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Consequentialist Friendship and Quasi-instrumental Goods

  • Michael Byron (a1)

Recent literature defends consequentialism against the charge that consequentialists cannot be friends. This paper argues in rebuttal that consequentialists value friends for the wrong reasons. Even if they are motivated by love and affection, consequentialists must act as if they valued their friends as merely instrumental goods, a mode of valuing I call ‘quasi-instrumental’. I conclude by suggesting the root cause of the problem of intrinsic value for consequentialism.

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1 Kapur Neera Badhwar, ‘Why it is Wrong to Be Always Guided by the Best: Consequentialism and Friendship’, Ethics, ci (1991).

2 This premise does not presuppose the truth of internalism, or the view that moral justifications are essentially motivating. All it need commit itself to is the idea that if a particular justification or reason for action is motivating, then the motivation will have the same character (instrumental or otherwise) as the justification. Since externalists do not as such deny that justifications may be motivating, the premise is neutral between internalism and externalism.

3 Perhaps I am wrong to take this consequence for granted. So what if consequentialists cannot enjoy friendships of a certain sort? It is open to them to accept my argument and bite the bullet, admitting that a kind of friendship is foreclosed to them but denying that this counts at all against the theory. The prevalence in the literature of attempts to deflect this kind of attack on the theory, however, suggests that at least some consequentialists would find this outcome troubling. With these theorists, I will take for granted that what I will call end friendship is possible for us and a valuable part of human life.

4 Mason Elinor, ‘Can an Indirect Consequentialist Be a Real Friend’, Ethics, cviii (1998), 386.

5 And for purposes of this paper, I will take it for granted that consequentialism by definition adopts a maximizing conception of the good. That will be the only feature of the theory relevant to my discussion, I think.

6 Cocking Dean and Oakley Justin, ‘Indirect Consequentialism, Friendship, and the Problem of Alienation’, Ethics, cvi (1995), 86.

7 See Peter Railton, ‘Alienation, Consequentialism, and the Demands of Morality’, repr. Consequentialism and Its Critics ed. Samuel Scheffler, Oxford, 1988, p. 93.

8 As an aside, I should note that Mason offers an inadequate specification of the ‘pro-friendship disposition’. Contrast David Gauthier's disposition to constrained maximization. Under certain circumstances, Gauthier contends, rational bargainers will constrain their maximizing behaviour when it comes to complying with the bargain. Provided that (a) they expect to benefit by compliance assuming that all other agents will also comply, and (b) they expect enough of those agents actually to comply to yield some benefit, it is rational to constrain maximization; otherwise, it is rational to maximize straightforwardly and defect from the bargain. see Gauthier David, Morals by Agreement, Oxford, 1986, ch. 6. Presumably, Mason's pro-friendship disposition is conditional as well, for surely some friendships are so sub-optimal that they cannot be justified even by being implementations of an optimific disposition. What are the conditions? More would need to be said in a complete account.

9 Mason does not mention the likelihood that Bob also feels alienation with respect to his relationship with Polly.

10 All quotations in this paragraph are from Mason, 392.

11 Readers will recognize that the discussion in this paragraph is inspired by Aristotle's treatment of friendship; see the treatment in the Nicomachean Ethics, bk. 8.

12 I am grateful to the editor for suggesting this possible objection and the extension of my argument which would respond to it.

13 Sam's treatment of Polly recalls Nel Noddings's complaint about putting ‘principle above person’. Sam is required to act in ways that his principles dictate, even when he is motivated not to do so. His characterization of value is independent of any particular person's place in his life. I address this mode of valuing below. For Noddings's discussion, see her Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education, Berkeley, 1984, especially chs. 2, 4, and 5.

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  • ISSN: 0953-8208
  • EISSN: 1741-6183
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