Philosophical Issues 15 (1):140–157 (2005)

Thomas L. Carson
Loyola University, Chicago
An important test of any moral theory is whether it can give a satisfactory account of moral prohibitions such as those against promise breaking and lying. Act-utilitarianism (hereafter utilitarianism) implies that any act can be justified if it results in the best consequences. Utilitarianism implies that it is sometimes morally right to break promises and tell lies. Few people find this result to be counterintuitive and very few are persuaded by Kant’s arguments that attempt to show that lying is always wrong, even if it is necessary to save someone’s life. One thing that makes Kant’s view about lying so implausible is that he is committed to the view that the duty not to lie is always more important than any conflicting duties. Even if we agree with utilitarianism that lying and promise breaking are sometimes morally permissible, we may still be inclined to think that utilitarianism is too permissive about lying and promise breaking. Ross gives the definitive statement of this criticism. He holds that there is a strong, but overrridable, moral presumption against telling lies and breaking promises that is independent of utilitarian considerations. Almost all utilitarians claim that there is a strong moral presumption against telling lies and breaking promises on account of the direct and indirect bad consequences of those actions. However, utilitarians cannot say that there is any moral presumption against lying and promise breaking that is independent of their bad consequences. Many philosophers think that Ross’s theory constitutes a kind of reasonable middle ground in ethics between Kant’s absolutism and utilitarianism. Ross’s theory is arguably the major ethical theory that is closest to most people’s commonsense moral beliefs. It is noteworthy that the two most important defenders of rule-utilitarianism/rule-consequentialism.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1111/j.1533-6077.2005.00058.x
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 69,043
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Consequentialism and Promises.Alida Liberman - 2020 - In Douglas Portmore (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Consequentialism. pp. 289 - 309.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Promises Beyond Assurance.Nicholas Southwood & Daniel Friedrich - 2009 - Philosophical Studies 144 (2):261 - 280.
Moral Rules and Particular Circumstances.Baruch A. Brody - 1970 - Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall.
Is Divorce Promise-Breaking?Elizabeth Brake - 2011 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 14 (1):23-39.
A Utilitarian Reply to Dr. McCloskey.T. L. S. Sprigge - 1965 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 8 (1-4):264 – 291.
The Definition of Lying.Thomas L. Carson - 2006 - Noûs 40 (2):284–306.


Added to PP index

Total views
209 ( #54,037 of 2,498,761 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
6 ( #118,446 of 2,498,761 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes