A question for those better tutored in (or perhaps more sympathetic to) consequentialism than I: How are we to understand the claim that consequentialists count the "value of the action itself" as part of the value of an outcome? I’ve encountered this claim numerous times, but I confess I don’t understand how to square an action’s having value in itself with the consequentialist thesis that only the results or consequences of an action determine its deontic status.
I quote William Shaw as a typical expositor of this claim:
When consequentialists refer to the results or consequences of an action, they have in mind the entire upshot of an action, that is, its overall outcome. They are concerned with whether, and to what extent, the world is better or worse because the agent has elected a given course of conduct. Thus, consequentialists take into account whatever value, if any, the action has in itself, not merely the value of its subsequent effects. ("The Consequentialist Persepective", in Dreier (ed.), Contemporary Debates in Moral Theory (Blackwell, 2006), p. 6)
Shaw then proceeds to point out that:
(a) consequences of an action include not only its causal effects, but also the results of refraining from acting, so that, e.g., my not giving a panhandler money does not cause him to sleep in the street that night, but is nevertheless a consequence of my not giving him money, and
(b) the boundary between an action and its consequences can be rendered fuzzy by how we describe the action.
Granting these two points, I still don’t understand Shaw’s conclusion that consequentialism recommends that we "assess and compare the overall outcomes of the various actions we could perform, and these outcomes include the positive or negative value, if any, of each action viewed by itself as well as the positive or negative value of its subsequent effects." (p. 7, emphasis added) The trouble I’m having is seeing how an action can have value that contributes to the value of its outcome without that value being either a causal consequence of the action itself or some counterfactual consequence of the action (i.e., referring back to (a) above, the consequences of my not doing what I could have done but did not in fact do). Suppose I break a promise: What value does the action have that contributes to the value of its outcome? I might end up diminishing whatever trust existed between me and the promisee, but that’s a causal outcome. I might express disrespect for the promisee or her interests or autonomy, and that could be seen as a property of the action rather than a subsequent effect of the action. But surely it’s easier for consequentialists to say that what has value here is the promisee understanding or experiencing that disrespect (a straightforward consequence), not my expressing it through my act of promise breaking. Talking about actions having value in themselves sounds suspiciously deontological to my ears.
Perhaps I’m just being dense here, but I’d find it useful to have concrete examples of ‘the action itself’ making a contribution to the value of its outcome. Thanks!