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)
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)
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)
We examine the following consequentialist view of virtue: a trait is a virtue if and only if it has good consequences in some relevant way. We highlight some motivations for this basic account, and offer twelve choice points for filling it out. Next, we explicate Julia Driver’s consequentialist view of virtue in reference to these choice points, and we canvass its merits and demerits. Subsequently, we consider three suggestions that aim to increase the plausibility of her position, and critically analyze (...) them. We conclude that one of those proposed revisions would improve her account. NOTE: I will self-archive the paper after the 24 month embargo period ends. If you want a copy, just email me. (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)
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)
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)
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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)
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)
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)
It isn’t saying much to claim that morality is demanding; the question, rather, is: can morality be so demanding that we have reason not to follow its dictates? According to many, it can, if that morality is a consequentialist one. This paper takes the plausibility and coherence of this objection – the Demandingness Objection – as a given. Our question, therefore, is how to respond to the Objection. We put forward a response that we think has not received sufficient attention (...) in the literature: institutional consequentialism. This is a consequentialist view that, however, requires institutional systems, and not individuals, to follow the consequentialist principle. We first introduce the Objection, then explain the theory of institutional consequentialism and how it responds to the objection. In the remainder of the paper, we defend the view against potential objections. (shrink)
Despite the recent backlash against epistemic consequentialism, an explicit systematic alternative has yet to emerge. This paper articulates and defends a novel alternative, Epistemic Kantianism, which rests on a requirement of respect for the truth. §1 tackles some preliminaries concerning the proper formulation of the epistemic consequentialism / non-consequentialism divide, explains where Epistemic Kantianism falls in the dialectical landscape, and shows how it can capture what seems attractive about epistemic consequentialism while yielding predictions that are harder (...) for the latter to secure in a principled way. §2 presents Epistemic Kantianism. §3 argues that it is uniquely poised to satisfy the desiderata set out in §1 on an ideal theory of epistemic justification. §4 gives three further arguments, suggesting that it (i) best explains the objective normative significance of the subject's perspective in epistemology, (ii) follows from the kind of axiology needed to solve the swamping problem together with modest assumptions about the relation between the evaluative and the deontic, and (iii) illuminates certain asymmetries in epistemic value and obligation. §5 takes stock and reassesses the score in the debate. (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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
Consequentialism, one of the major theories of normative ethics, maintains that the moral rightness of an act is determined solely by the act's consequences and its alternatives. The traditional form of consequentialism is one-dimensional, in that the rightness of an act is a function of a single moral aspect, such as the sum total of wellbeing it produces. In this book Martin Peterson introduces a new type of consequentialist theory: multidimensional consequentialism. According to this theory, an act's (...) moral rightness depends on several separate dimensions, including individual wellbeing, equality and risk. Peterson's novel approach shows that moral views about equality and risk that were previously thought to be mutually incompatible can be rendered compatible, and his precise theoretical discussion helps the reader to understand better the distinction between consequentialist and non-consequentialist theories. His book will interest a wide range of readers in ethics. (shrink)
In contemporary philosophy, substantive moral theories are typically classified as either consequentialist or deontological. Standard consequentialist theories insist, roughly, that agents must always act so as to produce the best available outcomes overall. Standard deontological theories, by contrast, maintain that there are some circumstances where one is permitted but not required to produce the best overall results, and still other circumstances in which one is positively forbidden to to do. Classical utilitarianism is the most familiar consequentialist view, but it is (...) widely regarded as an inadequate account of morality. Although Professor Scheffler agrees with this assessment, he also believes that consequentialism seems initially plausible, and that there is a persistent air of paradox surrounding typical deontological views. In this book, therefore, he undertakes to reconsider the rejection of consequentialism. He argues that it is possible to provide a rationale for the view that agents need not always produce the best possible overall outcomes, and this motivates one departure from consequentialism; but he shows that it is surprisingly difficult to provide a satisfactory rationale for the view that there are times when agents must not produce the best possible overall outcomes. He goes on to argue for a hitherto neglected type of moral conception, according to which agents are always permitted, but not always required, to produce the best outcomes. (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.
Sometimes, agents do the right thing for the right reason. What’s the normative significance of this phenomenon? According to proponents of the special status view, when an agent acts for the right reason, her actions enjoy a special normative status, namely, worthiness. Proponents of this view claim that self-effacing forms of consequentialism cannot say this plausible thing, and, worse, are blocked from having a perspicuous view of matters by the self-effacing nature of their consequentialism. In this paper, I (...) argue that this claim is based on an illicit assumption. I show that whatever version of the special status view proponents of that view prefer, self-effacing consequentialists can adopt a version of it. Moreover, I show that proponents of extant versions of the special status view have reason to prefer the specific version of that view I articulate on behalf of self-effacing consequentialists. (shrink)
The theory of morality we can call full rule - consequentialism selects rules solely in terms of the goodness of their consequences and then claims that these rules determine which kinds of acts are morally wrong. George Berkeley was arguably the first rule -consequentialist. He wrote, “In framing the general laws of nature, it is granted we must be entirely guided by the public good of mankind, but not in the ordinary moral actions of our lives. … The rule (...) is framed with respect to the good of mankind; but our practice must be always shaped immediately by the rule.” Writers often classed as rule -consequentialists include Austin 1832; Harrod 1936; Toulmin 1950; Urmson 1953; Harrison 1953; Mabbott 1953; Singer 1955; 1961; and most prominently Brandt 1959; 1963; 1967; 1979; 1989; 1996; and Harsanyi 1977; 1982; 1993. See also Rawls 1955; Hospers 1972; Haslett 1987; 1994, ch. 1; 2000; Attfield 1987, 103-12; Barrow 1991, ch. 6; Johnson 1991; Riley 1998; 2000; Shaw 1999; and Hooker 2000. Whether J. S. Mill's ethics was rule -consequentialist is controversial. (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.
Most plausible moral theories must address problems of partial acceptance or partial compliance. The aim of this paper is to examine some proposed ways of dealing with partial acceptance problems as well as to introduce a new Rule Utilitarian suggestion. Here I survey three forms of Rule Utilitarianism, each of which represents a distinct approach to solving partial acceptance issues. I examine Fixed Rate, Variable Rate, and Optimum Rate Rule Utilitarianism, and argue that a new approach, Maximizing Expectation Rate Rule (...) Utilitarianism, better solves partial acceptance problems. (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 →.
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)
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)
IN THIS PAPER, I make a presumptive case for moral rationalism: the view that agents can be morally required to do only what they have decisive reason to do, all things considered. And I argue that this view leads us to reject all traditional versions of actâ€consequentialism. I begin by explaining how moral rationalism leads us to reject utilitarianism.
Tim Mulgan presents a penetrating examination of consequentialism: the theory that human behavior must be judged in terms of the goodness or badness of its consequences. The problem with consequentialism is that it seems unreasonably demanding, leaving us no room for our own aims and interests. In response, Mulgan offers his own, more practical version of consequentialism--one that will surely appeal to philosophers and laypersons alike.
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)
Collective action problems lie behind many core issues in ethics and social philosophy—for example, whether an individual is required to vote, whether it is wrong to consume products that are produced in morally objectionable ways, and many others. In these cases, it matters greatly what we together do, but yet a single individual’s ‘non-cooperative’ choice seems to make no difference to the outcome and also seems to involve no violation of anyone’s rights. Here it is argued that—contrary to influential arguments (...) by Peter Singer, Alastair Norcross, Shelly Kagan, Derek Parfit, and Allan Gibbard—an appeal to the expected consequences of acts cannot deliver plausible verdicts on many of these cases, because individuals often have a probability of making a difference that is sufficiently small to ensure that ‘non-cooperation’ is the option with the greatest expected value, even when consequentialists themselves agree that ‘cooperation’ is required. In addition, an influential argument by Singer, Norcross, and Kagan is shown to be unsound for the claim that in the collective action situations at issue, the expected effect of one individual’s action equals the average effect of everyone’s similar actions. These results have general implications for normative theory, because they undermine the sort of consequentialist explanation of collective action cases that is initially attractive from many theoretical points of view, consequentialist and otherwise. (shrink)
I challenge the common picture of the “Standard Story” of Action as a neutral account of action within which debates in normative ethics can take place. I unpack three commitments that are implicit in the Standard Story, and demonstrate that these commitments together entail a teleological conception of reasons, upon which all reasons to act are reasons to bring about states of affairs. Such a conception of reasons, in turn, supports a consequentialist framework for the evaluation of action, upon which (...) the normative status of actions is properly determined through appeal to rankings of states of affairs as better and worse. This covert support for consequentialism from the theory of action, I argue, has had a distorting effect on debates in normative ethics. I then present challenges to each of these three commitments, a challenge to the first commitment by T.M. Scanlon, a challenge to the second by recent interpreters of Anscombe, and a new challenge to the third commitment that requires only minimal and prima facie plausible modifications to the Standard Story. The success of any one of the challenges, I demonstrate, is sufficient to block support from the theory of action for the teleological conception of reasons and the consequentialist evaluative framework. I close by demonstrating the pivotal role that such arguments grounded in the theory of action play in the current debate between evaluator-relative consequentialists and their critics. (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)
consequentialist, even being a utilitarian, allows one still to recognise rights.' I believe that these efforts are well motivated, for I think that any moral doctrine is suspect if one of its effects is to make agents unable to take one another's rights seriously.
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)
Recently, it has been a part of the so-called consequentializing project to attempt to construct versions of consequentialism that can support agent-relative moral constraints. Mark Schroeder has argued that such views are bound to fail because they cannot make sense of the agent relative value on which they need to rely. In this paper, I provide a fitting-attitude account of both agent-relative and agent-neutral values that can together be used to consequentialize agent-relative constraints.
According to act-consequentialism the right action is the one that produces the best results as judged from an impersonal perspective. Some claim that this requirement is unreasonably demanding and therefore consequentialism is unacceptable as a moral theory. The article breaks with dominant trends in discussing this so-called Overdemandingness Objection. Instead of focusing on theoretical responses, it empirically investigates whether there exists a widely shared intuition that consequentialist demands are unreasonable. This discussion takes the form of examining what people (...) think about the normative significance of consequentialist requirements. In two experiments, the article finds that although people are sensitive to consequentialist requirements and, on average, find more extreme demands less reasonable, the level of disagreement with consequentialism falls short of qualifying as a widely shared intuition, even when demands are the highest. The article then ends with a general discussion of possible objections to its methods and its findings. (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)
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)
Consequentialism is the family of theories that holds that acts are morally right, wrong, or indifferent in virtue of their consequences. Less formally and more intuitively, right acts are those that produce good consequences. A consequentialist theory includes at least the following three elements: an account of the properties or states in virtue of which consequences make actions right, wrong, or indifferent; a deontic principle which specifies how or to what extent the properties or states must obtain in order (...) for an action to be right, wrong, or indifferent; and finally, a specification of what is in the domain of the deontic principle. For example, mental state and desire theories provide different accounts of the first element; maximizing and satisficing are distinct deontic principles; and Act and Rule Consequentialism specify different domains over which a deontic principle ranges. A wide range of alternative theories can be generated by modifying these three elements. For example, Hedonistic Act Utilitarianism which requires that each act maximize pleasure, and Perfectionist Lifetime Minimalism which requires that each life satisfy some minimal standard of perfection are both varieties of Consequentialsm. The conceptual space Consequentialism describes is vast, versions of Consequentialism vary radically in their plausibility, and few objections count against all versions of Consequentialism. (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)
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)