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Consequentialism: The Philosophical Dog That Does Not Bark?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 January 2009

Extract

By consequentialism, I mean the position that actions are right or wrong insofar as they affect the happiness, preferences, etc., of some class of sentient beings, usually humans. Consequentialism specifies a fairly narrow range of properties as being the determining factors in regard to actions being right or wrong. Each action has properties other than how it affects the happiness preferences, etc., of humans. According to consequentialism, the kind of action it is, the motivation behind the action, and other consequences (broadly taken), for instance, the consequence of having broken a promise, are not relevant to the question of whether an action is right or wrong.

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Discussion
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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1991

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References

1 Notice that this definition is less elaborate than the definition found in Scheffler, Samuel, Consequentialism and its Critics, Oxford, 1988, p. 1Google Scholar. He adds that consequences be judged from an impersonal standpoint which gives equal weight to the interests of everyone, which is a fairly narrow version of consequentialism.

2 Kupperman, Joel J., ‘Vulgar Consequentialism’, Mind, lxxxix (1980), 321–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

3 For objections to consequentialism, see Chapter 6 of Donagan, Alan, The Theory of Morality, Chicago, 1977.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

4 Moore, G. E., Principia Ethica, Cambridge, 1959 (originally published in 1903), pp. 25 and 147.Google Scholar

5 That is, if the two phrases have the same meaning then they ought to be interchange able within a sentence with no shift in meaning.

6 Mill, J. S., ‘Utilitarianism’ [1861], Essays on Ethics, Religion, and Society, ed. Robson, J. M., Toronto, 1969Google Scholar, Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, x. 206.Google Scholar

7 An example of an action undertaken for nonconsequentialistic reasons is described in Kreyche, Gerald, ‘“High Noon” as a Paradigm of Kant's Moral Philosophy’, Teaching Philosophy, 09 1988, 217–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

8 Stubbs, Anne, ‘The Pros and Cons of Consequentialism’, Philosophy, 56 (1981), 497516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

9 Notice that criminal prosecution has strong consequentialistic tendencies. The sentence for murder is more severe than the sentence for attempted murder or conspiracy to commit murder.

10 Scheffler, , p. 1.Google Scholar

11 Scheffler, , pp. 14.Google Scholar

12 There are other arguments for consequentialism. One is that consequentialism is the only rational assessment of actions (a view discussed in Stubbs, , pp. 500–3)Google Scholar. Similarly, there is the view that consequentialism is the best heuristic device we have in order to organize ethical data and solve ethical problems. (See Kupperman, Joel J., ‘A Case for Consequentialism’, American Philosophy Quarterly, Volume 18 (1981), Number 4.)Google Scholar

13 Thanks to Professors Jonathan Bennett and James Brudvig for their comments on earlier drafts of this essay.

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