Some Forms and Limits of Consequentialism

David O. Brink

in The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory

Published in print June 2007 | ISBN: 9780195325911
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Some Forms and Limits of Consequentialism


Perhaps the most familiar form of consequentialism is classical hedonistic act utilitarianism, which claims, roughly, that an agent ought to perform that action, among the available alternatives, that produces the most net pleasure (pleasure, less pain) for everyone concerned. But this classical form of utilitarianism is thought by many to be just a special case of a more general or abstract class of consequentialist moral theories that make the moral assessment of alternatives depend in some way upon their value. How to understand and assess consequentialism depends on how one specifies this more general class of theories. This article understands consequentialism quite broadly, with the result that it is a large and heterogeneous family. This makes it difficult to get very far discussing the prospects for consequentialism as such. Different varieties of consequentialism have different strengths and weaknesses.

Keywords: consequentialism; classical hedonistic act; utilitarianism; moral theories; moral assessment

Article.  19382 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Moral Philosophy

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