Overdemanding Consequentialism? An Experimental Approach

Utilitas 26 (3):250-275 (2014)
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According to act-consequentialism the right action is the one that produces the best results as judged from an impersonal perspective. Some claim that this requirement is unreasonably demanding and therefore consequentialism is unacceptable as a moral theory. The article breaks with dominant trends in discussing this so-called Overdemandingness Objection. Instead of focusing on theoretical responses, it empirically investigates whether there exists a widely shared intuition that consequentialist demands are unreasonable. This discussion takes the form of examining what people think about the normative significance of consequentialist requirements. In two experiments, the article finds that although people are sensitive to consequentialist requirements and, on average, find more extreme demands less reasonable, the level of disagreement with consequentialism falls short of qualifying as a widely shared intuition, even when demands are the highest. The article then ends with a general discussion of possible objections to its methods and its findings.
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