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Consequentialism. Copyright 2005 Makoto Suzuki Caution: Some materials are adapted from Prof. Donald Hubin’s PowerPoint Presentation. Their copyright belongs to him. Aims. Understand the notion of impersonal value. Understand the distinction between a theory of right and a theory of good.

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Copyright 2005 Makoto Suzuki

Caution: Some materials are adapted from Prof. Donald Hubin’s PowerPoint Presentation.

Their copyright belongs to him

  • Understand the notion of impersonal value.
  • Understand the distinction between a theory of right and a theory of good.
  • Understand consequentialism, ethical egoism, and utilitarianism.
  • Examine the alleged problems of consequentialism.
  • Understand some attractions of consequentialism.
personal and impersonal values kagan 60
Personal and Impersonal Values (Kagan, 60)
  • All the theories so far are “personal theories of value.” They admit (as intrinsic values) only personal good (well-being) and distributions of personal good.
  • Thus, they are, ultimately, grounded in the intrinsic good or bad for individuals.
  • Some theories claim that “impersonal values” exist. Impersonal values are the intrinsically valuable things that are neither personal values nor their distributions.
  • Suggested candidates of impersonal values: beauty, knowledge (taken not as a component of well-being), well-functioning ecological systems, the maintenance of species etc.
  • Many people deny the existence of impersonal values.
  • Others instead argue that even if an impersonal value exists, it is not a moral value---a value that we should take into account in picking the act with the best outcome from the moral point of view.
  • Some environmentalists argue for the existence of impersonal values with the Last Person Argument.
    • They pose the following question: “Suppose you are the last sentient being in this universe; will there be something valuable lost if you deliberately destroy the environment?”
    • They think that many of us say “yes” to this question, and that it suggests that the environment has an impersonal intrinsic value. For people value the environment even if there is no one to enjoy it.
a theory of good and a theory of right kagan 59 61
A Theory of Good and A Theory of Right (Kagan, 59-61)
  • A theory of good determines in virtue of what good things are good, and in virtue of what bad things are bad.
    • So far we have focused on theories of good.
  • A theory of right determines in virtue of what morally right actions are morally right, and in virtue of what morally wrong actions are morally wrong.
    • From now on, we will talk about this part of ethics.
consequentialism kagan 60 1 63
Consequentialism(Kagan, 60-1, 63)
  • Consequentialism is a theory of right, which takes the requirement to pick the act with the best upshot as the sole obligation.
  • (Maximizing) consequentialism holds that an action is morally right if, and only if, the action has one of the best overall consequences. In the absence of a “tie,” there will only be one right action; this action is morally required and other actions are morally forbidden.
utilitarianism kagan 61
Utilitarianism(Kagan, 61)
  • Utilitarianism is consequentialism coupled with a specific theory of good, welfarism.
  • Utilitarianism holds that an action is morally right if, and only if, the action has the consequences with (one of) the greatest overall amount of well-being.
  • In other words, utilitarianism holds that an act is right if, and only if, the action has one of the best consequences from the utilitarian point of view.
non utilitarian consequentialism
Non-Utilitarian Consequentialism
  • If consequentialists hold that equality, priority to the worse off, fairness etc. have intrinsic values, they hold non-utilitarian consequentialism.
  • According to them, the right action, i.e., the act with the best outcome, is determined not only by well-being but also these other intrinsic values.
the peculiarity of maximizing consequentialism
The Peculiarity of (Maximizing) Consequentialism
  • (Maximizing) consequentialism holds that we always have only one obligation: to pick an action with (one of) the best outcome.
  • Other theories of the right holds either that there are other obligations, or that picking an act with the best outcome is not always our obligation.
    • These theories typically hold that other things being equal, it is recommendable---though possibly not required as consequentislits say---to pick an act with the best outcome.
    • But they hold that in some situations it is permissible or even required NOT to take the act with the best consequences.
1 problems about knowing what is right or wrong kagan 64 6
1. Problems about Knowing What Is Right or Wrong(Kagan, 64-6.)
  • We are not sure what the world would be if we took an action.
  • True, we know much about what may immediately happen if we take a certain type of action, such as lying, killing, promise-breaking etc. in ordinary situations.
  • However, we do not know much about remote effects (even though the development of scientific theories have helped us here).
  • And in rare cases a particular action has exceptional effects that it is hard to predict based on our experiences and statistical knowledge about that type of actions.
  • Then, if we adopt consequentialism, we cannot know for sure what action is right.
a note kagan 64 6
A Note (Kagan, 64-6)
  • This problem is not unique to consequentialism. It befalls to every moral theory that admits that the value of the consequences of an action is a factor in determining the rightness of actions.
does it matter
Does It Matter?
  • On may think that the worry that we may be mistaken about the rightness or wrongness of actions is not a big deal.
  • After all, we are not omniscient and we should accept that we make mistakes about many things other than moral issues.
  • So why do we suppose that we know for certain what is right and wrong?
  • But critics think there are special problems in lack of moral knowledge. To see this, let us consider two examples.
reprehensible results examples
Reprehensible Results: Examples
  • We think that saving a drawing child when there seems to be no immediate risk for the saver or other persons is right. However, unbeknownst to us, it might turn out that the child is another Hitler that will massacre many innocent people. Then, according to consequentialism, this particular action is actually wrong.
  • We think raping a person is wrong. However, if, unbeknownst to us, a particular rape produces a benefactor who will save many human lives, the particular rape seems to be right according to consequentialism.
problems about guidance and punishment
Problems about Guidance and Punishment
  • What is reprehensible about the examples?
  • Many people feel that consequentialism produces mistaken answers: we will see this point after the midterm.
  • There are two more alleged problems.
  • Guidance. It shows that if we do not know for sure what might happen if we took an action, we may do wrong things without being able to know this before acting.
  • Punishment. According to consequentialism, don’t we have to blame or punish an agent for the action that had unforeseeable bad consequences (or to praise him for the action that had unforeseeable good results)?
reply 1 a subjective account of rightness
Reply 1. A Subjective Account of Rightness
  • At this point, consequentialists (or any people who admit that concequences matter) can make different replies.
  • First, they may suggest that what determines the rightness of an action is not actual consequences, but consequences expected by the agent, or expectable by the agent if he or she is reasonable and morally sensitive.
  • (The latter seems more plausible since we condemn negligent persons, i.e., people who do not know what a reasonably person would expect to happen.)
  • These people hold a subjective account of rightness: (Q3d)
  • the rightness or wrongness of an action depends on what the agent believes about the action, or on what he would believe about the action if he were reasonable.
a criticism from a objective account of rightness
A Criticism from A Objective Account of Rightness
  • This reply decreases the possibility of 1. doing wrongs without the ability to know them before acting, and of 2. blaming or punishing those who can’t know the bad consequences before acting.
    • Moreover, in the two examples, saving the child will be right and the rape will be wrong.
  • But other consequentialists argue that objective or actual consequences determine what is really right. They argue that what ultimately matters is what good and bad things really happen.
  • They hold a objective account of rightness: (Q3e)
  • The rightness or wrongness of an action depends on facts about the action.
an objective account
An Objective Account
  • It might sound right that the rightness of action actions depends on facts about the action, not on what someone believes (or would believe) about the action. After all, what we think morality is about—i.e., what benefits us or hurt us---is not what someone believes (or would believe), but what really happens.
  • But on an objective account, it is hard to deal with the moral guidance problem: we might do wrongs without the ability to know them before acting.
  • But even they can address the second problem of blaming or punishing people who cannot know the consequences of their action before acting.
reply 2 bad upshots of blame and punishment
Reply 2. Bad Upshots of Blame and Punishment
  • Both subjective and objective types of consequentialism will hold we should blame or punish no one who takes wrong actions because they cannot know what consequences they have.
  • Why? Because blaming or punishing such people will not have the best overall consequences.
    • We cannot deter such a type of wrongdoings by blaming or punishing.
    • Since blaming or punishing levels down the well-being of the blamed or punished, it decreases the overall goodness. (Even if we accept retributivism, it is not good to punish these wrongdoers. For these people are not culpable: they can’t know their actions will have a bad consequence.)
  • Blame and Punishment are actions. Therefore, according to consequentialsim, they are right if and only if they have (one of) the best overall consequences.
  • Thus, even though the actions might be wrong, it is still wrong to blame or punish the agents because doing so has a worse consequence.
2 disutility of calculating kagan 66 8 a to q4b
2. Disutility of Calculating (Kagan, 66-8; A to Q4B)
  • Acting on consequentialism has bad consequences because if we were to take time to calculate before acting, we would frequently not be acting in a timely manner.
  • According to consequentialism, it is wrong to act on consequentialism. Therefore, consequentialism refutes itself.
disutility of calculating
Disutility of Calculating
  • Illustration: the innocent child drowns while the good moralist calculates the overall goodness of actions.
a note kagan 66
A Note (Kagan, 66)
  • Again, this alleged problem is not unique to consequentialism. If it is really a problem, it befalls to every moral theory that admits that the value of the consequences of an action is a factor in determining the rightness of actions.