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Does consequentialism demand too much

Does consequentialism demand too much

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Emma Welch. Originally submitted for Contemporary Moral Theory at University of St. Andrews, with lecturer Lisa Jones in the category of Philosophical Studies & Theology
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Emma Welch. Originally submitted for Contemporary Moral Theory at University of St. Andrews, with lecturer Lisa Jones in the category of Philosophical Studies & Theology

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
 Does Consequentialism Demand Too Much?Contemporary Moral TheoryWord Count - 3226
AbstractThis paper examines the effect of an individual adopting a consequentialist moral theoryspecifically with regards to the current contemporary issue of global poverty.There is no limit to the sacrifices an individual is required to make in order to producean optimally beneficent state of affairs and reduce global poverty. The prevailingargument in this paper is that consequentialism would demand too much of a compliantagent in a situation where some or most of the agents are non-compliant to a principleof optimising beneficence. The most promising way of avoiding this problem is to adopta fair share condition that would prevent complying agents from having to sacrificemore in order to account for the non-compliance of others. This compliance conditionensures that even in a situation of non-compliance an agent is only required to sacrificeas much as he would under a system of total compliance. Consequently, more individualswould be more likely to respond to this lesser demand and this would result in a greateramount of optimal consequences.Key WordsConsequentialismDemandBeneficenceGlobal povertyCompliance
 
Does Consequentialism Demand Too Much?IntroductionIn this essay I am going to argue that consequentialism is too demanding, and that arestructuring of consequentialism could reduce the sacrifices an individual agent wouldneed to make. Firstly I will define the conception of consequentialism I am going to bereferring to throughout this essay. Secondly, I will outline which demands I will befocusing upon, and the effects of these demands upon the agent. Thirdly, I will bearguing that an ordinary conception of consequentialism is too demanding, but thatfollowing a principle of fair share could alleviate such extreme demands
1
. I will thenlook at one main objection to this fair share principle and provide four responses whichseek to weaken the force of this objection. Finally, I will conclude that a fair shareprinciple is a practical way of producing actions that will ultimately lead toconsequences which optimise beneficence.ConsequentialismConsequentialism is the idea that an act is morally permissible if and only if it createsthe best possible consequences of any available act
2
. The right thing to do in anysituation is the act with the best consequences
3
. This means that agents are required togive the largest possible contribution to the overall good and to seek to promotebeneficial consequences
4
.
1
 
This restructuring of consequentialism is also arguably more promising than rule consequentialism,as it is not susceptible to collapsing into simple consequentialism.
2
Kagan, Does Consequentialism Demand Too Much, Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol.13, No. 3,1984, p.239
3
Mulgan, The Demands of Consequentialism, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2000, p.3
4
Kagan, p.239
 
Principle of Optimising BeneficenceConsequentialism requires agents to produce as much of the most valuable outcome aspossible
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. For the sake of simplicity the valuable outcome that I shall be referring to ishuman goods, in the form of well-being
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. Well-being is defined as a satisfactorycondition of existence
7
. It is important to bear in mind that we must distinguish betweenthe basic necessities of life that create well-being from more complex goals andprojects
8
. The underlying assumption being that basic aspects of human well-being aremore morally significant and more meaningful than higher levels of well-being, such aspursuing goals, and that these should be fulfilled first
9
. Moreover, there may be otheroutcomes that are considered valuable, but due to the restrictions of this essay I amgoing to limit my discussion to consequences that optimise beneficence.This optimising principle of beneficence requires that each agent will produce as greatan expected overall outcome of beneficence
10
. Beneficence is the actual realisation orpromotion of others
well-being
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. The optimising beneficence principle requires thateach agent must promote well-being until the point where further efforts would burdenthe agent as much as they would benefit others
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.The demandsThis creates a very demanding theory. There is no limit to the sacrifices that moralitycan require and agents are not permitted to favour their own interests at the expense of the greater good
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. A consequentialist theory means that an individual may have todrastically lower their own level of well-being, as well as that of their dependents, inorder to optimise beneficence. Richard Brandt succinctly expresses how these extreme
5
Rachels, The Elements of Moral Philosophy, McGraw- Hill Inc, New York, 1993, p.105
 
6
Mulgan p.104
7
L.C. Becker, Good Lives, Social Philosophy and Policy, Vol.9, No.2, 1992, p.5
8
Moore, Objective Human Goods, Well-being and morality, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2000, p.9
9
Mulgan, p.104
10
Murphy, Moral Demands in Non Ideal Theory, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000, p.11
11
 
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
 
12
Kagan, p.240
 
13
Kagan, p.239

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