Consequentialism and Its Demands: A Representative Study

Journal of Value Inquiry 48 (2):293-314 (2014)
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An influential objection to act-consequentialism holds that the theory is unduly demanding. This paper is an attempt to approach this critique of act-consequentialism – the Overdemandingness Objection – from a different, so far undiscussed, angle. First, the paper argues that the most convincing form of the Objection claims that consequentialism is overdemanding because it requires us, with decisive force, to do things that, intuitively, we do not have decisive reason to perform. Second, in order to investigate the existence of the intuition, the paper reports empirical evidence of how people see the normative significance of consequentialist requirements.. In a scenario study that recruited a sample which is representative of the German population in key characteristics, it finds that there is no widely shared intuition as to the excessive demandingness of consequentialist requirements, although people do find higher demands less reasonable. This is true irrespective of people’s level of formal education despite the fact that lower levels of formal education are associated with an increased likelihood of having intuitions that are consistent with the Objection. Apart from contributing in this way to the debate concerning the Overdemandingness Objection, the paper also more directly speaks to the basic discussion concerning the status and role of intuitions in moral philosophy. It discusses methodological questions relevant to the role of intuitions and ends with proposing an improved methodology to investigate intuitions that connects them to emotions in a particular way and also proposes a role for virtue.
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