The Unreliability of Foreseeable Consequences: A Return to the Epistemic Objection

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 18 (4):759-766 (2015)
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Abstract

Consequentialists maintain that an act is morally right just in case it produces the best consequences of any available alternative. Because agents are ignorant about some of their acts’ consequences, they cannot be certain about which alternative is best. Kagan contends that it is reasonable to assume that unforeseen good and bad consequences roughly balance out and can be largely disregarded. A statistical argument demonstrates that Kagan’s assumption is almost always false. An act’s foreseeable consequences are an extremely poor indicator of the goodness of its overall consequences. Acting based on foreseeable consequences is barely more reliably good than acting completely at random

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Samuel Elgin
University of California, San Diego

References found in this work

Utilitarianism: For and Against.J. J. C. Smart & Bernard Williams - 1973 - Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Edited by Bernard Williams.
Normative Ethics.Shelly Kagan - 1998 - Westview Press.
Consequentialism and Cluelessness.James Lenman - 2000 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 29 (4):342-370.

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