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RULE CONSEQUENTIALISM MAKES SENSE AFTER ALL
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 31 May 2011
It is commonly claimed that rule consequentialism (utilitarianism) collapses into act consequentialism, because sometimes there are benefits from breaking the rules. I suggest this argument is less powerful than has been believed. The argument requires a commitment to a very particular (usually implicit) account of feasibility and constraints. It requires the presupposition that thinking of rules as the relevant constraint is incorrect. Supposedly we should look at a smaller unit of choice—the single act—as the relevant choice variable. But once we see feasibility as a matter of degree, there is no obvious cut-off point for how broadly we should think about the constraints on our choices. Treating “a bundle of choices” as a relevant free variable is no less defensible than treating “a single act” as the relevant free variable. Rule utilitarianism, rule consequentialism, and other rules-based approaches are stronger than their current reputation.
- Research Article
- Social Philosophy and Policy , Volume 28 , Issue 2 , July 2011 , pp. 212 - 231
- Copyright © Social Philosophy and Policy Foundation 2011
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19 Note that we should not identify feasibility with the notions of probability or likelihood. Feasibility refers in some manner to the “closeness” of some other world to our own, whether or not we expect that world to occur. Blinking your eyes one more time in a day, each day, might be quite feasible in the common-sense use of that term, although we do not necessarily expect such an act to occur with a high probability. Conditional on the number of blinks changing, the chance that the change is exactly one blink might be quite small. This example suggests that feasibility and probability are distinct concepts and that a high degree of feasibility does not have to mean a high degree of probability.
20 On costs of adoption and internalization and rule utilitarianism, see Richard Brandt, “Toward a Credible Theory of Utilitarianism,” in Castaneda and Nakhnikian, eds., Morality and the Language of Conduct, 107–43; and Hooker, Ideal Code, Real World, 78–79. On varieties of rule utilitarianism more generally, see Scarre, Utilitarianism, 122–32.