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Rule-Consequentialism's Assumptions

  • KEVIN P. TOBIA (a1)


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.



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1 Hooker, Brad, Ideal Code, Real World (Oxford, 2000), p. 32.

2 Hooker, Ideal Code, Real World, p. 83; see also Brandt, Richard, Morality, Utilitarianism, and Rights (Cambridge, 1992).

3 A referee asks a helpful and neglected question: why exactly is the fact that no code will secure universal acceptance a problem? Once we identify the ‘ideal code’, why would partial acceptance challenge its status as the ideal code? To see the relevance of acceptance, imagine that we identify the seemingly ideal moral code, but estimates reveal that it will be accepted by 0 per cent of the population. It is hard to see how any plausible conception of Rule-Consequentialism – concerned with the value of consequences – could endorse this as the ideal code.

4 Ridge, Michael, ‘Introducing Variable Rate Rule Utilitarianism’, Philosophical Quarterly 56 (2006), pp. 242–53.

5 Smith, Holly, ‘Measuring the Consequences of Rules’, Utilitas 22 (2010), pp. 413–33.

6 Tobia, Kevin, ‘Rule Consequentialism and the Problem of Partial Acceptance’, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 16 (2013), pp. 643–52.

7 Toppinen, Teemu, ‘Rule Consequentialism (and Kantian Contractualism) at Top Rates’, Philosophical Quarterly 66 (2016), pp. 122–35.

8 Throughout the article I use ‘value’ rather than ‘welfare’ or ‘utility’ to follow Hooker, Ideal Code, Real World.

9 There is no need to specify the likelihood distribution in this example, since Code 1 strictly dominates Code 2. Given any distribution of acceptance levels, Code 1 has greater expected value than Code 2.

10 Say, with a mean of 60 and a standard deviation of 5.

11 Ridge, ‘Introducing Variable Rate Rule Utilitarianism’.

12 Tobia, ‘Rule Consequentialism and the Problem of Partial Acceptance’.

13 Tobia, ‘Rule Consequentialism and the Problem of Partial Acceptance’, p. 645.

14 Hooker, Brad and Fletcher, Guy, ‘Variable vs. Fixed Rate Rule Utilitarianism’, Philosophical Quarterly 58 (2008), pp. 344–52.

15 Tobia, ‘Rule Consequentialism and the Problem of Partial Acceptance’; Miller, Timothy D., ‘Solving Rule-Consequentialism's Acceptance Rate Problem’, Utilitas 28 (2016), pp. 4153.

16 See Miller, ‘Solving Rule-Consequentialism's Acceptance Rate Problem’ for a critique that extends to all theories.

17 Portmore, Douglas W., ‘Parfit on Reasons and Rule Consequentialism’, Reading Parfit: On What Matters, ed. Kirchin, Simon (Abingdon, 2017), pp. 135–52, at 143.

18 Smith, ‘Measuring the Consequences of Rules’. But see Long Yeo, Shang, ‘Measuring the Consequences of Rules: A Reply to Smith’, Utilitas 29 (2017), pp. 125–31. For the distinction between acceptance and compliance, see Mulgan, Timothy, Future People: A Moderate Consequentialist Account of Our Obligations to Future Generations (Oxford, 2006), p. 138.

19 Miller, ‘Solving Rule-Consequentialism's Acceptance Rate Problem’.

20 Miller, ‘Solving Rule-Consequentialism's Acceptance Rate Problem’, p. 50.

21 Miller, ‘Solving Rule-Consequentialism's Acceptance Rate Problem’, p. 50.

22 Thanks to an anonymous referee for suggesting this question.

23 See, for example, Hooker, Ideal Code, Real World.

24 Brandt, Morality, Utilitarianism, and Rights.

25 Singer, Marcus G., ‘Actual Consequence Utilitarianism’, Mind 86 (1977), pp. 6777; Railton, Peter, ‘Alienation, Consequentialism, and the Demands of Morality’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 13 (1984), pp. 134–71.

26 Norcross, Alistair, ‘Comparing Harms: Headaches and Human Lives’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 26 (1997), pp. 135–67; Tobia, Kevin P., ‘A Defense of Scalar Utilitarianism’, American Philosophical Quarterly 54 (2017), pp. 283–93.

27 Not to mention aggregative consequentialism (Chao, R., ‘Aggregative Consequentialism’, Southwest Philosophical Review 31 (2015), pp. 125–36); biocentric consequentialism (Attfield, R., ‘Biocentric Consequentialism and Value Pluralism: A Response to Alan Carter’, Utilitas 17 (2005), pp. 8592); character consequentialism (Ivanhoe, P. J., ‘Character Consequentialism: An Early Confucian Contribution to Contemporary Ethical Theory’, Journal of Religious Ethics 19 (1991), pp. 5570); combinative consequentialism (Gustafsson, J. E., ‘Combinative Consequentialism and the Problem of Act Versions’, Philosophical Studies 167 (2014), pp. 585–96); common-sense consequentialism (D. W. Portmore, Commonsense Consequentialism: Wherein Morality Meets Rationality (Oxford, 2011)); global consequentialism (Pettit, P. and Smith, M., ‘Global Consequentialism’, Morality, Rules and Consequences: A Critical Reader, ed. Hooker, B., Mason, E. and Miller, D. (Edinburgh, 2000), pp. 221–33; justicized consequentialism (Wigley, S., ‘Justicized Consequentialism: Prioritizing the Right or the Good?’, Journal of Value Inquiry 46 (2012), pp. 467–79); Kantian consequentialism (Cummiskey, D., ‘Kantian Consequentialism’, Ethics 100 (1990), pp. 586615; minimal consequentialism (Caws, P., ‘Minimal Consequentialism’, Philosophy 70 (1995), pp. 313–39); multi-dimensional consequentialism (M. Peterson, The Dimensions of Consequentialism (Cambridge, 2013)); multiple-act consequentialism (Mendola, J. and J., Goodness and Justice: A Consequentialist Moral Theory (Cambridge, 2006)); person-based consequentialism (Roberts, M. A., ‘Can it ever be better never to have existed at all? Person-Based Consequentialism and a New Repugnant Conclusion’, Journal of Applied Philosophy 20 (2003), pp. 159–85); progressive consequentialism (Jamieson, D. and Elliot, R., ‘Progressive Consequentialism’, Philosophical Perspectives 23 (2009), pp. 245–51); and virtue consequentialism (Bradley, B., ‘Virtue Consequentialism’, Utilitas 17 (2005), pp. 282–98).

Rule-Consequentialism's Assumptions

  • KEVIN P. TOBIA (a1)


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