About this topic
Summary The defining feature of consequentialism is that it ranks outcomes (the outcomes associated with acts, sets of rules, sets of motives, or something else) and then takes the normative statuses of actions to be some (increasing) function of how those outcomes rank. Little else can be said unequivocally about consequentialism, as consequentialists disagree about most everything else. Consequentialists disagree on whether we should assess the normative statuses of actions directly in terms of how their outcomes rank (act-consequentialism) or indirectly in terms of whether, say, they comply with the code of rules with the highest-ranked associated outcome (rule-consequentialism, motive-consequentialism, etc.). They disagree on whether the relevant function is a maximizing one (maximizing consequentialism) or a satisficing one (satisficing consequentialism). And they disagree on whether there is just one ranking of outcomes that is the same for all agents (agent-neutral consequentialism) or potentially different rankings for each agent (agent-relative consequentialism). As most see it, consequentialism is a theory about the permissibility of actions, but some hold instead that it is a theory about only the comparative moral value of actions (scalar consequentialism). And whereas some hold that consequentialism is committed to ranking outcomes in terms of their impersonal value, others deny this. Even those who agree that outcomes are to be ranked in terms of their impersonal value disagree about whether outcomes are to be ranked in terms of their actual value (objective consequentialism) or their expected value (subjective consequentialism).
Key works See the summaries for each of the sub-categories for suggestions that are specific to the varieties of consequentialism that you are interested in.
Introductions Two good introductions to the many varieties of consequentialism are Portmore 2011 and Brink 2005.
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  1. Moral Offsetting.Thomas Foerster - forthcoming - Philosophical Quarterly.
    This paper explores the idea of moral offsetting: the idea that good actions can offset bad actions in a way roughly analogous to carbon offsetting. For example, a meat eater might try to offset their consumption of meat by donating to an animal welfare charity. In this paper, I clarify the idea of moral offsetting, consider whether the leading moral theories and theories of moral worth are consistent with the possibility of moral offsetting, and consider potential benefits of moral offsetting. (...)
  2. Prioritarianism: Room for Desert?Matthew D. Adler - 2018 - Utilitas 30 (2):172-197.
  3. Biocentric Consequentialism, Pluralism, and ‘The Minimax Implication’: A Reply to Alan Carter: Robin Attfield.Robin Attfield - 2003 - Utilitas 15 (1):76-91.
    Alan Carter's recent review in Mind of my Ethics of the Global Environment combines praise of biocentric consequentialism with criticisms that it could advocate both minimal satisfaction of human needs and the extinction of ‘inessential species’ for the sake of generating extra people; Carter also maintains that as a monistic theory it is predictably inadequate to cover the full range of ethical issues, since only a pluralistic theory has this capacity. In this reply, I explain how the counter-intuitive implications of (...)
Agent-Neutral and Agent-Relative Consequentialism
  1. Consequentialism, Constraints, and Good-Relative-To.Jussi Suikkanen - 2008 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 3 (1):1-9.
    Recently, it has been a part of the so-called consequentializing project to attempt to construct versions of consequentialism that can support agent-relative moral constraints. Mark Schroeder has argued that such views are bound to fail because they cannot make sense of the agent relative value on which they need to rely. In this paper, I provide a fitting-attitude account of both agent-relative and agent-neutral values that can together be used to consequentialize agent-relative constraints.
  2. Distinguishing Agent-Relativity From Agent-Neutrality.Matthew Hammerton - forthcoming - Australasian Journal of Philosophy:1-12.
    The agent-relative/agent-neutral distinction is one of the most important in contemporary moral theory. Yet, providing an adequate formal account of it has proven difficult. In this article I defend a new formal account of the distinction, one that avoids various problems faced by other accounts. My account is based on an influential account of the distinction developed by McNaughton and Rawling. I argue that their approach is on the right track but that it succumbs to two serious objections. I then (...)
  3. Agent-Relativity and the Foundations of Moral Theory.Matthew Hammerton - 2017 - Dissertation, Australian National University
  4. What Pedro Could Do.Christopher Woodard - manuscript
    This paper discusses Bernard Williams's famous case of Jim and the Indians. It contrasts two ways of diagnosing the alleged errors of Act Utilitarianism in considering this case. One approach suggests that Act Utilitarianism fails to appreciate the importance of what Jim does; it fails to understand the significance of Jim's agency. This paper favours an alternative diagnosis, according to which Act Utilitarianism fails to appreciate the importance of what Pedro could do; it fails to understand the significance of Pedro's (...)
  5. Neutrality, Partiality, and Meaning in Life.Thaddeus Metz - 2017 - De Ethica 4 (3):7-25.
    Discussion of whether values and norms are neutral or not has mainly appeared in works on the nature of prudential rationality and morality. Little systematic has yet appeared in the up and coming field of the meaning of life. What are the respects in which the value of meaningfulness is neutral or, in contrast, partial, relational, or ‘biased’? In this article, I focus strictly on answering this question. First, I aim to identify the salient, and perhaps exhaustive, respects in which (...)
  6. Consequentializing and its Consequences.S. Andrew Schroeder - 2017 - Philosophical Studies 174 (6):1475-1497.
    Recently, a number of philosophers have argued that we can and should “consequentialize” non-consequentialist moral theories, putting them into a consequentialist framework. I argue that these philosophers, usually treated as a group, in fact offer three separate arguments, two of which are incompatible. I show that none represent significant threats to a committed non-consequentialist, and that the literature has suffered due to a failure to distinguish these arguments. I conclude by showing that the failure of the consequentializers’ arguments has implications (...)
  7. Why Consequentialism’s "Compelling Idea" Is Not.Paul Hurley - 2017 - Social Theory and Practice 43 (1):29-54.
    Many consequentialists take their theory to be anchored by a deeply intuitive idea, the “Compelling Idea” that it is always permissible to promote the best outcome. I demonstrate that this Idea is not, in fact, intuitive at all either in its agent-neutral or its evaluator-relative form. There are deeply intuitive ideas concerning the relationship of deontic to telic evaluation, but the Compelling Idea is at best a controversial interpretation of such ideas, not itself one of them. Because there is no (...)
  8. Two Kinds of Consequentialism.Michael Smith - 2009 - Philosophical Issues 19 (1):257-272.
  9. Patient-Relativity in Morality.Matthew Hammerton - 2016 - Ethics 127 (1):06-26.
    It is common to distinguish moral rules, reasons, or values that are agent-relative from those that are agent-neutral. One can also distinguish moral rules, reasons, or values that are moment-relative from those that are moment-neutral. In this article, I introduce a third distinction that stands alongside these two distinctions—the distinction between moral rules, reasons, or values that are patient-relative and those that are patient-neutral. I then show how patient-relativity plays an important role in several moral theories, gives us a better (...)
  10. Against Securitism, the New Breed of Actualism in Consequentialist Thought.Jean-Paul Vessel - 2016 - Utilitas 28 (2):164-178.
    In Commonsense Consequentialism: Wherein Morality Meets Rationality, Douglas Portmore introduces a novel position regarding the actualist securitism – a position he argues is theoretically superior to the standard views in both the actualist and possibilist camps. After distinguishing the two camps through an examination of the original Procrastinate case, I present Portmore's securitism and its implications regarding his modified Procrastinate case. I level two serious objections against securitism: that it implausibly implies that morality is radically more demanding for the virtuous (...)
  11. A Royal Road to Consequentialism?Martin Peterson - 2010 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 13 (2):153-169.
    To consequentialise a moral theory means to account for moral phenomena usually described in nonconsequentialist terms, such as rights, duties, and virtues, in a consequentialist framework. This paper seeks to show that all moral theories can be consequentialised. The paper distinguishes between different interpretations of the consequentialiser’s thesis, and emphasises the need for a cardinal ranking of acts. The paper also offers a new answer as to why consequentialising moral theories is important: This yields crucial methodological insights about how to (...)
  12. Commonsense Consequentialism: Wherein Morality Meets Rationality, by Douglas W. Portmore.E. Mason - 2015 - Mind 124 (496):1363-1368.
  13. Reasons, Patterns, and Cooperation.Christopher Woodard - 2007 - Routledge.
    This book is about fundamental questions in normative ethics. It begins with the idea that we often respond to ethical theories according to how principled or pragmatic they are. It clarifies this contrast and then uses it to shed light on old debates in ethics, such as debates about the rival merits of consequentialist and deontological views. Using the idea that principled views seem most appealing in dilemmas of acquiescence, it goes on to develop a novel theory of pattern-based reasons. (...)
  14. Beyond Consequentialism.Alan Thomas - forthcoming - Philosophical Quarterly:pqv045.
  15. Three Methods of Ethics: A Debate.Marcia W. Baron, Philip Pettit & Michael Slote - 1997 - Wiley-Blackwell.
    During the past decade ethical theory has been in a lively state of development, and three basic approaches to ethics - Kantian ethics, consequentialism, and virtue ethics - have assumed positions of particular prominence.
  16. Commonsense Consequentialism: Wherein Morality Meets Rationality.Douglas W. Portmore - 2011 - New York, USA: 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 (...)
  17. Must Kantian Contractualism and Rule-Consequentialism Converge?Brad Hooker - 2014 - Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics 4:34-52.
    Derek Parfit’s On What Matters endorses Kantian Contractualism, the normative theory that everyone ought to follow the rules that everyone could rationally will that everyone accept. This paper explores Parfit’s argument that Kantian Contractualism converges with Rule Consequentialism. A pivotal concept in Parfit’s argument is the concept of impartiality, which he seems to equate agent-neutrality. This paper argues that equating impartiality and agent-neutrality is insufficient, since some agent-neutral considerations are silly and some are not impartial. Perhaps more importantly, there is (...)
  18. The Structure of Commonsense Morality: Consequentialist or Non-Consequentialist?Douglas William Portmore - 1998 - Dissertation, University of California, Santa Barbara
    In this dissertation, I argue that commonsense morality is best understood as an agent-relative consequentialist theory, that is, as a theory according to which agents ought always to bring about what is, from their own individual perspective, the best available state of affairs. I argue that the agent-relative consequentialist can provide the most plausible explanation for why it is wrong to commit a rights violation even in order to prevent a number of other agents from committing comparable rights violations: agents (...)
  19. Consequentialism: New Directions, New Problems?Christian Seidel (ed.) - forthcoming - Oxford University Press.
  20. Consequentialism.Walter Sinnott-Armstrong - forthcoming - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  21. 10. Douglas Portmore, Commonsense Consequentialism: Wherein Morality Meets Rationality Douglas Portmore, Commonsense Consequentialism: Wherein Morality Meets Rationality (Pp. 179-183). [REVIEW]Henry S. Richardson, Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek, Peter Singer, Karen Jones, Sergio Tenenbaum, Diana Raffman, Simon Căbulea May, Stephen C. Makin & Nancy E. Snow - 2012 - Ethics 123 (1).
  22. Precis of Commonsense Consequentialism and Replies to Gert, Hurley, and Tenenbaum.Douglas W. Portmore - forthcoming - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.
    For a symposium on Douglas W. Portmore's Commonsense Consequentialism: Wherein Morality Meets Rationality.
  23. Commonsense Consequentialism. By Douglas W. Portmore. (Oxford UP, 2011. Pp. Xi + 266. Price £27.50.). [REVIEW]Mark Roojen - 2013 - Philosophical Quarterly 63 (252):626-629.
  24. Book Reviews Portmore , Douglas . Commonsense Consequentialism: Wherein Morality Meets Rationality Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. 266. $74.00 (Paper). [REVIEW]Frances Howard-Snyder - 2012 - Ethics 123 (1):179-183.
  25. Portmore, Commonsense Consequentialism: Wherein Morality Meets Rationality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), Pp. Xx + 266. [REVIEW]Jean-Paul Vessel - 2012 - Utilitas 24 (4):551-554.
  26. In Defense of Consequentializing.James Dreier - 2011 - In Mark Timmons (ed.), Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Volume 1. Oxford University Press.
  27. Can Consequentialists Honour the Special Moral Status of Persons?Martin Peterson - 2010 - Utilitas 22 (4):434-446.
    It is widely believed that consequentialists are committed to the claim that persons are mere containers for well-being. In this article I challenge this view by proposing a new version of consequentialism, according to which the identities of persons matter. The new theory, two-dimensional prioritarianism, is a natural extension of traditional prioritarianism. Two-dimensional prioritarianism holds that wellbeing matters more for persons who are at a low absolute level than for persons who are at a higher level and that it is (...)
  28. Agent-Neutral and Agent-Relative.Douglas W. Portmore - forthcoming - In J. E. Crimmins & D. C. Long (eds.), Encyclopedia of Utilitarianism.
    This is an introduction to the agent-relative/agent-neutral distinction as it pertains to utilitarianism.
  29. Agent Neutrality is the Exclusive Feature of Consequentialism.Desheng Zong - 2000 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 38 (4):676-693.
    An idea that has attracted a lot of attention lately is the thought that consequentialism is a theory characterized basically by its agent neutrality.1 The idea, however, has also met with skepticism. In particular, it has been argued that agent neutrality cannot be what separates consequentialism from other types of theories of reasons for action, since there can be agent-neutral non-consequentialist theories as well as agent-relative consequentialist theories. I will argue in this paper that this last claim is false. The (...)
  30. Value and Agent-Relative Reasons.David McNaughton & Piers Rawling - 1995 - Utilitas 7 (1):31.
    In recent years the distinction between agent-relative and agent-neutral reasons has been taken by many to play a key role in distinguishing deontology from consequentialism. It is central to all universalist consequentialist theories that value is determined impersonally; the real value of any state of affairs does not depend on the point of view of the agent. No reference, therefore, to the agent or to his or her position in the world need enter into a consequentialist understanding of what makes (...)
  31. Agent-Neutral Reasons: Are They for Everyone?B. C. Postow - 1997 - Utilitas 9 (2):249.
    According to both deontologists and consequentialists, if there is a reason to promote the general happiness then the reason must apply to everyone. This view seems almost self-evident; to challenge it is to challenge the way we think of moral reasons. I contend, however, that the view depends on the unwarranted assumption that the only way to restrict the application scope of a reason for action is by restricting it to those agents whose interests or projects are involved in the (...)
  32. Neutral Versus Relative: A Reply to Broome, and McNaughton and Rawling.John Skorupski - 1996 - Utilitas 8 (2):235.
  33. Agent-Relativity and Terminological Inexactitudes.David McNaughton & Piers Rawling - 1995 - Utilitas 7 (2):319.
  34. Kinds of Consequentialism.Michael Smith - 2009 - In Ernest Sosa & Enrique Villanueva (eds.), Metaethics. Wiley Periodicals. pp. 257-272.
  35. Consequentialism's Double-Edged Sword.Benjamin Sachs - 2010 - Utilitas 22 (3):258-271.
    Recent work on consequentialism has revealed it to be more flexible than previously thought. Consequentialists have shown how their theory can accommodate certain features with which it has long been considered incompatible, such as agent-centered constraints. This flexibility is usually thought to work in consequentialism’s favor. I want to cast doubt on this assumption. I begin by putting forward the strongest statement of consequentialism’s flexibility: the claim that, whatever set of intuitions the best nonconsequentialist theory accommodates, we can construct a (...)
  36. “The Self-Other Asymmetry and Act Utilitarianism.”.Clay Splawn - 2001 - Utilitas 13 (3):323-333.
    The self-other asymmetry is a prominent and important feature of common-sense morality. It is also a feature that does not find a home in standard versions of act-utilitarianism. Theodore Sider has attempted to make a place for it by constructing a novel version of utilitarianism that incorporates the asymmetry into its framework. So far as I know, it is the best attempt to bring the two together. I argue, however, that Sider's ingenious attempt fails. I also offer a diagnosis that (...)
  37. “Can Consequentialization Advance the Cause of Consequentialism?”.Ben Sachs - manuscript
  38. Consequentialize This.Campbell Brown - 2011 - Ethics 121 (4):749-771.
    To 'consequentialise' is to take a putatively non-consequentialist moral theory and show that it is actually just another form of consequentialism. Some have speculated that every moral theory can be consequentialised. If this were so, then consequentialism would be empty; it would have no substantive content. As I argue here, however, this is not so. Beginning with the core consequentialist commitment to 'maximising the good', I formulate a precise definition of consequentialism and demonstrate that, given this definition, several sorts of (...)
  39. A Response to Splawn.Elizabeth Ashford - 2001 - Utilitas 13 (3):334-341.
    I argue that Sider's view does succeed in accommodating the kind of maximization he is after, according to which the agent is required to maximize overall welfare with the single exception of his own welfare. I then argue that Splawn's argument highlights some interesting and important ways in which Sider's view fail to capture basic common-sense intuitions concerning the self-other asymmetry, but offer a different diagnosis of the source of the problem.
  40. Consequentializing.Douglas W. Portmore - 2009 - Philosophy Compass 4 (2):329-347.
    A growing trend of thought has it that any plausible nonconsequentialist theory can be consequentialized, which is to say that it can be given a consequentialist representation. In this essay, I explore both whether this claim is true and what its implications are. I also explain the procedure for consequentializing a nonconsequentialist theory and give an account of the motivation for doing so.
  41. Chapter 5: Dual-Ranking Act-Consequentialism: Reasons, Morality, and Overridingness.Douglas W. Portmore - manuscript
    This is Chapter 5 of my Commonsense Consequentialism: Wherein Morality Meets Rationality. In this chapter, I argue that those who wish to accommodate typical instances of supererogation and agent-centered options must deny that moral reasons are morally overriding and accept both that the reason that agents have to promote their own self-interest is a non-moral reason and that this reason can, and sometimes does, prevent the moral reason that they have to sacrifice their self-interest so as to do more to (...)
  42. Consequentializing Commonsense Morality.Douglas W. Portmore - manuscript
    This is Chapter 4 of my Commonsense Consequentialism: Wherein Morality Meets Rationality. In this chapter, I argue that that any plausible nonconsequentialist theory can be consequentialized, which is to say that, for any plausible nonconsequentialist theory, we can construct a consequentialist theory that yields the exact same set of deontic verdicts that it yields.
  43. Structures of Normative Theories.James Dreier - 1993 - The Monist 76 (1):22-40.
    Normative theorists like to divide normative theories into classes. One special point of focus has been to place utilitarianism into a larger class of theories which do not necessarily share its view about what is alone of impersonal intrinsic value, namely, individual human well-being, but do share another structural feature, roughly its demand that each person seek to maximize the realization of what is of impersonal intrinsic value. The larger class is distinguished from its complement in two apparently different ways. (...)
  44. Relativity of Value and the Consequentialist Umbrella.Jennie Louise - 2004 - Philosophical Quarterly 54 (217):518–536.
    Does the real difference between non-consequentialist and consequentialist theories lie in their approach to value? Non-consequentialist theories are thought either to allow a different kind of value (namely, agent-relative value) or to advocate a different response to value ('honouring' rather than 'promoting'). One objection to this idea implies that all normative theories are describable as consequentialist. But then the distinction between honouring and promoting collapses into the distinction between relative and neutral value. A proper description of non-consequentialist theories can only (...)
  45. On Defending Deontology.David McNaughton & Piers Rawling - 1998 - Ratio 11 (1):37–54.
    This paper comprises three sections. First, we offer a traditional defence of deontology, in the manner of, for example, W.D. Ross (1965). The leading idea of such a defence is that the right is independent of the good. Second, we modify the now standard account of the distinction, in terms of the agent-relative/agentneutral divide, between deontology and consequentialism. (This modification is necessary if indirect consequentialism is to count as a form of consequentialism.) Third, we challenge a value-based defence of deontology (...)
  46. Can an Act-Consequentialist Theory Be Agent Relative?Douglas W. Portmore - 2001 - American Philosophical Quarterly 38 (4):363-77.
    A theory is agent neutral if it gives every agent the same set of aims and agent relative otherwise. Most philosophers take act-consequentialism to be agent-neutral, but I argue that at the heart of consequentialism is the idea that all acts are morally permissible in virtue of their propensity to promote value and that, given this, it is possible to have a theory that is both agent-relative and act-consequentialist. Furthermore, I demonstrate that agent-relative act-consequentialism can avoid the counterintuitive implications associated (...)
  47. Can Consequentialism Be Reconciled with Our Common-Sense Moral Intuitions?Douglas W. Portmore - 1998 - Philosophical Studies 91 (1):1-19.
    Consequentialism is usually thought to be unable to accommodate many of our commonsense moral intuitions. In particular, it has seemed incompatible with the intuition that agents should not violate someone's rights even in order to prevent numerous others from committing comparable rights violations. Nevertheless, I argue that a certain form of consequentialism can accommodate this intuition: agent-relative consequentialism--the view according to which agents ought always to bring about what is, from their own individual perspective, the best available outcome. Moreover, I (...)
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