Consequentialism and the New Doing-Allowing Distinction

In Christian Seidel (ed.), Consequentialism: new directions, new problems? Oxford, UK: pp. 176-197 (2019)
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Evaluator-relative consequentialists frequently endorse the traditional doing-allowing distinction. Yet their endorsement of this traditional distinction only serves to clear the way for their argument against a more fundamental doing-allowing distinction, an argument that one never ought to do something when this will allow something worse to happen. Unlike the case against its more traditional counterpart, the case against this deeper doing-allowing distinction can draw for support upon widely held “state of affairs centered” accounts of attitudes, actions, reasons and value, accounts upon which desires are (all) attitudes towards states of affairs, practical reasons are all reasons to promote states of affairs, and to act is to make something happen -- to promote, produce, or bring about some states of affairs. Moreover, to reject this deeper distinction is to accept the centerpiece of consequentialism – that the evaluation of actions is determined through appeal to the evaluation of states of affairs. Only once the nature of the deep doing-allowing distinction, and these grounds for its rejection, come into view, does it also become clear both what an adequate response to such arguments for its rejection will look like, and that many elements of such a response have already been proposed.

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Paul Hurley
Claremont McKenna College


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