This work deals with all aspects of consequentialism, encompassing utilitarianism, alienation and the demands of morality, restrictive consequentialism, alternative actions, an objectivist's guide to subjective value, recent work on the limits of obligation and more.
An important issue in epistemology concerns the source of epistemic normativity. Epistemic consequentialism maintains that epistemic norms are genuine norms in virtue of the way in which they are conducive to epistemic value, whatever epistemic value may be. So, for example, the epistemic consequentialist might say that it is a norm that beliefs should be consistent, in that holding consistent beliefs is the best way to achieve the epistemic value of accuracy. Thus epistemic consequentialism is structurally similar to (...) the family of consequentialist views in ethics. Recently, philosophers from both formal epistemology and traditional epistemology have shown interest in such a view. In formal epistemology, there has been particular interest in thinking of epistemology as a kind of decision theory where instead of maximizing expected utility one maximizes expected epistemic utility. In traditional epistemology, there has been particular interest in various forms of reliabilism about justification and whether such views are analogous to—and so face similar problems to—versions of consequentialism in ethics. This volume presents some of the most recent work on these topics as well as others related to epistemic consequentialism, by authors that are sympathetic to the view and those who are critical of it. (shrink)
Consequentialism is the view that the rightness or wrongness of actions depend solely on their consequences. It is one of the most influential, and controversial, of all ethical theories. In this book, Julia Driver introduces and critically assesses consequentialism in all its forms. After a brief historical introduction to the problem, Driver examines utilitarianism, and the arguments of its most famous exponents, John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, and explains the fundamental questions underlying utilitarian theory: what value is (...) to be specified and how it is to be maximized. Driver also discusses indirect forms of consequentialism, the important theories of motive consequentialism and virtue consequentialism, and explains why the distinction between subjective and objective consequentialism is so important. Including helpful features such as a glossary, chapter summaries, and annotated further reading at the end of each chapter, Consequentialism is ideal for students seeking an authoritative and clearly explained survey of this important problem. (shrink)
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 ranked, not according to their impersonal value, but according to how much reason the relevant agent has to desire that each outcome obtains and that, when outcomes are ranked in this way, we arrive at a version of consequentialism that can better account for our commonsense moral intuitions than even many forms of deontology can. What's more, Portmore argues that we should accept this version of consequentialism, because we should accept both that an agent can be morally required to do only what she has most reason to do and that what she has most reason to do is to perform the act that would produce the outcome that she has most reason to want to obtain.Although the primary aim of the book is to defend a particular moral theory, Portmore defends this theory as part of a coherent whole concerning our commonsense views about the nature and substance of both morality and rationality. Thus, it will be of interest not only to those working on consequentialism and other areas of normative ethics, but also to those working in metaethics. Beyond offering an account of morality, Portmore offers accounts of practical reasons, practical rationality, and the objective/subjective obligation distinction. (shrink)
The rightness and wrongness of actions fits on a continuous scale. This fits the way we evaluate actions chosen among a diverse range of options, even though English speakers don’t use the words “righter” and “wronger”. I outline and defend a version of scalar consequentialism, according to which rightness is a matter of degree, determined by how good the consequences are. Linguistic resources are available to let us truly describe actions simply as right. Some deontological theories face problems in (...) accounting for degrees of rightness, as they don't invoke continuous parameters among the right-making features of action. (shrink)
Recent work on essence describes essence as assimilated to definition. It also posits a plurality of kinds of essence.Howdoes assimilation relate to pluralism? According to one view, a kind of essence is adequate only if it is definitional: something is essential to an item, in the relevant sense, only if it is part of what it is to be that item. In this paper, I argue that assimilation and pluralism are in tension with respect to consequentialist essence. This is problematic (...) given that, as a methodological prescription, some philosophers advise us to work with consequentialist essence. In this paper, I develop a theory of constitutive essence and use it to resolve the problem by defining an adequate notion of consequentialist essence that preserves the methodological prescription. (shrink)
Many consequentialists argue that you ought to do your part in collective action problems like climate change mitigation and ending factory farming because (i) all such problems are triggering cases, in which there is a threshold number of people such that the outcome will be worse if at least that many people act in a given way than if fewer do, and (ii) doing your part in a triggering case maximises expected value. I show that both (i) and (ii) are (...) false: Some triggering cases cannot be solved by appeal to expected value, since they involve infinities, and some collective action problems are not triggering cases, since they involve parity. However, I argue that consequentialism can still generally prohibit failure to do your part in those collective action problems where we believe that so acting would be impermissible. (shrink)
In the 1960’s, Lars Bergström and Hector-Neri Castañeda noticed a problem with alternative acts and consequentialism. The source of the problem is that some performable acts are versions of other performable acts and the versions need not have the same consequences as the originals. Therefore, if all performable acts are among the agent’s alternatives, act consequentialism yields deontic paradoxes. A standard response is to restrict the application of act consequentialism to certain relevant alternative sets. Many proposals are (...) based on some variation of maximalism, that is, the view that act consequentialism should only be applied to maximally specific acts. In this paper, I argue that maximalism cannot yield the right prescriptions in some cases where one can either (i) form at once the intention to do an immediate act and form at a later time the intention to do a succeeding act or (ii) form at once the intention to do both acts and where the consequences of (i) and (ii) differ in value. Maximalism also violates normative invariance, that is, the condition that if an act is performable in a situation, then the normative status of the act does not depend on what acts are performed in the situation. Instead of maximalism, I propose that the relevant alternatives should be the exhaustive combinations of acts the agent can jointly perform without performing any other act in the situation. In this way, one avoids the problem of act versions without violating normative invariance. Another advantage is that one can adequately differentiate between possibilities like (i) and (ii). (shrink)
In this anthology, distinguished scholars--Thomas Nagel, T.M. Scanlon, John Rawls, Robert Nozick, Samuela Scheffler, Conrad D. Johnson, Bernard Williams, Peter Railton, Amartya Sen, Philippa Foot, and Derek Parfit-- debate arguments for and against the moral doctrine of consequentialism to present a complete view of this important topic in moral philosophy.
The central problem for normative ethics is the conflict between a consequentialist view--that morality requires promoting the good of all--and a belief that the rights of the individual place significant constraints on what may be done to help others. Standard interpretations see Kant as rejecting all forms of consequentialism, and defending a theory which is fundamentally duty-based and agent-centered. Certain actions, like sacrificing the innocent, are categorically forbidden. In this original and controversial work, Cummiskey argues that there is no (...) defensible basis for this view, that Kant's own arguments actually entail a consequentialist conclusion. But this new form of consequentialism which follows from Kant's theories has a distinctly Kantian tone. The capacity of rational action is prior to the value of happiness; thus providing justification for the view that rational nature is more important than mere pleasures and pains. (shrink)
In this chapter we explain what the no-difference challenge is, focusing in particular on act consequentialism. We talk about how different theories of causation affect the no-difference challenge; how the challenge shows up in real-world cases including voting, global labour injustice, global poverty, and climate change; and we work through a number of the solutions to the challenge that have been offered, arguing that many fail to actually meet it. We defend and extend one solution that does, and present (...) a further solution of our own. (shrink)
This paper argues that objective consequentialism is incompatible with the rationales of ‘ “ought” implies “can” ’ – with the considerations, that is, that explain or justify this principle. Objective consequentialism is the moral doctrine that an act is right if and only if there is no alternative with a better outcome, and wrong otherwise. An act is obligatory if and only if it is wrong not to perform it. According to ‘ “ought” implies “can” ’, a person (...) is morally obligated to φ only if the person can φ. The rationales of ‘ “ought” implies “can” ’ include considerations related to intuitive plausibility, action-guidance, blameworthiness and fairness, and the nature of practical reasons. (shrink)
Consequentialist positions in philosophy spell out normative notions by recourse to final aims. Hedonistic versions of ETHICAL consequentialism spell out what is MORALLY right/justified via recourse to the aim of increasing pleasure and decreasing pain. Veritistic versions of EPISTEMIC consequentialism spell out what is EPISTEMICALLY right/justified via recourse to the aim of increasing the number of true beliefs and decreasing the number of false ones. Even though these theories are in many respects structurally analogous, there are also interesting (...) disanalogies. For example, popular versions of epistemic consequentialism implicitly endorse the truth-indication principle (which claims that a belief is epistemically justified only if there are factors indicating that the belief itself is true), whereas popular versions of ethical consequentialism do not subscribe to an analogous pleasure-indicating principle (which claims that an act is morally justified only if there are factors indicating that performing the act itself is pleasurable). In a first step I will argue that this difference rests on the fact that plausible versions of epistemic consequentialism have to meet certain constraints, which versions of ethical consequentialism do not have to satisfy. As these constraints can be easily met by incorporating the truth-indication principle, epistemic consequentialists tend to subscribe to it. In a second step I will investigate whether the identified constraints can also be met independent from the truth-indication principle. Are there plausible versions of veritistic epistemic consequentialism that reject the principle, thereby allowing that some beliefs can be epistemically justified even though no factors speak in favor of their truth? Building on ideas put forward by Ludwig Wittgenstein, Crispin Wright, and others, I will answer this question affirmatively. (shrink)
Behaviour norms are considered for decision trees which allow both objective probabilities and uncertain states of the world with unknown probabilities. Terminal nodes have consequences in a given domain. Behaviour is required to be consistent in subtrees. Consequentialist behaviour, by definition, reveals a consequence choice function independent of the structure of the decision tree. It implies that behaviour reveals a revealed preference ordering satisfying both the independence axiom and a novel form of sure-thing principle. Continuous consequentialist behaviour must be expected (...) utility maximizing. Other plausible assumptions then imply additive utilities, subjective probabilities, and Bayes' rule. (shrink)
Does the decision to relax by taking a drive rather than by taking a walk cause harm? In particular, do the additional carbon emissions caused by such a decision make anyone worse off? Recently several philosophers have argued that the answer is no, and on this basis have gone on to claim that act-consequentialism cannot provide a moral reason for individuals to voluntarily reduce their emissions. The reasoning typically consists of two steps. First, the effect of individual emissions on (...) the weather is miniscule: the planet’s meteorological system is so large, and the size of individual emissions so tiny, that whatever impact an individual emission has on the weather must be vanishingly small. Second, vanishingly small impacts aren’t morally relevant because no one could possibly tell the difference between such an impact occurring and it not occurring. In this paper, we show why both steps are mistaken, and hence why act-consequentialism implies that each of us has an individual obligation to do what we can to stop damaging the climate, including by refraining from, or perhaps by purchasing offsets against, our own individual luxury carbon emissions. (shrink)
Consequentialism collects, for the first time, both the main classical sources and the central contemporary expressions of this important position. Edited and introduced by Stephen Darwall, these readings are essential for anyone interested in normative ethics.
It seems that the debate between objective and subjective consequentialists might be resolved by appealing to the ought implies can principle. Howard-Snyder has suggested that if one does not know how to do something, cannot do it, and thus one cannot have an obligation to do it. I argue that this depends on an overly rich conception of ability, and that we need to look beyond the ought implies can principle to answer the question. Once we do so, it appears (...) that Prichard might have been at least partly right when he claimed that obligations are tryings. I go some way to defending a diluted version of Prichard's view. (shrink)
What is it for a life to be meaningful? In this article, I defend what I call Consequentialism about Meaning in Life, the view that one's life is meaningful at time t just in case one's surviving at t would be good in some way, and one's life was meaningful considered as a whole just in case the world was made better in some way for one's having existed.
Consequentialism is a general approach to understanding the nature of morality that seems to entail a certain view of the world in time. This entailment raises specific problems for the approach. The first seems to lead to the conclusion that every actual act is right – an unacceptable result for any moral theory. The second calls into question the idea that consequentialism is an approach to morality, for it leads to the conclusion that this approach produces a theory (...) whose truth does not depend in any way on the nature of rational beings or value. (shrink)
Frank Jackson has put forward a famous thought experiment of a physician who has to decide on the correct treatment for her patient. Subjective consequentialism tells the physician to do what intuitively seems to be the right action, whereas objective consequentialism fails to guide the physician’s action. I suppose that objective consequentialists want to supplement their theory so that it guides the physician’s action towards what intuitively seems to be the right treatment. Since this treatment is wrong according (...) to objective consequentialism, objective consequentialists have to license it without calling it right. I consider eight strategies to spell out the idea of licensing the intuitively right treatment and argue that objective consequentialism is on the horns of what I call the licensing dilemma : Either the physician’s action is not guided towards the intuitively right treatment. Or the guidance towards the intuitively right treatment is ad hoc in some respect or the other. (shrink)
I develop and defend a maximizing theory of moral motivation: I claim that consequentialists should recommend only those desires, emotions, and dispositions that will make the outcome best. I advance a conservative account of the motives that are possible for us; I say that a motive is an alternative if and only if it is in our psychological control. The resulting theory is less demanding than its competitors. It also permits us to maintain many of the motivations that we value (...) most, including our love for those most important to us. I conclude that we are closer to meeting morality’s demands on our character than has been appreciated. (shrink)
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 consequentialist theory that can do the same while still retaining whatever is compelling about consequentialism. I argue that if this is true then most likely the non-consequentialist theory with which we started will turn out to have that same compelling feature. So while this extreme flexibility, if indeed consequentialism has it (a question I leave to the side), makes consequentialism more appealing, it makes non-consequentialism more appealing too. (shrink)
Moral wrongness comes in degrees. On a consequentialist view of ethics, the wrongness of an act should depend, I argue, in part on how much worse the act's consequences are compared with those of its alternatives and in part on how difficult it is to perform the alternatives with better consequences. I extend act consequentialism to take this into account, and I defend three conditions on consequentialist theories. The first is consequentialist dominance, which says that, if an act has (...) better consequences than some alternative act, then it is not more wrong than the alternative act. The second is consequentialist supervenience, which says that, if two acts have equally good consequences in a situation, then they have the same deontic status in the situation. And the third is consequentialist continuity, which says that, for every act and for any difference in wrongness δ greater than zero, there is an arbitrarily small improvement of the consequences of the act which would, other things being equal, not change the wrongness of that act or any alternative by more than δ. I defend a proposal that satisfies these conditions. (shrink)
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 (...) Compelling Idea at the heart of consequentialism, there is no initial burden of proof to be discharged nor any air of paradox to be cleared away by its opponents. (shrink)
Virtue consequentialism has been held by many prominent philosophers, but has never been properly formulated. I criticize Julia Driver's formulation of virtue consequentialism and offer an alternative. I maintain that according to the best version of virtue consequentialism, attributions of virtue are really disguised comparisons between two character traits, and the consequences of a trait in non-actual circumstances may affect its actual status as a virtue or vice. Such a view best enables the consequentialist to account for (...) moral luck, unexemplified virtues, and virtues and vices involving the prevention of goodness and badness. (shrink)
An influential objection to act-consequentialism holds that the theory is unduly demanding. This paper is an attempt to approach this critique of act-consequentialism – the Overdemandingness Objection – from a different, so far undiscussed, angle. First, the paper argues that the most convincing form of the Objection claims that consequentialism is overdemanding because it requires us, with decisive force, to do things that, intuitively, we do not have decisive reason to perform. Second, in order to investigate the (...) existence of the intuition, the paper reports empirical evidence of how people see the normative significance of consequentialist requirements.. In a scenario study that recruited a sample which is representative of the German population in key characteristics, it finds that there is no widely shared intuition as to the excessive demandingness of consequentialist requirements, although people do find higher demands less reasonable. This is true irrespective of people’s level of formal education despite the fact that lower levels of formal education are associated with an increased likelihood of having intuitions that are consistent with the Objection. Apart from contributing in this way to the debate concerning the Overdemandingness Objection, the paper also more directly speaks to the basic discussion concerning the status and role of intuitions in moral philosophy. It discusses methodological questions relevant to the role of intuitions and ends with proposing an improved methodology to investigate intuitions that connects them to emotions in a particular way and also proposes a role for virtue. (shrink)
I explore the debate about whether consequentialist theories can adequately accommodate the moral force of promissory obligation. I outline a straightforward act consequentialist account grounded in the value of satisfying expectations, and raise and assess three objections to this account: that it counterintuitively predicts that certain promises should be broken when commonsense morality insists that they should be kept, that the account is circular, and Michael Cholbi’s argument that this account problematically implies that promise-making is frequently obligatory. I then discuss (...) alternative act consequentialist accounts, including Philip Pettit’s suggestion that promise-keeping is an intrinsic good and Michael Smith’s agent-relative account. I outline Brad Hooker’s rule consequentialist account of promissory obligation and raise a challenge for it. I conclude that appeals to intuitions about cases will not settle the dispute, and that consequentialists and their critics must instead engage in substantive debate about the nature and stringency of promissory obligation. (shrink)
Consequentialists claim that their theory is simply that the right action is whichever one will lead to the best state of affairs - and that this formulation provides a powerful intuitive ground for accepting consequentialism. Recent arguments in value theory threaten to show that this formulation lacks either coherent meaning, because states of affairs cannot be good simpliciter, or philosophical power, because their goodness provides no reason to bring them about. I respond to two such arguments - from Judith (...) Jarvis Thomson and Richard Kraut - contending that none can be made to work in a way which undercuts consequentialism's simple formulation. (shrink)
In Consequentialism Reconsidered, Carlson strives to find a plausible formulation of the structural part of consequentialism. Key notions are analyzed, such as outcomes, alternatives and performability. Carlson argues that consequentialism should be understood as a maximizing rather than a satisficing theory, and as temporally neutral rather than future oriented. He also shows that certain moral theories cannot be reformulated as consequentialist theories. The relevant alternatives for an agent in a situation are taken to comprise all actions that (...) they can perform in the situation. The defense of this idea necessitates certain modifications to the standard consequentialist criteria of obligatoriness, rightness and wrongness. The problem of whether agents should adapt their actions to their own future actions is also addressed. Further, a conditional analysis of performability is suggested, and it is argued that particular actions should in this connection be regarded as `abstract' rather than `concrete'. The final chapter sketches a consequentialist theory for collective agents. (shrink)
Rule-Consequentialism faces “the problem of partial acceptance”: How should the ideal code be selected given the possibility that its rules may not be universally accepted? A new contender, “Calculated Rates” Rule-Consequentialism claims to solve this problem. However, I argue that Calculated Rates merely relocates the partial acceptance question. Nevertheless, there is a significant lesson from this failure of Calculated Rates. Rule-Consequentialism’s problem of partial acceptance is more helpfully understood as an instance of the broader problem of selecting (...) the ideal code given various assumptions—assumptions about who will accept and comply with the rules, but also about how the rules will be taught and enforced, and how similar the future will be. Previous rich discussions about partial acceptance provide a taxonomy and groundwork for formulating the best version of Rule-Consequentialism. (shrink)
Epistemic ConsequentialismConsequentialism is the view that, in some sense, rightness is to be understood in terms conducive to goodness. Much of the philosophical discussion concerning consequentialism has focused on moral rightness or obligation or normativity. But there is plausibly also epistemic rightness, epistemic obligation, and epistemic normativity. Epistemic rightness is often denoted with talk … Continue reading Consequentialism Epistemic →.
According to traditional forms of act-consequentialism, an action is right if and only if no other action in the given circumstances would have better consequences. It has been argued that this view does not leave us enough freedom to choose between actions which we intuitively think are morally permissible but not required options. In the first half of this article, I will explain why the previous consequentialist responses to this objection are less than satisfactory. I will then attempt to (...) show that agents have more options on consequentialist grounds than the traditional forms of act-consequentialism acknowledged. This is because having a choice between many permissible options can itself have value. (shrink)
Peter Singer argues, on consequentialist grounds, that individuals ought to be vegetarian. Many have pressed, in response, a causal impotence objection to Singer’s argument: any individual person’s refraining from purchasing and consuming animal products will not have an important effect on contemporary farming practices. In this paper, I sketch a Singer-inspired consequentialist argument for vegetarianism that avoids this objection. The basic idea is that, for agents who are aware of the origins of their food, continuing to consume animal products is (...) morally bad because it leads to not appropriately disvaluing the origins of their food. That is a morally bad outcome that can be avoided by becoming vegetarian. (shrink)
Elsewhere we have responded to the so-called demandingness objection to consequentialism – that consequentialism is excessively demanding and is therefore unacceptable as a moral theory – by introducing the theoretical position we call institutional consequentialism. This is a consequentialist view that, however, requires institutional systems, and not individuals, to follow the consequentialist principle. In this paper, we first introduce and explain the theory of institutional consequentialism and the main reasons that support it. In the remainder of (...) the paper, we turn to the global dimension where the first and foremost challenge is to explain how institutional consequentialism can deal with unsolved global problems such as poverty, war and climate change. In response, following the general idea of institutional consequentialism, we draw up three alternative routes: relying on existing national, transnational and supranational institutions; promoting gradual institutional reform; and advocating radical changes to the status quo. We evaluate these routes by describing normatively relevant properties of the existing global institutional system, as well as by showing what institutional consequentialism can say about alternatives to it: a world government; and multi-layered sovereignty/neo-medieval system. (shrink)
Rule consequentialism (RC) holds that the rightness and wrongness of actions is determined by an ideal moral code, i.e., the set of rules whose internalization would have the best consequences. But just how many moral codes are there supposed to be? Absolute RC holds that there is a single morally ideal code for everyone, while Relative RC holds that there are different codes for different groups or individuals. I argue that Relative RC better meets the test of reflective equilibrium (...) than Absolute RC. In particular, I contend that Relative RC is superior because it accommodates our convictions about costless benefits. Some have charged that Relative RC threatens our convictions about the generality of moral codes and that it leads inevitably to what Brad Hooker calls “runaway relativism.” I argue that Relative RC has principled reasons for stopping this imagined slide down the slippery slope. (shrink)
The standard problem with many slippery slope arguments is that they fail to provide us with the necessary evidence to warrant our believing that the significantly morally worse circumstances they predict will in fact come about. As such these arguments have widely been criticised as ‘scare-mongering’. Consequentialists have traditionally been at the forefront of such criticisms, demanding that we get serious about guiding our prescriptions for right action by a comprehensive appreciation of the empirical facts. This is not surprising, since (...)consequentialism has traditionally been committed to the idea that right action be driven by empirical realities, and this hard-headed approach has been an especially notable feature of Australian consequentialism. But this apparent empirical hard-headedness is very selective. While consequentialists have understood their moral outlook and commitments as guided by a partnership with empirical science – most explicitly in their replies to the arguments of their detractors – some consequentialists have been remarkably complacent about providing empirical support for their own prescriptions. Our key example here is the consequentialist claim that our current practises of partiality in fact maximise the good, impartially conceived. This claim has invariably been made without compelling support for the large empirical claims upon which it rests, and so, like the speculative empirical hand-waving of weak slippery slope arguments, it seems similarly to be undermined. While these arguments have presented us with ‘wishful thinking’ rather than ‘scare-mongering’, we argue in this paper that their complacency in meeting the relevant empirical justificatory burden remains much the same. (shrink)
In this paper I explore the limits that are placed on normative theories by concerns about what we can be responsible for. I argue that there is a Responsibility Constraint on all normative ethical theories – what is deemed right or wrong must be something agents could reasonably be deemed responsible for. In this paper I examine how this constraint affects consequentialism. I argue that we should understand Bernard Williams’ objections to consequentialism (and other normative theories) as being (...) based on the Responsibility Constraint. I argue that it is open to consequentialists to accept a robust descriptive account of responsibility and hence accept surprising results for the normative theory. I use the example of coercion to show that, at least in come circumstances, consequentialism can allow a doing/allowing distinction – this contrasts with the standard way of accommodating a doing/allowing distinction, which allows agent relativity directly into the theory. I close by addressing James Lenman’s worry, that consequentialists are clueless about unforeseeable consequences, and that this undermines the theory. I show that if we see the limits of consequentialism as being defined by the Responsibility Constraint, Lenman’s objection is not worrying. (shrink)
Morality seems important, in the sense that there are practical reasons — at least for most of us, most of the time — to be moral. A central theoretical motivation for consequentialism is that it appears clear that there are practical reasons to promote good outcomes, but mysterious why we should care about non-consequentialist moral considerations or how they could be genuine reasons to act. In this paper we argue that this theoretical motivation is mistaken, and that because many (...) arguments for consequentialism rely upon it, the mistake substantially weakens the overall case for consequentialism. We argue that there is indeed a theoretical connection between good states and reasons to act, because good states are those it is fitting to desire and there is a conceptual connection between the fittingness of a motive and reasons to perform the acts it motivates. But while some of our motives are directed at states, others are directed at acts themselves. We contend that just as the fittingness of desires for states generates reasons to promote the good, the fittingness of these act-directed motives generates reasons to do other things. Moreover, we argue that an act’s moral status consists in the fittingness of act-directed feelings of obligation to perform or avoid performing it, so the connection between fitting motives and reasons to act explains reasons to be moral whether or not morality directs us to promote the good. This, we contend, de-mystifies how there could be non-consequentialist reasons that are both moral and practical. (shrink)
Consequentialist theories often neglect reasons for action. They offer theories of the rightness or the goodness of actions, or of virtue, but they typically do not include theories of reasons. However, consequentialists can give plausible accounts of reasons. This chapter examines some different ways in which such accounts might be developed, focusing on Act Consequentialism and Rule Consequentialism and on the relationship between reasons and rightness. It notes that adding claims about reasons to consequentialist theories may introduce a (...) welcome kind of complexity, and in doing so may help to make consequentialist approaches to ethics more appealing. For example, it may help consequentialists to explain the ideas of moral constraints and moral options. (shrink)
It is often argued that Kantian and consequentialist approaches to the philosophy of punishment differ on the question of whether using punishment to achieve deterrence is morally acceptable. I show that this is false: both theories judge it to be acceptable. Showing this requires attention to what the Formula of Humanity in Kant requires agents to do. If we use the correct interpretation of this formula we can also see that an anti-consequentialist moral principle used by Victor Tadros to criticize (...)consequentialism is implausible. I go on to examine the version of John Rawls' theory that is used by Sharon Dolovich to develop a Kantian theory of legal punishment. This makes clear why punishment to achieve deterrence in the 'circumstances of justice' is morally acceptable. However, in at least one respect consequentialism gives us a more convincing understanding of the limits on the pursuit of deterrence than the Kantian theory does. (shrink)
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This paper offers some refinements to a particular objection to act consequentialism, the “causal impotence” objection. According to proponents of the objection, when we find circumstances in which severe, unnecessary harms result entirely from voluntary acts, it seems as if we should be able to indict at least one act among those acts, but act consequentialism appears to lack the resources to offer this indictment. Our aim is to show is that the most promising response on behalf of (...) act consequentialism, the threshold argument, cannot offer a fully general prescription about what to do in cases of collective action. (shrink)
There are two distinct views on how to formulate an objective consequentialist account of the deontic status of actions, actualism and possibilism. On an actualist account, what matters to the deontic status of actions is only the value of the outcome an action would have, if performed. By contrast, a possibilist account also takes into account the value of the outcomes that an action could have. These two views come apart in their deontic verdicts when an agent is imperfect in (...) an avoidable way, viz., when agent brings about less good than she could. In this paper, I offer an argument against actualism that draws on the connection between moral obligation and practical reasons. (shrink)
Consequentialism is thought to be in significant conflict with animal rights theory because it does not regard activities such as confinement, killing, and exploitation as in principle morally wrong. Proponents of the “Logic of the Larder” argue that consequentialism results in an implausibly pro-exploitation stance, permitting us to eat farmed animals with positive well- being to ensure future such animals exist. Proponents of the “Logic of the Logger” argue that consequentialism results in an implausibly anti-conservationist stance, permitting (...) us to exterminate wild animals with negative well-being to ensure future such animals do not exist. We argue that this conflict is overstated. Once we have properly accounted for indirect effects, such as the role that our policies play in shaping moral attitudes and behavior and the importance of accepting policies that are robust against deviation, we can see that consequentialism may converge with animal rights theory significantly, even if not entirely. (shrink)
This paper examines recent attempts to defend Rule-Consequentialism against a traditional objection. That objection takes the form of a dilemma, that either Rule-Consequentialism collapses into Act-Consequentialism or it is incoherent. Attempts to avoid this dilemma based on the idea that using RC has better results than using AC are rejected on the grounds that they conflate the ideas of a criterion of rightness and a decision procedure. Other strategies, Brad Hooker's prominent amongst them, involving the thought that (...) RC need contain no overarching concern to maximize the good are acknowledged to avoid the original dilemma, but lead to further problems of motivating and justifying RC in the absence of such a concern. The paper argues that Hooker's attempt to deal with these problems by using a 'Reflective Equilibrium plus method is unsuccessful. (shrink)
Frank Jackson claims that consequentialists should hold the view that Derek Parfit labels the second ‘mistake in moral mathematics’, which is the view that “If some act is right or wrong because of . . . effects, the only relevant effects are the effects of this particular act.” But each of the three arguments that Jackson offers is unsound. The root of the problem is that in order to argue for the conclusion Jackson aims to establish (that consequentialists should not (...) regard the second “mistake” as a mistake), one must presuppose an overly narrow, and hence distorted, understanding of what consequentialism is. (shrink)
According to the moral standards most of us accept and live by, morality generally permits us to refrain from promoting the good of others and instead engage in non-harmful projects of our own choice. This aspect of so-called ‘ordinary morality’ has turned out to be very difficult to justify. Recently, though, various authors, including Bernard Williams and Samuel Scheffler, have proposed “Integrity Theories” that would vindicate this aspect of ordinary morality, at least in part. They are generated by treating as (...) a default some moral theory, like consequentialism, that demands that we do a great deal of good. The theory is then modified so as to make room for individuals to pursue the projects they value most deeply, and perhaps their trivial interests as well—i.e., so as to respect individual integrity. This paper presupposes that Integrity Theories are correct and that, for the reasons given by others, they can explain why morality should grant us agent-centered prerogatives to pursue our own projects and interests. The goal is to extend this work in two respects. First, it will be shown that previous authors have not paid sufficient attention to ordinary morality’s conflicting pronouncements about agent-centered prerogatives. Second, it is argued that Integrity Theories can vindicate those conflicting intuitions by positing a special kind of obligations, relievable obligations. (shrink)
Argues that the ethics of killing and saving lives is best described by agent-neutral consequentialism, not by appeal to agent-centred restrictions. It does not follow that killings are worse than accidental deaths or that you should kill one to prevent more killings. The upshot is a puzzle about killing and letting die.
Lenman's ‘argument from cluelessness’ against consequentialism is that a significant percentage of the consequences of our actions are wholly unknowable, so that when it comes to assessing the moral quality of our actions, we are without a clue. I distinguish the argument from cluelessness from traditional epistemic objections to consequentialism. The argument from cluelessness should be no more problematic for consequentialism than the argument from epistemological scepticism should be for metaphysical realism. This puts those who would reject (...)consequentialism on the ground of cluelessness in an awkward philosophical position. (shrink)