Act Consequentialism without Free Rides

Philosophical Perspectives 34 (1):88-116 (2020)
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Consequentialist theories determine rightness solely based on real or expected consequences. Although such theories are popular, they often have difficulty with generalizing intuitions, which demand concern for questions like “What if everybody did that?” Rule consequentialism attempts to incorporate these intuitions by shifting the locus of evaluation from the consequences of acts to those of rules. However, detailed rule-consequentialist theories seem ad hoc or arbitrary compared to act consequentialist ones. We claim that generalizing can be better incorporated into consequentialism by keeping the locus of evaluation on acts but adjusting the decision theory behind act selection. Specifically, we should adjust which types of dependencies the theory takes to be decision-relevant. Using this strategy, we formulate a new theory, generalized act consequentialism, which we argue is more compelling than rule consequentialism both in modeling the actual reasoning of generalizers and in delivering correct verdicts.

Author Profiles

Ben Levinstein
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


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