Commonsense Consequentialism: A Bleg for Comments

Currently, I’m working on a book entitled Commonsense Consequentialism: Wherein Morality Meets Rationality. (Click on the link to be taken to a web site where you can download individual chapters.) The book is on morality, rationality, and the interconnections between the two. In it, I defend a version of consequentialism that both comports with our commonsense moral intuitions and shares with other consequentialist theories the same compelling teleological conception of practical reasons. I have a complete draft of the book finished, but I’m still in the process of revising it. I have promised to submit it by the end of this coming January. I would be very grateful, then, to those who have the time to read it (or any portion of it) and give me comments before then, as this would be of tremendous help to me in revising it. Comments, questions, and/or criticisms can be posted here or sent to me at douglas.portmore@asu.edu. Below the fold, I include the table of comments followed by a brief synopsis of each chapter.


Contents

 
0.      Front Matter
0.1.   Title Page
0.2.   Dedication
0.3.   Table of contents
0.4.   Acknowledgements
 
1.      Introduction
1.1.   Utilitarianism: The good and the bad
1.2.   The plan for the rest of the book
1.3.   My aims
1.4.   Objective oughts and objective reasons
1.5.   Conventions that I’ll follow throughout the book
 
2.      Consequentialism and Moral Rationalism
2.1.   The too-demanding objection: How moral rationalism leads us to reject utilitarianism
2.2.   The argument against utilitarianism from moral rationalism
2.3.   How moral rationalism compels us to accept consequentialism
2.4.   What is consequentialism?
2.5.   The presumptive case for moral rationalism
2.6.   Some concluding remarks
 
3.      The Teleological Conception of Practical Reasons
3.1.   Getting clear on what the view is
3.2.   Clearing up some misconceptions about the view
3.3.   Scanlon’s putative counterexamples to the view
3.4.   Arguments for the view
 
4.      Consequentializing Commonsense Morality
4.1.   How to consequentialize
4.2.   The deontic equivalence thesis
4.3.   Beyond the deontic equivalence thesis: How consequentialist theories can do a better job of accounting for our considered moral convictions than even some nonconsequentialist theories can
4.4.   The implications of the deontic equivalence thesis
4.5.   An objection
 
5.      Dual-Ranking Act-Consequentialism: Reasons, Morality, and Overridingness
5.1.   Some quick clarifications
5.2.   Moral reasons, overridingness, and agent-centered options
5.3.   Moral reasons, overridingness, and supererogation
5.4.   A meta-criterion of rightness and how it leads us to adopt dual-ranking act-consequentialism
5.5.   Norcross’s objection
5.6.   Splawn’s objection
5.7.   Violations of the transitivity and independence axioms
 
6.      Imperfect Reasons and Rational Options
6.1.   Kagan’s objection: Are we sacrificing rational options to get moral options?
6.2.   Imperfect reasons and rational options
6.3.   The future-course-of-action theory of objective rationality
6.4.   Accounting for the basic belief
6.5.   Accounting for the rational status of an act-sequence
6.6.   Objections to the theory
 
7.      Commonsense Consequentialism
7.1.   The argument thus far
7.2.   Why dual-ranking act-consequentialism needs modification
7.3.   Actualism versus possibilism
7.4.   Future-course-of-action consequentialism and the argument for it
7.5.   Commonsense consequentialism and how it compares with traditional act-consequentialism
7.6.   What has been shown and what remains to be shown
 
8.      Back Matter
8.1.   Glossary
8.2.   List of propositions
8.3.   Bibliography
8.4.   Index of names
8.5.  Index of subjects
 
*The last chapter, Chapter 7, is password protected. The others are freely available. If you don’t have the password, please email me at douglas.portmore@asu.edu and I’ll send it to you. I’m happy to give the password to anyone who asks for it; I just want to keep track of who is reading the manuscript.
 
A Brief Synopsis of Each Chapter
 
Chapter 1: Explains the basic motivation for the book: to find a theory that accommodates what’s compelling about act-utilitarianism while avoiding all, or at least most, of its counterintuitive implications. Explains the plan for the book as well as my aims in writing it. Explains that the book’s focus is on what we objectively ought to do and how this objective sense of ‘ought’ relates to our first-person practical deliberations and to our everyday practices of blaming and advising. Explains why objective oughts and objective reasons are of fundamental importance. Explains my conventions regarding citations, symbolic notation, the numbering of propositions, etc.
 
Chapter 2: Argues that we should reject all traditional forms of act-consequentialism if moral rationalism is true. (Moral rationalism, as I define it, says that if S is morally required to perform x, then S has decisive reason to perform x.) Argues that moral rationalism in conjunction with a certain conception of practical reasons (viz., the teleological conception of practical reasons) compels us to accept act-consequentialism. Argues that act-consequentialism is best construed as a theory that ranks outcomes, not according to their value, but according to how much reason each agent has to desire that they obtain. Gives a presumptive argument in favor of moral rationalism.
 
Chapter 3: Argues for the teleological conception of practical reasons, which holds that S has more reason to perform x than to perform y just when, and because, S has more reason to desire that x’s outcome obtains than to desire that y’s outcome obtains. Tries to counter many misconceptions about the view. 
 
Chapter 4: Argues that, for any plausible nonconsequentialist moral theory, there is a consequentialist counterpart that is extensionally equivalent to it. Argues that from this it does not follow, as some have claimed, that we are all consequentialists. Argues that consequentialism can better account for certain commonsense moral intuitions than victim-focused deontology can.
 
Chapter 5: Argues that in order to accommodate many typical agent-centered options and resolve the paradox of supererogation, we must accept that non-moral reasons can, and sometimes do, prevent moral reasons, even those with considerable moral requiring strength, from generating moral requirements. Argues that, given that moral permissibility is a function of both moral and non-moral reasons, we should accept that S’s performing x is morally permissible if and only if there is no available alternative that S has both more (moral) requiring reason and more reason, all things considered, to perform. Argues that, given this, we need to accept a dual-ranking version of consequentialism—one that ranks outcomes both in terms of how much moral reason the agent has to want them to obtain and in terms of how much reason, all things considered, the agent has to want them to obtain. Addresses a number of objections to this dual-ranking version of consequentialism.
 
Chapter 6: Addresses Kagan’s worry that if we defend agent-centered options, as I have, by arguing that non-moral reasons can successfully counter moral reasons and thereby prevent them from generating moral requirements, we end up sacrificing rational options to get moral options. Defends a theory of objective rationality according to which the objective rationality of an individual act is determined by whether or not it is contained within some rationally permissible sequence of actions that extends from the present to one’s death. Argues that this theory can best account for what Raz calls the basic belief: the belief that, in most typical choice situations, the relevant reaso
ns do not require performing one particular act alternative, but instead permit performing any of numerous act alternatives.
 
Chapter 7: Argues that an adequate moral theory must be able to assess the deontic statuses of sequences of actions and not just the deontic statuses of individual actions (tokens and types). Argues for a version of indirect consequentialism according to which the moral permissibility of an individual act is determined by whether or not it is contained within some morally permissible sequence of actions that extends from the present to one’s death. Gives an argument for this version of consequentialism. Argues that this version of consequentialism can accommodate all the basic features of commonsense morality: agent-centered restrictions, special obligations, agent-favoring options, agent-sacrificing options, supererogation, the self-other asymmetry, and even the idea that some acts are supererogatory in the sense of going above and beyond what imperfect duty requires. Argues that we should accept possibilism (the view according to which whether or not S ought to do x depends on what S could simultaneously and subsequently do were S to do x) as opposed to actualism (the view according to which whether or not S ought to do x depends on what S would simultaneously and subsequently do were S to do x).
 

 

4 Replies to “Commonsense Consequentialism: A Bleg for Comments

  1. Argues that we should reject all traditional forms of act-consequentialism if moral rationalism is true….Argues that act-consequentialism is best construed as a theory that ranks outcomes, not according to their value, but according to how much reason each agent has to desire that they obtain.
    Is it me or am I missing something here? If traditional consequentialism ranks outcomes according to what we have most reason to desire, what is wrong with it?

  2. Is it me or am I missing something here? If traditional consequentialism ranks outcomes according to what we have most reason to desire, what is wrong with it?
    Traditional act-consequentialism is, as I define it, the view according to which both (1) act-consequentialism is true and (2) an act produces the outcome that the agent has the most reason to desire if and only if it maximizes the good. The problem with it, as I see it, is that (2) is false. I sometimes have most reason to desire the worse outcome. For instance, suppose that there are two possible outcomes: O1 and O2. O1 is the outcome in which my daughter is saved. O2 is the outcome in which Smith’s daughter is saved. Assume that because Smith’s daughter would live a slightly more happy life than my own daughter would, O2 is slightly better than O1. I think that despite the fact that 02 is (impersonally) better than O1, I have most reason to desire 01.

  3. For those interested, please see my responses to Richard over at his blog. Just follow the link that Richard provides.

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