The Case Against Consequentialism: Methodological Issues

In Miguel Holtje, Thomas Spitzley & Wolfgang Spohn (eds.), GAP.8 Proceedings. GAP (2013). Gesellschaft für Analytische Philosophie. pp. 654-665 (2013)
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Over the years, consequentialism has been subjected to numerous serious objections. Its adherents, however, have been remarkably successful in fending them off. As I argue in this paper, the reason why the case against consequentialism has not been more successful lies, at least partly, in the methodological approach that critics have commonly used. Their arguments have usually proceeded in two steps. First, a definition of consequentialism is given. Then, objections are put forward based on that definition. This procedure runs into one of two problems. Substantive criticisms of consequentialism can only be formulated, if the posited definition is sufficiently concrete and narrow. In that case, however, consequentialists can defend themselves using a strategy that I call “interpretive divergence”. They can simply point out that the critic's definition does not accord with their understanding of consequentialism to which criticisms do not apply. If, on the other hand, an all-encompassing definition is used, it is so abstract that it is doubtful whether any substantive criticisms can be formulated. To escape this dilemma, I sketch a methodological approach which drops the assumption that consequentialism should be defined. It assumes, rather, that the term “consequentialism” should be interpreted as a Wittgensteinian family resemblance term.

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Nikil S. Mukerji
Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München


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