Some Forms and Limits of Consequentialism

David O. Brink

Edited by David Copp

in The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory

Published in print December 2005 | ISBN: 9780195147797
Published online February 2006 | e-ISBN: 9780199785841 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Some Forms and Limits of Consequentialism

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All forms of consequentialism make the moral assessment of alternatives depend in some way on the value of the alternatives, but they form a heterogeneous family of moral theories. Some employ subjective assumptions about value (e.g., hedonism and desire-satisfaction theories), while others employ objective assumptions (e.g., perfectionism and objective lists). Some assess the value of alternatives directly (e.g., act consequentialism), while others assess value indirectly (e.g., rule or motive consequentialism). Some direct agents to maximize value, while others direct agents to satisfice. Some, such as utilitarianism, are impartial and concerned to promote agent-neutral value, while others, such as self-referential altruism and perfectionist egoism, are partial and concerned to promote agent-relative value. This chapter focuses on the contrast between agent-neutral and agent-relative consequentialism. The chief attraction of agent-neutral consequentialism lies in its interpretation of impartiality. This interpretation is robust, and has the resources to answer criticisms that it cannot accommodate agent-relative constraints and options. However, it is difficult to fit associated duties into the intellectual net of agent-neutral consequentialism. Accommodating partiality requires an agent-relative form of consequentialism.

Keywords: associative duties; consequentialism; constraints; impartiality; options; perfectionist egoism; self-referential altruism; utilitarianism

Chapter.  19588 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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