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Consequentialism's Double-Edged Sword


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 non-consequentialist 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.

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James Dreier , ‘Structures of Normative Theories’, Monist 76 (1993), pp. 1930

Jennie Louise , ‘Relativity of Value and the Consequentialist Umbrella’, Philosophical Quarterly 54 (2004), pp. 518–36

Michael Smith , ‘Neutral and Relative Value after Moore’, Ethics 113 (2003), pp. 576–98

Douglas Portmore , ‘Consequentializing Moral Theories’, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 88 (2007), pp. 3973

Graham Oddie and Peter Milne , ‘Act and Value: Expectation and Representability of Moral Theories’, Theoria 57.1–2 (1991), pp. 4256

Douglas Portmore , ‘Consequentializing Moral Theories’, and ‘Consequentializing’, Philosophy Compass 4 (2009), pp. 329–47

Mark Schroeder , ‘Teleology, Agent-Relative Value, and “Good”’, Ethics 117 (2007), pp. 265–95

Tim Mulgan , ‘Rule Consequentialism and Famine’, Analysis 54 (1994), pp. 187–92

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  • ISSN: 0953-8208
  • EISSN: 1741-6183
  • URL: /core/journals/utilitas
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