Consequentialism and Side Constraints

Journal of Moral Philosophy 6 (1):5-22 (2009)
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Many people are inclined to think that consequences of actions, or perhaps reasonably expected consequences of those actions, have moral weight. Firing off shotguns in crowded areas is typically wrong, at least in part, because of the people who get maimed and killed. Committed consequentialists think that consequences (either actual consequences, or expected consequences, or intended consequences, or reasonably expected consequences, or maybe some other different shade) are all that matters, morally speaking. Lying and stealing are wrong, when they are wrong, only because of the consequences they have – these may include direct consequences, such as the loss of property by another, or another’s hurt at being deceived, but also indirect consequences, such as setting a bad example or cultivating a disposition to lie or steal too easily that risks manifesting when the direct harm would be more serious. Consequentialists do not have to agree on much else – they may not agree what the morally relevant consequences are (Bentham thought they were a matter of pleasure and avoidance of pain, others may define a conception of human welfare, or preference satisfaction, or something else), they may disagree over whether there is one sort of consequence or many sorts that are relevant, and they can disagree about how the consequences matter. A maximiser thinks that as much as possible of the relevant consequences is morally important, others may think that beyond some point, consequences are indifferent, others may think that the average distribution of consequences across agents is what matters, or largely what matters, and so on.1..

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Daniel Nolan
University of Notre Dame


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