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. Prioritarianism: Room for Desert?Matthew D. Adler - 2018 - Utilitas 30 (2):172-197.
  2. 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. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 (...)
  4. In Defense of Consequentializing.James Dreier - 2011 - In Mark Timmons (ed.), Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Volume 1. Oxford University Press.
  5. 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. (...)
  6. 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 (...)
  7. Agent-Relativity and the Foundations of Moral Theory.Matthew Hammerton - 2017 - Dissertation, Australian National University
  8. 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 (...)
  9. 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 (...)
  10. 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.
  11. 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 (...)
  12. 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 (...)
  13. Commonsense Consequentialism: Wherein Morality Meets Rationality, by Douglas W. Portmore.E. Mason - 2015 - Mind 124 (496):1363-1368.
  14. 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 (...)
  15. Agent-Relativity and Terminological Inexactitudes.David McNaughton & Piers Rawling - 1995 - Utilitas 7 (2):319.
  16. 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 (...)
  17. 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 (...)
  18. 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 (...)
  19. 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 (...)
  20. 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.
  21. 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 (...)
  22. 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.
  23. 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.
  24. 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 (...)
  25. 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.
  26. Dual-Ranking Act-Consequentialism.Douglas W. Portmore - 2008 - Philosophical Studies 138 (3):409 - 427.
    Dual-ranking act-consequentialism (DRAC) is a rather peculiar version of act-consequentialism. Unlike more traditional forms of act-consequentialism, DRAC doesn’t take the deontic status of an action to be a function of some evaluative ranking of outcomes. Rather, it takes the deontic status of an action to be a function of some non-evaluative ranking that is in turn a function of two auxiliary rankings that are evaluative. I argue that DRAC is promising in that it can accommodate certain features of commonsense morality (...)
  27. Consequentializing Moral Theories.Douglas W. Portmore - 2007 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 88 (1):39–73.
    To consequentialize a non-consequentialist theory, take whatever considerations that the non-consequentialist theory holds to be relevant to determining the deontic statuses of actions and insist that those considerations are relevant to determining the proper ranking of outcomes. In this way, the consequentialist can produce an ordering of outcomes that when combined with her criterion of rightness yields the same set of deontic verdicts that the non-consequentialist theory yields. In this paper, I argue that any plausible non-consequentialist theory can be consequentialized. (...)
  28. Combining Teleological Ethics with Evaluator Relativism: A Promising Result.Douglas W. Portmore - 2005 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 86 (1):95–113.
    Consequentialism is an agent-neutral teleological theory, and deontology is an agent-relative non-teleological theory. I argue that a certain hybrid of the two—namely, non-egoistic agent-relative teleological ethics (NATE)—is quite promising. This hybrid takes what is best from both consequentialism and deontology while leaving behind the problems associated with each. Like consequentialism and unlike deontology, NATE can accommodate the compelling idea that it is always permissible to bring about the best available state of affairs. Yet unlike consequentialism and like deontology, NATE accords (...)
  29. Position‐Relative Consequentialism, Agent‐Centered Options, and Supererogation.Douglas W. Portmore - 2003 - Ethics 113 (2):303-332.
    In this paper, I argue that maximizing act-consequentialism (MAC)—the theory that holds that agents ought always to act so as to produce the best available state of affairs—can accommodate both agent-centered options and supererogatory acts. Thus I will show that MAC can accommodate the view that agents often have the moral option of either pursuing their own personal interests or sacrificing those interests for the sake of the impersonal good. And I will show that MAC can accommodate the idea that (...)
  30. 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 (...)
  31. Commonsense Morality and Not Being Required to Maximize the Overall Good.Douglas W. Portmore - 2000 - Philosophical Studies 100 (2):193-213.
    On commonsense morality, there are two types of situations where an agent is not required to maximize the impersonal good. First, there are those situations where the agent is prohibited from doing so--constraints. Second, there are those situations where the agent is permitted to do so but also has the option of doing something else--options. I argue that there are three possible explanations for the absence of a moral requirement to maximize the impersonal good and that the commonsense moralist must (...)
  32. 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 (...)
  33. 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 (...)
  34. 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 (...)
  35. Against Evaluator Relativity: A Response to Sen.Donald H. Regan - 1983 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 12 (2):93-112.
  36. 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).
  37. 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.
  38. “Can Consequentialization Advance the Cause of Consequentialism?”.Ben Sachs - manuscript
  39. 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 (...)
  40. Symposium on Amartya Sen's Philosophy: 3 Sen and Consequentialism.T. M. Scanlon - 2001 - Economics and Philosophy 17 (1):39-50.
    It is a particular pleasure to be able to participate in this symposium in honor of Amartya Sen. We agree on a wide range of topics, but I will focus here on an area of relative disagreement. Sen is much more attracted to consequentialism than I am, and the main topic of my paper will be the particular version of consequentialism that he has articulated and the reasons why he is drawn to this view.
  41. Teleology, Agent‐Relative Value, and 'Good'.Mark Schroeder - 2007 - Ethics 117 (2):265-000.
    It is now generally understood that constraints play an important role in commonsense moral thinking and generally accepted that they cannot be accommodated by ordinary, traditional consequentialism. Some have seen this as the most conclusive evidence that consequentialism is hopelessly wrong,1 while others have seen it as the most conclusive evidence that moral common sense is hopelessly paradoxical.2 Fortunately, or so it is widely thought, in the last twenty-five years a new research program, that of Agent-Relative Teleology, has come to (...)
  42. Not so Promising After All: Evaluator-Relative Teleology and Common-Sense Morality.Mark Schroeder - 2006 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 87 (3):348–356.
    Douglas Portmore has recently argued in this journal for a "promising result" – that combining teleological ethics with "evaluator relativism" about the good allows an ethical theory to account for deontological intuitions while "accommodat[ing] the compelling idea that it is always permissible to bring about the best available state of affairs." I show that this result is false. It follows from the indexical semantics of evaluator relativism that Portmore's compelling idea is false. I also try to explain what might have (...)
  43. 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 (...)
  44. Consequentialism: New Directions, New Problems?Christian Seidel (ed.) - forthcoming - Oxford University Press.
  45. Consequential Evaluation and Practical Reason.Amartya Sen - 2000 - Journal of Philosophy 97 (9):477-502.
  46. Positional Objectivity.Amartya Sen - 1993 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 22 (2):126-145.
  47. Evaluator Relativity and Consequential Evaluation.Amartya Sen - 1983 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 12 (2):113-132.
  48. Rights and Agency.Amartya Sen - 1982 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 11 (1):3-39.
    This paper is about three distinct but interrelated problems: (1) the role 0f rights in moral theory, (2) thc characterization 0f agent relative values and their admissibility in consequ<—:ncc—bascd evaluation, and ( 3) the nature 0f moral evaluation 0f states 0f aihirs.
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