A dilemma for objective act-utilitarianism

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 3 (2):221-239 (2004)

Gerald Lang
University of Leeds
Act-utilitarianism comes in two standard varieties: ‘subjective’ act-utilitarianism, which tells agents to attempt to maximize utility directly, and ‘objective’ act-utilitarianism, which permits agents to use non-utilitarian decision-making procedures. This article argues that objective actutilitarianism is exposed to a dilemma. On one horn of it is the contention that objective act-utilitarianism makes inconsistent claims about the rightness of acts. On the other horn of it is the contention that objective act-utilitarianism collapses back into what is, essentially, subjective act-utilitarianism. Three objective act-utilitarian responses to this dilemma are explored and rejected. The recommended conclusion is that a consistent utilitarian must either embrace subjective act-utilitarianism, or abandon act-utilitarianism altogether. Key Words: act-utilitarianism • subjective • objective • decision-making procedure • criterion of rightness • dilemma.
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DOI 10.1177/1470594X04042966
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