Actualism, Possibilism, and the Nature of Consequentialism

In Douglas W. Portmore (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Consequentialism. New York, USA: Oxford University Press (Forthcoming)

Authors
Yishai Cohen
University of Southern Maine
Travis Timmerman
Seton Hall University
Abstract
The actualism/possibilism debate in ethics is about whether counterfactuals of freedom concerning what an agent would freely do if they were in certain circumstances even partly determines that agent’s obligations. This debate arose from an argument against the coherence of utilitarianism in the deontic logic literature. In this chapter, we first trace the historical origins of this debate and then examine actualism, possibilism, and securitism through the lens of consequentialism. After examining their respective benefits and drawbacks, we argue that, contrary to what has been assumed, actualism and securitism both succumb to the so-called nonratifiability problem. In making this argument, we develop this problem in detail and argue that it’s a much more serious problem than has been appreciated. We conclude by arguing that an alternative view, hybridism, is independently the most plausible position and best fits with the nature of consequentialism, partly in light of avoiding the nonratifiability problem.
Keywords Actualism  Possibilism  Consequentialism
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