Preliminaries Aristotle wrote two ethical treatises: In any case, these two works cover more or less the same ground: Both treatises examine the conditions in which praise or blame are appropriate, and the nature of pleasure and friendship; near the end of each work, we find a brief discussion of the proper relationship between human beings and the divine.
Classic Utilitarianism The paradigm case of consequentialism is utilitarianism, whose classic proponents were Jeremy BenthamJohn Stuart Milland Henry Sidgwick For predecessors, see Schneewind Classic utilitarians held hedonistic act consequentialism. Act consequentialism is the claim that an act is morally right if and only if that act maximizes the good, that is, if and only if the total amount of good for all minus the total amount of bad for all is greater than this net amount for any incompatible act available to the agent on that occasion.
Hedonism then claims that pleasure is the only intrinsic good and that pain is the only intrinsic bad. An act can increase happiness for most the greatest number of people but still fail to maximize the net good in the world if the smaller number of people whose happiness is not increased lose much more than the greater number gains.
The principle of utility would not allow that kind of sacrifice of the smaller number to the greater number unless the net good overall is increased more than any alternative.
Classic utilitarianism is consequentialist as opposed to deontological because of what it denies. It denies that moral rightness depends directly on anything other than consequences, such as whether the agent promised in the past to do the act now.
Of course, the fact that the agent promised to do the act might indirectly affect the act's consequences if breaking the promise will make other people unhappy. Nonetheless, according to classic utilitarianism, what makes it morally wrong to break the promise is its future effects on those other people rather than the fact that the agent promised in the past.
Since classic utilitarianism reduces all morally relevant factors Kagan17—22 to consequences, it might appear simple. However, classic utilitarianism is actually a complex combination of many distinct claims, including the following claims about the moral rightness of acts: These claims could be clarified, supplemented, and subdivided further.
What matters here is just that most pairs of these claims are logically independent, so a moral theorist could consistently accept some of them without accepting others. Yet classic utilitarians accepted them all.
That fact makes classic utilitarianism a more complex theory than it might appear at first sight. It also makes classic utilitarianism subject to attack from many angles. Persistent opponents posed plenty of problems for classic utilitarianism.
Each objection led some utilitarians to give up some of the original claims of classic utilitarianism. By dropping one or more of those claims, descendants of utilitarianism can construct a wide variety of moral theories.
Advocates of these theories often call them consequentialism rather than utilitarianism so that their theories will not be subject to refutation by association with the classic utilitarian theory.
This array of alternatives raises the question of which moral theories count as consequentialist as opposed to deontologicaland why. Of course, different philosophers see different respects as the important ones.
Hence, there is no agreement on which theories count as consequentialist under this definition. To resolve this vagueness, we need to determine which of the various claims of classic utilitarianism are essential to consequentialism. One claim seems clearly necessary.
If that claim is dropped, the theory ceases to be consequentialist. It is less clear whether that claim by itself is sufficient to make a theory consequentialist. Several philosophers assert that a moral theory should not be classified as consequentialist unless it is agent-neutral McNaughton and RawlingHoward-SnyderPettit This narrower definition is motivated by the fact that many self-styled critics of consequentialism argue against agent-neutrality.
Other philosophers prefer a broader definition that does not require a moral theory to be agent-neutral in order to be consequentialist Bennett ; Broome5—6; and Skorupski Criticisms of agent-neutrality can then be understood as directed against one part of classic utilitarianism that need not be adopted by every moral theory that is consequentialist.
Moreover, according to those who prefer a broader definition of consequentialism, the narrower definition conflates independent claims and obscures a crucial commonality between agent-neutral consequentialism and other moral theories that focus exclusively on consequences, such as moral egoism and recent self-styled consequentialists who allow agent-relativity into their theories of value SenBroomePortmore A definition solely in terms of consequences might seem too broad, because it includes absurd theories such as the theory that an act is morally right if it increases the number of goats in Texas.
Of course, such theories are implausible. Still, it is not implausible to call them consequentialist, since they do look only at consequences.
The implausibility of one version of consequentialism does not make consequentialism implausible in general, since other versions of consequentialism still might be plausible. Besides, anyone who wants to pick out a smaller set of moral theories that excludes this absurd theory may talk about evaluative consequentialism, which is the claim that moral rightness depends only on the value of the consequences.
Then those who want to talk about the even smaller group of moral theories that accepts both evaluative consequentialism and agent-neutrality may describe them as agent-neutral evaluative consequentialism.H ey, guess what?
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