Consequentialism and Coordination Problems

Abstract

Imagine both that (1) S1 is deliberating at t about whether or not to x at t' and that (2) although S1’s x-ing at t' would not itself have good consequences, good consequences would ensue if both S1 x's at t' and S2 y's at t", where S1 may or may not be identical to S2 and where t < t' ≤ t". In this paper, I consider how consequentialists should treat S2 and the possibility that S2 will y at t". At one end of the spectrum, consequentialists would hold that, in deciding whether or not to x at t', S1 should always treat S2 as a force of nature over which she has no control and, thus, treat the possibility that S2 will y at t" as she would the possibility that a hurricane will take a certain path. On this view, S1 is to predict whether or not S2 will y and act accordingly. At the other end of the spectrum, consequentialists would hold that S1 should always treat S2 as someone available for mutual cooperation and, thus, treat the possibility that S2 will y at t" as something to be relied upon. On this view, S1 is to rely on S2’s cooperation and so play her part in the best cooperative scheme involving the two of them. A third and intermediate position would be to hold that whether S1 should treat S2 as a force of nature or as someone available for mutual cooperation depends on whether S1 can see to it that S2 will y at t" by, say, having the right set attitudes. I’ll argue for this third position. As we’ll see, an important implication of this view is that consequentialists should be concerned not just with an agent’s voluntary actions but also with their involuntary acquisitions of various mental attitudes, such as beliefs, desires, and intentions. Indeed, I will argue that consequentialists should hold both that (1) an agent’s most fundamental duty is to have all those attitudes that she has decisive reason to have and only those attitudes that she has sufficient reason to have and that (2) she has a derivative duty to perform an act x if and only if her fulfilling this fundamental duty ensures that she x’s. Thus, I argue (as Donald Regan did before me) that consequentialism should not be exclusively act-orientated – that it should require agents not only to perform certain voluntary actions but also to have certain attitudes. In the process, I develop a new version of consequentialism, which I call attitude-consequentialism. (The latest version of this paper can always be found at: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14740340/Consequentialism%20and%20Coordination%20Problems.pdf)

Author's Profile

Douglas W. Portmore
Arizona State University

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