The Rejection of Consequentialism: A Philosophical Investigation of the Considerations Underlying Rival Moral Conceptions

The Rejection of Consequentialism: A Philosophical Investigation of the Considerations Underlying Rival Moral Conceptions

The Rejection of Consequentialism: A Philosophical Investigation of the Considerations Underlying Rival Moral Conceptions

The Rejection of Consequentialism: A Philosophical Investigation of the Considerations Underlying Rival Moral Conceptions

Synopsis

In contemporary philosophy, substantive moral theories are typically classified as either consequentialist or deontological. Standard consequentialist theories insist, roughly, that agents must always act so as to produce the best available outcomes overall. Standard deontological theories, by contrast, maintain that there are some circumstances where one is permitted but not required to produce the best overall results, and still other circumstances in which one is positively forbidden to do so. Classical utilitarianism is the most familiar consequentialist view, but it is widely regarded as an inadequate account of morality. Although Samuel Scheffler agrees with this assessment, he also believes that consequentialism seems initially plausible, and that there is a persistent air of paradox surrounding typical deontological views. In this book, therefore, he undertakes to reconsider the rejection of consequentialism. He argues that it is possible to provide a rationale for the view that agents need not always produce the best possible overall outcomes, and this motivates one departure from consequentialism; but he shows that it is surprisingly difficult to provide a satisfactory rationale for the view that there are times when agents must not produce the best possible overall outcomes. He goes on to argue for a hitherto neglected type of moral conception, according to which agents are always permitted, but not always required, to produce the best outcomes.

Excerpt

According to an ancient if occasionally unfashionable view, the subject matter of moral philosophy is organized in the first instance around the question of how people ought to live their lives. That is certainly how I conceive of the subject, and as a consequence it has sometimes seemed to me that only a fool or a fanatic could seriously think himself 'professionally' competent to express and defend views in this area. Despite these scruples, which perhaps represent my better judgement, I am submitting the work that follows for the reader's consideration. In mitigation, I can only say that if the subject matter of moral philosophy is vast and daunting, as it is, and if the complexity and power of the experiences that typically prompt moral reflection sometimes make the theorist's abstractions seem hollow and glib, as they do, it is also true that the question which animates the subject as I conceive it is vivid and gripping and demands our attention, even if all too often we acknowledge the demand only by contriving to ignore it.

This book grows out of a dissertation which I submitted for the Ph.D. at Princeton in 1977. But my interest in the topics it deals with is as longstanding as my interest in philosophy itself. The first philosophy course I took as an undergraduate at Harvard was a course on ethics taught by Roderick Firth. At the time, I found myself strongly drawn to the deontological views, though not the epistemological intuitionism, of W. D. Ross, and utilitarianism I found thoroughly abhorrent. Rejecting Ross's own intuitionism, I began to worry about how a deontological view might be defended. My worries have only increased since that time, as the reader of this book will discover, and have led me in directions that have sometimes surprised and dismayed me. This book charts the current state of my thinking.

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