. Sour grapes, rational desires and objective consequentialism.M. Rickard - 1995 - Philosophical Studies 80 (3):279 - 303.
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38. Decision-theoretic consequentialism and the nearest and dearest objection.Frank Jackson - 1991 - Ethics 101 (3):461-482.
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39. Alienation, consequentialism, and the demands of morality.Peter Railton - 1984 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 13 (2):134-171.
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41. Theorists have consistently maintained that the most plausible forms of objective consequentialism must be probabilistic if and only if indeterminism is true.2 They claim: If indeterminism is true, then objective probabilities used to map such indeterminacies must be utilized by objective consequentialist moral theories; however, if determinism is true, probabilities play no role in objective consequentialist theorizing. I beg to differ. Assume determinism is true and I will show you that attractive forms of objective consequentialism must be probabilistic—and not for (...)
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42. Self-effacing ethical theories are those that recommend their own erasure. Such theories are a controversial topic in contemporary moral philosophy. In this thesis, I shed light on what is and is not wrong with this type of theory. I examine two kinds of self-effacing ethical theories, a radical version of sophisticated consequentialism and developmental virtue ethics. I defend them against three common objections to self-effacing theories. I raise and develop two novel objections to self-effacing theories: a self-erasure objection and an (...)
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