You are on page 1of 22

Oxford Bibliographies Online - Ethical Consequentialism

http://www.oxfordbibliographiesonline.com.avoserv.library.fordham.edu/...

BY TIM MULGAN

INTRODUCTION
Consequentialism ties moral evaluation to the value of consequences or outcomes. In contemporary moral
philosophy, consequentialism is typically contrasted with deontology and virtue ethics. Different
consequentialists offer different accounts of value, but all give a prominent place to the promotion of human
well-being. Consequentialism can evaluate acts, rules, motives, or political institutions. This entry focuses on
contemporary consequentialism, but also explores its roots in classical utilitarianism.

GENERAL OVERVIEWS
There are a number of good overviews of consequentialism. Sinnott-Armstrong 2008 offers a balanced and
sympathetic introduction to the main themes of contemporary consequentialism. A regularly updated online
resource, this is likely to remain the best place to begin. Pettit 1991 and Goodin 1991 together provide an
authoritative, if very brief, introduction. Pettit 1997 offers a more systematic interpretation of the
consequentialist perspective. Pettits Reply to Baron and Stote in the same volume sets out the consequentialist
response to the competing accounts offered by Kantians and virtue theorists. Part 1 of Parfit 1984, the most
influential recent consequentialist work, introduces the different forms of consequentialism. The rest of the book
introduces many of the dominant themes of recent debate. Smart 1973 and Williams 1973 represent a classic
debate between a defender of straightforward act consequentialism and one of its most penetrating recent
critics.
Goodin, Robert. Utility and the Good. In A Companion to Ethics . Edited by Peter Singer,
241248. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.
Brief outline of the standard accounts of value, focusing on utilitarianism. Argues that the utility principle is
a sound basis for public rather than private choice. Together with Pettit 1991, an ideal brief introduction.

Parfit, Derek. Reasons and Persons . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.
The seminal text in late-twentieth-century consequentialist literature. Crisply written, with an abundance
of provocative thought experiments and ingenious arguments. Part 1 outlines the different forms of
consequentialism, focusing especially on the contrast between individual and collective. Other parts
explore rationality and time, personal identity, and future people, providing the background for
subsequent debates.

1 of 22

9/24/2011 08:37

Oxford Bibliographies Online - Ethical Consequentialism

http://www.oxfordbibliographiesonline.com.avoserv.library.fordham.edu/...

Pettit, Philip. Consequentialism. In A Companion to Ethics . Edited by Peter Singer, 230240.


Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.
Brief outline, including main arguments for and against consequentialism. Introduces the now-standard
distinction between promoting and honoring value. Together with Goodin 1991, an ideal brief
introduction.

Pettit, Philip. The Consequentialist Perspective. In Three Methods of Ethics . By Baron, Marcia,
Philip Pettit, and Michael Slote, 92174. Oxford: Blackwell, 1997.
Systematic presentation of consequentialism, focusing on moral psychology and the question of rightness.
Responds to many familiar objections by sketching a consequentialist moral psychology. Ideal advanced
introduction.

Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter. Consequentialism. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy .


Edited by Edward N. Zalta, 2008.
A balanced, insightful, accessible overview of contemporary consequentialism, written by a sympathetic
critic. Updated regularly, and thus likely to remain the best first port of call for both students and scholars.

Smart, J. J. C. An Outline of a System of Utilitarian Ethics. In Utilitarianism: For and Against .


Edited byJ. J. C. Smart and Bernard Williams, 374. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press,
1973.
Clear defense of act utilitarianism. Superseded by subsequent debate in many details, but still a useful
introduction to the consequentialist worldview. The context for the critique in Williams 1973. Read
together, the two offer a good taste of the issues that have traditionally divided consequentialists and their
opponents.

Williams, Bernard. A Critique of Utilitarianism. In Utilitarianism: For and Against . By J. J. C.


Smart and Bernard Williams, 77150. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1973.
Highly influential critique of utilitarianism, and especially impartial consequentialism. Introduces the
integrity objection that utilitarianism is inconsistent with genuine personal commitments. Engaging and
forceful style. Although Williamss arguments have been developed more clearly and systematically by
others, there is still much to be gained by reading them in the original.

TEXTBOOKS
Most introductory textbooks in moral or political philosophy discuss consequentialism and/or classical
utilitarianism. Some texts focus on consequentialism. Shaw 1999 is a very readable and reliable introduction to
ethics, giving utilitarianism a central place. Singer 1993 is a provocative utilitarian introduction to applied
ethics. Mulgan 2007 emphasizes the continuity between classical utilitarianism and contemporary
consequentialism. All three are suitable for introductory classes or the general reader. Baron, et al. 1997 offers

2 of 22

9/24/2011 08:37

Oxford Bibliographies Online - Ethical Consequentialism

http://www.oxfordbibliographiesonline.com.avoserv.library.fordham.edu/...

first-person introductions to the three main contemporary strands in normative ethics and is suitable for senior
undergraduates and above. While too self-contained to serve as a class text, Kagan 1998 offers a distinctive
perspective on contemporary normative ethics. Textbooks focusing on classical utilitarianism or political
philosophy are discussed in Secondary Texts and Consequentialist Political Theory.
Baron, Marcia, Philip Pettit, and Michael Slote. Three Methods of Ethics . Oxford: Blackwell, 1997.
Three main strands in contemporary normative ethicsKantian ethics, consequentialism, and virtue
ethicsare each represented by a leading exponent. Detailed exposition of each view, followed by replies
from each contributor. Captures the flavor of the current debate. Ideal senior undergraduate text.

Kagan, Shelly. Normative Ethics . Boulder, CO: Westview, 1998.


From the Westview Dimensions of Philosophy series. Broadly consequentialist account of contemporary
normative ethics. Does not engage other literature enough for a course text, but full of original arguments
and perspectives.

Mulgan, Tim. Understanding Utilitarianism . Stocksfield, UK: Acumen, 2007.


Treats utilitarianism as a living tradition in moral philosophy, emphasizing continuities and differences
between classical utilitarianism and contemporary consequentialism. Aimed at introductory classes and
the general reader.

Shaw, William. Contemporary Ethics: Taking Account of Utilitarianism . Malden, MA: Blackwell,
1999.
Readable and reliable introductory textbook. Primary focus on utilitarianism, but also discusses other
contemporary approaches. Very good discussions of the case for utilitarianism (chapter 3) and the
objections to it (chapter 4).

Singer, Peter. Practical Ethics . 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Partisan but highly readable introduction, written from an act utilitarian perspective. Excellent coverage of
issues: animals, abortion, euthanasia, famine relief. Ideal provocative introductory text.

ANTHOLOGIES
There are a number of good anthologies devoted to consequentialism. Darwall 2003 is a superb collection of
seminal works in classical utilitarianism and contemporary consequentialism. Sen and Williams 1982 and
Scheffler 1988 are two influential collections of articles. Dancy 1997 is an ideal companion to Parfits Reasons

and Persons (Parfit 1984, cited under General Overviews), the seminal contemporary consequentialist text. Due
to increased research specialization, the best recent anthologies typically deal with more specific topics and are
thus discussed in separate sections.
Dancy, Jonathan, ed. Reading Parfit . Oxford: Blackwell, 1997.

3 of 22

9/24/2011 08:37

Oxford Bibliographies Online - Ethical Consequentialism

http://www.oxfordbibliographiesonline.com.avoserv.library.fordham.edu/...

Essays by leading philosophers on Parfits Reasons and Persons (Parfit 1984, cited under General
Overviews). Concentrates on the first three parts of the book, excluding the material on future people in
Part 4. An excellent accompaniment to Parfits original text, and thus to contemporary consequentialism.
Suitable background reading for senior undergraduates and above.

Darwall, Stephen, ed. Consequentialism . Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003.


Collection of articles or excerpts from classical utilitarians (Bentham, Mill, Sidgwick, Moore), contemporary
consequentialists (Pettit, Scheffler, Parfit, Railton, Harsanyi, Brandt, Adams), and critics (Rawls, Sen). Very
judiciously selected, with a brief but informative introduction by the editor.

Scheffler, Samuel, ed. Consequentialism and Its Critics . Oxford Readings in Philosophy. Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1988.
Collection of classic contemporary readings by leading consequentialists and opponents: Rawls, Williams,
Nagel, Scanlon, Railton, Nozick, Parfit, Sen, Foot, Scheffler. Ideal background to current debate.

Sen, Amartya, and Bernard Williams, eds. Utilitarianism and Beyond . Cambridge, UK: Cambridge
University Press, 1982.
Collection of articles by leading consequentialists and opponents. Especially notable for classic critical
papers by Scanlon, Taylor, and Rawls; and for reprinting two earlier defenses of consequentialism by Hare
and Harsanyi. Ideal background to current debate.

CLASSICAL UTILITARIANISM
Contemporary consequentialism has its roots in the utilitarian tradition developed in Britain in the 18th and
19th centuries, and especially in the classical utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and Henry
Sidgwick.
Primary Texts
Two early examples are the theological utilitarianism of Paley 2002 and the radical impartial utilitarianism of
Godwin 1971. Bentham 1996 is the most accessible work by the founder of classical utilitarianism. Mill 1998
and Mill 1974 are two classic statements of utilitarianism and liberalism. Both are written for a popular
audience, and ideal for beginners. Mill 1994 and Mill 1973 are more sophisticated discussions of Mills political
and philosophical views. Sidgwick 1981 is often regarded as the most philosophically sophisticated statement
of classical utilitarianism, and sets the scene for contemporary consequentialism. It is a difficult read, but well
worth the effort.
Bentham, Jeremy. An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation . Edited by J. Burns
and H. L. A. Hart. Oxford: Clarendon, 1996.
Written in 1789. The best published introduction to Bentham, who wrote a huge amount but published
little Defends the utility (or greatest happiness) principle and hedonism Not an easy read but a

4 of 22

9/24/2011 08:37

Oxford Bibliographies Online - Ethical Consequentialism

http://www.oxfordbibliographiesonline.com.avoserv.library.fordham.edu/...

fascinating insight into a very original thinker.

Godwin, William. Enquiry Concerning Political Justice . Abridged and edited by K. Codell Carter.
Oxford: Clarendon, 1971.
Provocative defense of a completely impartial utilitarianism, with no place for special obligations.
Introduces the infamous example of the archbishop and the chambermaid. Worth reading for those
interested in the historical development of classical utilitarianism. First published 1793. This is a reprint
of the third edition of 1798.

Mill, John Stuart. A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive . Edited by J. M. Robson. Toronto:
University of Toronto Press, 1973.
Mills most comprehensive philosophical work. Discusses proper names, induction, fallacies, and the logic
of the moral sciences. Less accessible to modern readers than his essays, and often neglected, but
essential reading for anyone wanting to understand Mills utilitarianism in its philosophical context. First
published 1843. Reprint of 8th edition of 1872.

Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty . Edited by Gertrude Himmelfarb. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin,
1974.
Probably the most influential work by a utilitarian. Written together with Mill 1998, for the same popular
audience. Hugely influential popular defense of liberalism. The relationship between Mills liberalism and
his utilitarianism is unclear, and the subject of huge subsequent controversy. First published 1793.

Mill, John Stuart. Principles of Political Economy . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.
Mills influential views on economics. Less accessible than Mills essays on liberty and utilitarianism, and
superseded by subsequent technical developments, but still an excellent insight into utilitarian political
economy. First published in 1848. Reprint of the 7th edition of 1871, with introduction and notes by
Jonathan Riley.

Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism . Edited by Roger Crisp. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
The best introduction to classical utilitarianism for students or general readers. Inevitably glosses over
many complexities and is much more convincing when seen in the context of Mills overall philosophical
project. Originally published in 1861. Crisps edition has a philosophical introduction, thorough notes,
and an extended bibliography.

Paley, William. The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy . Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund,
2002.
Presents utilitarianism as the best way to determine the will of God. While radical on some issues, such as
his opposition to slavery, Paley is generally conservative, especially regarding property. Worth reading to

5 of 22

9/24/2011 08:37

Oxford Bibliographies Online - Ethical Consequentialism

http://www.oxfordbibliographiesonline.com.avoserv.library.fordham.edu/...

correct the impression that utilitarianism was always radical and antireligious. First published 1786.

Sidgwick, Henry. The Methods of Ethics . 7th ed. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1981.
The most philosophically sophisticated classical utilitarian work. Prefigures many themes of contemporary
consequentialism. A long, sometimes dense read, but an essential resource for anyone interested in
consequentialism. First published in 1874. The 7th edition of 1907, reprinted with a brief forward by John
Rawls.

Secondary Texts
Mulgan 2007 offers a concise overview of classical utilitarianism, highlighting its relevance to contemporary
consequentialism. Crisp 1997 is a reliable guide through the text of Mills Utilitarianism and introduces many
contemporary consequentialist controversies. For those seeking more advanced discussion of Mill, Skorupski
1998 is a collection of authoritative essays on diverse aspects of Mills philosophy, and West 2006 provides a
variety of perspectives on Mills utilitarianism. Secondary literature on other figures is often less accessible.
Rosen 2003 offers a very detailed account of the emergence of classical utilitarianism. Schofield 2006 makes
the latest scholarship on Bentham accessible to contemporary philosophers. Schneewind 1977 remains the best
introduction to Sidgwicks moral philosophy. Schultz 2004 is an excellent intellectual biography, and an
especially good antidote to the usual caricature of Sidgwick as a dry Victorian.
Crisp, Roger. Mill on Utilitarianism . London: Routledge, 1997.
In the Routledge Philosophy Guidebook series. Combines detailed exegesis of Mills essay Utilitarianism
with up-to-date discussion of well-being, the scope of consequentialism, and Williamss integrity
objection. Ideal background for students studying Mill in the context of contemporary moral theory.

Mulgan, Tim. Classical Utilitarianism. In Understanding Utilitarianism . By Tim Mulgan, 7-44.


Stocksfield, UK: Acumen, 2007.
Overview of classical utilitarianism, drawing out connections with contemporary consequentialism. Covers
Bentham, Mill, and Sidgwick together with their predecessors. Written for introductory classes or the
general reader.

Rosen, Frederick. Classical Utilitarianism from Hume to Mill . London: Routledge, 2003.
Explores the development of classical utilitarianism, taking in Smith, Helvetius, Paley, and Bentham.
Highlights places where classical utilitarianism avoids familiar objections to contemporary
consequentialism. A useful corrective to the parochialism of current debates.

Schneewind, J. Sidgwick and Victorian Moral Philosophy . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.
Detailed examination of Sidgwicks Methods of Ethics (Sidgwick 1981, cited under Primary Texts), and its
historical context. One of the first full-length discussions of Sidgwick, and still an essential introduction
for both senior students and scholars.

6 of 22

9/24/2011 08:37

Oxford Bibliographies Online - Ethical Consequentialism

http://www.oxfordbibliographiesonline.com.avoserv.library.fordham.edu/...

Schofield, Philip. Utility and Democracy: The Political Thought of Jeremy Bentham . Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2006.
Historical exploration of Benthams views of utilitarianism and democracy, and especially the emergence of
the notion of sinister interest. Draws on the research of the Bentham Project to present a nuanced picture
of the evolution of Benthams thought.

Schultz, Bart. Henry Sidgwick, Eye of the Universe: An Intellectual Biography . Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge University Press, 2004.
[DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511498336]
One of the best philosophical biographies. Written by a philosopher, who places Sidgwicks intellectual
development in the context of his life and times. A wonderful insight into the relation between abstract
thought and political engagement. Chapter 4 also stands alone as a philosophical commentary on
Sidgwicks Methods of Ethics (Sidgwick 1981, cited under Primary Texts).

Skorupski, John. The Cambridge Companion to Mill . Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press,
1998.
[DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521419875]
Readable and comprehensive collection of expert essays on the main aspect of Mills philosophy. The best
single volume multiauthor resource on Mill. Ideal background for readers at all levels.

West, Henry. The Blackwell Guide to Mills Utilitarianism . Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006.
[DOI: 10.1002/9780470776483]
Combines the full text of Mills Utilitarianism with new essays by leading figures on the text itself, its
background, and its influence. Probably too detailed to be a set text for an introductory course, but an
excellent resource for anyone studying Mill.

ARGUMENTS FOR CONSEQUENTIALISM


The literature on consequentialism is dominated by objections to consequentialism, and subsequent
consequentialist replies. Positive arguments for consequentialism often play a secondary role. However,
consequentialists have offered many positive arguments. The most famous is Mills notorious proof of
utilitarianism, offered in chapter 4 of Mill 1998. Sidgwick 1981 offers a more cautious defense of classical
utilitarianism. Bennett 1966 is an influential early defense of consequentialism against various theories that
discount the significance for moral evaluation of the consequences of actions. Hare 1981 is a courageous
attempt to derive utilitarianism entirely from the analysis of moral terms. Parfit 1984 introduces a variety of
arguments that have subsequently been deployed in support of consequentialism. Scheffler 1988 presents an
influential argument that nonconsequentialism is self-defeating. Hooker 2000 uses Rawlss reflective
equilibrium method to argue in favor of rule consequentialism.
Bennett Jonathan Whatever the Consequences Analysis 26 3 (1966): 83102

7 of 22

9/24/2011 08:37

Oxford Bibliographies Online - Ethical Consequentialism

http://www.oxfordbibliographiesonline.com.avoserv.library.fordham.edu/...

[DOI: 10.2307/3326287]
Influential early defense of consequentialism. Argues against the principle that it is never wrong to kill an
innocent person, by undermining the distinction between actions and their consequences.

Hare, R. M. Moral Thinking: Its Levels, Method, and Point . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981.
Ambitious attempt to derive a specific utilitarian normative theory from an analysis of the meaning of
moral terms. One of the high points of ordinary language philosophy. Although largely of historical
interest, still worth reading as a classic example of one recently influential style of moral philosophy.

Hooker, Brad. Introduction. In Ideal Code, Real World: A Rule-Consequentialist Theory of

Morality . By ">Brad Hooker, 1-30. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, chapter 1, , pp..
Appropriates Rawlss reflective equilibrium methodology to defend rule consequentialism. One of the
clearest arguments that consequentialism provides the best fit with commonsense morality.

Mill, John Stuart. Of What Sort of Proof the Principle of Utility is Susceptible. In Utilitarianism .
By John Stuart Mill. Edited by Roger Crisp, 8186. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Mills notorious proof of utilitarianism. Often taken out of context and treated as a series of logical errors.
Best seen instead in the context of Mills empiricist philosophy, and especially his lack of our
contemporary obsession with moral skepticism or relativism.

Parfit, Derek. Reasons and Persons . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.
While not explicitly presented as such, Parfits influential discussions of temporal impartiality,
reductionism about personal identity, and our obligations to future people can all be read as arguments
for a broadly consequentialist moral outlookand they have been subsequently deployed as such. See
Parts 24.

Scheffler, Samuel. Introduction. In Consequentialism and its Critics . Edited by Samuel Scheffler,
113. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.
Argues that nonconsequentialism is self-defeating. Similar arguments are expanded in two other articles
in the same collection: Schefflers own Agent-Centered Restrictions, Rationality, and the Virtues
(reprinted in Scheffler 2003, cited under Hybrid Views, Agent-Neutrality, and Agent-Relativity) and Parfits
Is Common-sense Morality Self-Defeating? (Reprinted from Journal of Philosophy 76.10 (1979):
533545).

Sidgwick, Henry. The Methods of Ethics . 7th ed. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1981.
Careful, sophisticated defense of philosophical utilitarianism against 19th-century intuitionism. Influenced
late-20th-century moral philosophical methodology, especially via the work of John Rawls. See, especially,
Book 1, chapter 8 (Intuitionism), Book 4, chapter 4, section 1; and Book 4, chapter 5, sections 13 (both

8 of 22

9/24/2011 08:37

Oxford Bibliographies Online - Ethical Consequentialism

http://www.oxfordbibliographiesonline.com.avoserv.library.fordham.edu/...

titled The Method of Utilitarianism).

WHAT IS VALUABLE?
Consequentialists link morality to the promotion of value. The question of what is valuable is thus central to
consequentialist thought. Two issues dominate the contemporary literature: the analysis of human well-being,
and relationship between the overall value of an outcome and the values of the individuals lives it contains.
Human Well-Being
All consequentialists regard human well-being as a central value. Indeed, given the influence of utilitarianism,
consequentialists often treat human well-being as the sole value. Crisp 2008 is a good up-to-date introduction.
Parfit 1984 is the standard taxonomy. Crisp 1997 is a very clear exposition of Mills hedonism, and a good
introduction to contemporary issues. Griffin 1986 is a classic discussion. His complex account blends elements
of several different theories. Hurka 1993 blends consequentialism with Aristotlelinking human well-being to
the development of essential human capabilities. Railton 2003 defends a naturalistic version of the ideal-desire
theory. Feldman 2004 defends a sophisticated form of hedonism. Together, these last four provide an excellent
overview of the current debate.
Crisp, Roger. Mill on Utilitarianism . London: Routledge, 1997.
Uses Mills hedonismand especially his distinction between higher and lower pleasuresas the
springboard for a discussion of late-twentieth-century consequentialist debates about well-being. Ideal
for undergraduate courses. See chapters 23.

Crisp, Roger. Well-Being. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy . Edited by Edward N.


Zalta. 2008.
Overview of recent debates, including critiques of the concept of well-being from Moore to Scanlon. A
regularly updated online resource, and thus a good place to look for new developments.

Feldman, Fred. Pleasure and the Good Life: Concerning the Nature, Varieties, and the Plausibility

of Hedonism . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.


Defends a sophisticated hedonism against a wide range of historical and contemporary objections.
Introduces the distinction between sensory and attitudinal forms of hedonism, and argues that the latter is
especially worthy of exploration. Ideal introduction to the current debate for senior undergraduates and
above.

Griffin, James. Well-Being: Its Meaning, Measurement, and Moral Importance . Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1986.
A distinctive account of well-being, drawing together pleasure, desire, and objective value. Influential
discussions of the boundary between mental state, desire, and objective accounts (in Part 1), and of
incommensurability (in chapter 5) Sets the scene for subsequent debate and still a very good introduction

9 of 22

9/24/2011 08:37

Oxford Bibliographies Online - Ethical Consequentialism

http://www.oxfordbibliographiesonline.com.avoserv.library.fordham.edu/...

to its methods and preoccupations.

Hurka, Thomas. Perfectionism . New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.


Defends a distinctive account of well-being, based on the development of human nature. Combines
contemporary analytic rigor with historical ideas, notably drawn from Aristotle and the British Idealists.
Ideal for senior undergraduates and above.

Parfit, Derek. What Makes Someones Life Go Best. In Reasons and Persons . By Derek
Parfit,493-502. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.
Brief accessible taxonomy of possible accounts of well-being. Introduces the now standard tripartite
distinction between hedonism, preference theory, and objective list theory. Ideal as set reading for
introductory classes.

Railton, Peter. Facts and Values. In Facts, Values, and Norms: Essays toward a Morality of

Consequence . By Peter Railton, 531. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
[DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511613982]
Defends an ideal advisor theory of well-beinga version of the informed-desire accountsituated within
a naturalist moral realism. This, along with the other essays in Railtons collection, present a very good
introduction to the naturalist strand of contemporary consequentialism. Originally published in

Philosophical Topics 14 (1986): 531.


Aggregation and Distribution
A consequentialist theory of aggregation relates the well-being of individuals to the value of outcomes. Parfit
1984 is the seminal discussion, contrasting total and average utilitarianism, and presenting seemingly decisive
objections to both. Parfit 1986 is a more elaborate argument for the same conclusions. Both are essential
reading. The organizing problem in contemporary debate is Parfits repugnant conclusion, developed in Parfit
1984 and Parfit 1986; Ryberg and Tannsjo 2004 is an excellent collection that brings out the array of topics that
can be seen through the lens of this puzzle. Broome 2004 is a robust defense of total utilitarianism. Hurka 1983
explores a range of positions intermediate between average and total views. Arhhenius 2000 covers more recent
intermediate positions, arguing that it is impossible to construct a theory that resolves all of Parfits puzzles.
Temkin 1987 uses puzzles drawn from Parfit 1984 to argue against the transitivity of comparative judgments of
value. Another aggregative question is whether consequentialists should be concerned about how well-being is
distributed. The most influential discussion here is Parfit 1997, which introduces the key distinction between
prioritarians and egalitarians.
Arhhenius, Gustaf. An Impossibility Theorem for Welfarist Axiologies. Economics & Philosophy
16 (2000): 247266.
[DOI: 10.1017/S0266267100000249]
Argues that it is impossible to find Parfits Theory X, an intuitively plausible account of value (Parfit

10 of 22

9/24/2011 08:37

Oxford Bibliographies Online - Ethical Consequentialism

http://www.oxfordbibliographiesonline.com.avoserv.library.fordham.edu/...

1984). A very good introduction to the literature both on impossibility theorems and on intermediate
positions between average and total utilitarianism.

Broome, John. Weighing Lives . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.


[DOI: 10.1093/019924376X.001.0001]
Defends total utilitarian aggregation, using conclusions and methods from economics. Includes concise
and authoritative discussions of separability, incommensurability, and the role of intuitions in moral
theory. Some technical material will be challenging for readers unfamiliar with economic reasoning, but the
philosophical discussion is admirably clear. Excellent graduate text.

Hurka, Thomas. Value and Population Size. Ethics 93 (1983): 496507.


[DOI: 10.1086/292462]
Comparatively early discussion of theories distinct from both total and average utilitarianism. While later
literature has introduced a vast array of technical distinctions, this remains one of the best presentations of
the moral judgments underlying possible responses. (For later developments, see Arhhenius 2000.)

Parfit, Derek. Reasons and Persons . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.
The starting point for all subsequent discussion of aggregation. Introduces the repugnant conclusion,
absurd conclusion, and mere addition paradox. Essential reading for anyone working in the area, and still
one of the best resources to give to first-year undergraduates. See especially Part 4.

Parfit, Derek. Overpopulation and the Quality of Life. In Applied Ethics . Edited by Peter Singer,
145164. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.
Extends Parfits discussion of his repugnant conclusion and mere addition paradox (Parfit 1984), offering
a new argument for the latter. Usually cited as the standard presentation of these puzzles. Stands alone,
but best read in conjunction with Parfit 1984.

Parfit, Derek. Equality and Priority. Ratio 10 (1997): 202221.


[DOI: 10.1111/1467-9329.00041]
Argues that, while pure egalitarianism is implausible, it is reasonable to give priority to the worst off.
Classic defense of what is now the standard view on the role of equality in aggregating welfare, at least
within consequentialist circles.

Ryberg, Jesper, and Torbjorn Tannsjo, eds. The Repugnant Conclusion: Essays on Population

Ethics . Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer, 2004.


Very focused collection of essays by leading scholars on Parfits repugnant conclusion, developed in Parfit
1984 and Parfit 1986. Ideal introduction to the organizing problems of contemporary consequentialist
discussion of aggregation. Includes a reprint of Parfit 1986.

11 of 22

9/24/2011 08:37

Oxford Bibliographies Online - Ethical Consequentialism

http://www.oxfordbibliographiesonline.com.avoserv.library.fordham.edu/...

Temkin, Larry. Intransitivity and the Mere Addition Paradox. Philosophy and Public Affairs 16
(1987): 138187.
Argues that Parfits mere addition paradox, developed in Parfit 1984 and Parfit 1986, has the radical
implication that our judgments of comparative value are intransitive, thus rejecting a common assumption.
(Best read in conjunction with Broome 2004, which defends transitivity.)

FORMS OF CONSEQUENTIALISM
Standard consequentialism evaluates individual acts in terms of their consequences. One perennial alternative is
rule consequentialism, where the right acts are those that follow from the rules with the best consequences (see
Rule Consequentialism). In recent years, abstracting from the traditional debate between act and rule
consequentialism, consequentialists have explored a wide range of alternative evaluative foci: motives, virtues,
decision procedures, and institutions. Parfit 1984 outlines the broad differences between individual and
collective forms of consequentialism. Bales 1971 distinguishes a moral theorys criterion of rightness from its
decision-procedure, while Griffin 1994 argues that the two cannot be so easily separated. Adams 1976
introduces direct evaluation of motives in terms of their consequences. Hurka 2001 responds to the recent rise
of virtue ethics with a consequentialist account of virtues or character traits. Pettit and Smith 2000 explores the
possibility of combining direct evaluations of different foci. Feldman 1986 and Carlson 1995 each address a
range of technical issues in the formulation of consequentialism.
Adams, Robert. Motive Utilitarianism. Journal of Philosophy 73 (1976): 467481.
[DOI: 10.2307/2025783]
Introduces direct utilitarian evaluation of motives, rather than acts or rules. First step in the contemporary
exploration of alternative forms of consequentialism. Often cited, and sets the scene for subsequent
debate.

Bales, Eugene. Act-Utilitarianism: Account of Right-Making Characteristics or Decision-Making


Procedure? American Philosophical Quarterly 8 (1971): 257265.
Classic defense of the claim that the distinction between criterion of rightness and decision procedure can
help utilitarianism avoid familiar objections, especially those based on impracticality. Still worth reading as
a clear introduction to an important issue.

Carlson, Eric. Consequentialism Reconsidered . Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic,


1995.
Technical discussion of various structural issues in consequentialist theory, such as outcomes,
performability, alternatives, and the debate between actualism and possibilism. Too advanced for
beginners. Very suitable introduction to formal methods in ethics for graduate students and above.

Feldman, Fred. Doing the Best We Can: An Essay in Informal Deontic Logic . Dordrecht, The
Netherlands: D. Reidel, 1986.

12 of 22

9/24/2011 08:37

Oxford Bibliographies Online - Ethical Consequentialism

http://www.oxfordbibliographiesonline.com.avoserv.library.fordham.edu/...

Uses techniques from formal logic to shed light on issues in moral discourse, within a broadly
consequentialist approach. Very good illustration of the relevance of deontic logic for moral philosophy.
Too advanced for beginners or casual readers, but ideal for graduate students and above.

Griffin, James. The Distinction between Criterion and Decision Procedure: A Reply to Madison
Powers. Utilitas 6 (1994): 177182.
[DOI: 10.1017/S0953820800001552]
Argues that the distinction between criterion and decision procedure cannot do all the work that some
consequentialists want because there are limits on the divergence between the two. A good critique of the
argument advanced in Bales 1971.

Hurka, Thomas. Virtue, Vice, and Value . New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
[DOI: 10.1093/0195137167.001.0001]
Develops a recursive consequentialist account of virtue and vice. Combines contemporary analytic
techniques with ideas from the golden age of moral theory from Sidgwick to Ross. An ideal text for a
graduate or senior undergraduate course in moral theory, especially for students with disparate
philosophical interests or backgrounds.

Parfit, Derek. Reasons and Persons . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.
Influential discussion of the different forms of consequentialism, especially the similarities and differences
between individual and collective modes of evaluation. Introduces the idea that a moral theory might be
either individually or collectively self-defeating. See especially Part 1.

Pettit, Philip, and Michael Smith. Global Consequentialism. In Morality, Rules, and

Consequences . Edited by Brad Hooker, Elinor Mason, and Dale E. Miller, 121133. Edinburgh:
Edinburgh University Press, 2000.
Argues that consequentialists should directly evaluate each different category (act, rule, motive, etc.) in
terms of its consequences, rather than privileging one category and evaluating others in terms of it.
Together with Kagans article Evaluative Focal Points in the same volume (pp. 134155), this introduces a
new level of abstraction.

RULE CONSEQUENTIALISM
Rule consequentialism evaluates codes of rules: the ideal code is that whose acceptance by everyone would
produce the best consequences. Hooker 2004, a regularly updated online resource, is an accessible introduction
to current debate. Urmson 1953 introduced rule consequentialism into the modern debate by attributing it to J.
S. Mill. The essays collected in Brandt 1992 are the best introduction to the first wave of contemporary rule
consequentialism, from 1965 to 1988. Harsanyi 1977 is worth reading for its argument that rule
consequentialism diverges from act consequentialism, and also for its application of decision theory to moral

13 of 22

9/24/2011 08:37

Oxford Bibliographies Online - Ethical Consequentialism

http://www.oxfordbibliographiesonline.com.avoserv.library.fordham.edu/...

reasoning. Hooker 2000 is the leading contemporary defense, including very good discussion of standard
objections to the view. Mulgan 2001 presents a range of new objections to Hookers rule consequentialism.
Murphy 2000 and Woodard 2008 present new theories at the boundary between act and rule consequentialism.
Brandt, Richard. Morality, Utilitarianism, and Rights . Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University
Press, 1992.
Influential essays from a prominent defender of rule consequentialism. Includes Some Merits of One Form
of Rule-Utilitarianism (1967), Fairness to Indirect Optimific Theories in Ethics (1988), and
Utilitarianism and Moral Rights (1984). Also offers Brandts views on the relationship between
utilitarianism and metaethics, and on the implications of utilitarianism.

Harsanyi, John. Rule Utilitarianism and Decision Theory. Erkenntnis 11.1 (1977): 2753.
Applies decision theory to the analysis and evaluation of utilitarianism. Defends rule utilitarianism, using
economic reasoning to argue that it is not coextensive with act utilitarianism. Very good introduction to
earlier literature on rule utilitarianism, and to the resources that decision theory might offer to moral
philosophy.

Hooker, Brad. Ideal Code, Real World: A Rule-Consequentialist Theory of Morality . Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2000.
The leading contemporary defense of rule consequentialism. Responds to traditional objections and
discusses applied issues, notably famine relief and euthanasia. Concise and clear, this is the starting point
for recent debate. A good text for senior undergraduate or graduate courses in recent moral theory.

Hooker, Brad. Rule Consequentialism. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy . Edited by


Edward N. Zalta. 2004.
Balanced account of rule consequentialism, both historical and contemporary. Written by the views leading
contemporary exponent. Up-to-date, and likely to remain so. The best place to look for the latest
developments.

Mulgan, Tim. Rule Consequentialism. In The Demands of Consequentialism . By Tim Mulgan,


53103. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Sustained critique of Hookers formulation of rule consequentialism (see Hooker 2000). Presents a number
of new objections, as well as explaining old objections.

Murphy, Liam. Moral Demands in Nonideal Theory . New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Defends a cooperative conception of beneficence, ruling out any principle where demands increase under
partial compliance. A difficult, complex book. Suitable for graduate students and above.

Urmson, J. O. The Interpretation of the Moral Philosophy of J. S. Mill. Philosophical Quarterly 3

14 of 22

9/24/2011 08:37

Oxford Bibliographies Online - Ethical Consequentialism

http://www.oxfordbibliographiesonline.com.avoserv.library.fordham.edu/...

(1953): 3339.
[DOI: 10.2307/2216697]
Defends a rule utilitarian interpretation of Mills essay Utilitarianism . This article reintroduced rule
consequentialism into moral philosophy. Brief, clear, and to the point. Influential precursor to both recent
Mill scholarship and recent rule consequentialism.

Woodard, Christopher. Reasons, Patterns, and Cooperation . New York: Routledge, 2008.
Distinguishes between act-based and patterns-based reasons. Argues that pattern-based reasons arise
even where no one else is cooperating and the favored pattern stands no chance of being realized.
Innovative new approach on the boundary between act and rule consequentialism, with original criticisms
of Hooker 2000, Murphy 2000, and Mulgan 2001.

HYBRID VIEWS, AGENT-NEUTRALITY, AND AGENT-RELATIVITY


Sidgwick famously contrasted the agents own point of view with the point of view of the universe. Some argue
that consequentialism must always evaluate outcomes impartially, while others allow the agent to give special
prominence to her own interests, perspective, or values. Scheffler 2003 defends a hybrid moral theory allowing
agents either to maximize impartial good or to give disproportionate weight to their own interests. Mulgan 2001
defends a more complex combined consequentialism, uniting act and rule consequentialism within the
framework of Schefflers hybrid view. There is also a lively general debate over the inclusion of agent-relative
values in consequentialism. Sen 1983 is an early exploration of the possibility of combining consequentialism
and agent-relative evaluation. Nagel 1972 explores the contrast between personal and impersonal perspectives.
Although Nagel is not explicitly a consequentialist, his ideas have especially influenced consequentialists.
McNaughton and Rawling 1991 argues that agent-relativity favors deontology against consequentialism.
Portmore 2003 is an up-to-date discussion of the general prospects for these hybrid forms of
consequentialism.
McNaughton, David, and Piers Rawling. Agent-Relativity and the Doing-Happening Distinction.

Philosophical Studies 63.2 (1991): 167185.


[DOI: 10.1007/BF00381686]
Detailed analysis of the distinction between agent-relative and agent-neutral, and its connection to the
consequentialism/deontology debate. A good introduction to the debate.

Mulgan, Tim. The Demands of Consequentialism . Oxford: Clarendon, 2001.


Develops a combined consequentialism, bringing together act and rule consequentialism under the
framework of the hybrid view of Scheffler 2003. Argues that combined consequentialism is more
intuitively appealing that its rivals.

Nagel, Thomas. The Possibility of Altruism . Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1972.
Argues that all reasons for action are objective and derives moral principles from altruism Regards ethics

15 of 22

9/24/2011 08:37

Oxford Bibliographies Online - Ethical Consequentialism

http://www.oxfordbibliographiesonline.com.avoserv.library.fordham.edu/...

as a branch of psychology, and ethical requirements as rational requirements. Nagels views have been
very influential, not least because he taught many of the next generation of moral philosophers. See
especially chapters 7 and 10.

Portmore, Douglas. Position-Relative Consequentialism, Agent-Centered Options, and


Supererogation. Ethics 113 (2003): 303332.
Presents position-relative consequentialism, where agents ought always to bring about the best available
state of affairs as judged from their own individual position. Argues that this view best accommodates
commonsense intuitions about moral options. Excellent introduction to the recent debate.

Scheffler, Samuel. The Rejection of Consequentialism . Oxford: Clarendon, 2003.


Defends a hybrid moral theory, combining consequentialism with an agent-centered prerogative allowing
disproportionate weight for the agents values. Originally published in 1982. Reprint of the revised edition
of 1993. Includes three later articles, notably Prerogatives without Restrictions and Agent-Centered
Restrictions, Rationality, and the Virtues. Influential new form of consequentialism.

Sen, Amartya. Evaluator Relativity and Consequential Evaluation. Philosophy and Public Affairs
12.2 (1983): 113132.
Responds to a critique by Donald Regan of Sens Rights and Agency ( Philosophy and Public Affairs 11.1
[1982]: 339). Systematic account of the possibility of, and motivation for, evaluator-relative judgments. A
classic paper that sets the scene for subsequent debate.

OBJECTIONS TO CONSEQUENTIALISM
The literature on consequentialism is dominated by objections to consequentialism, and by subsequent
consequentialist replies. Three objections have been especially prominent in recent debate: that
consequentialism is impractical, that it undermines the integrity of moral agents, and that it is unreasonably
demanding.
Impracticality
Consequentialism seems impractical, as moral evaluation depends on empirical factors that are impossible to
calculate, and may have no determinate answer. Mackie 1983 argues that utilitarianism is an ethic of fantasy.
Lenman 2000 is a very good extended argument for the same conclusion. Griffin 1992 and Sobel 1994 argue
that consequentialism places impossible epistemic demands on its account of well-being. Griffin 1994 offers a
powerful argument that consequentialism can make its epistemic requirements more palatable by invoking a
distinction between criterion of rightness and decision-procedure. On the other side, Feldman 2006 questions
the conventional wisdom that consequentialism can rebut the impracticality objection by invoking expected
utilities or shifting to decision-procedures.
Feldman, Fred. Actual Utility, the Objection from Impracticality, and the Move to Expected

16 of 22

9/24/2011 08:37

Oxford Bibliographies Online - Ethical Consequentialism

http://www.oxfordbibliographiesonline.com.avoserv.library.fordham.edu/...

Utility. Philosophical Studies 129 (2006): 149179.


Argues that neither the shift from actual consequences to expected value, nor the introduction of decisionprocedures, can help consequentialism to rebut the practicality objection. Admirably clear critique of a
presumption that is very common in the current literature.

Griffin, James. The Human Good and the Ambitions of Consequentialism. Social Philosophy and

Policy 9.2 (1992): 118132.


[DOI: 10.1017/S0265052500001436]
Argues that, once we admit other values in addition to human well-being, it is hard to make sense of
consequentialism. Presents several examples of goods where promotion makes little sense, such as
acting morally and keeping promises. Good introduction to some important worries about the coherence
of consequentialism.

Griffin, James. The Distinction between Criterion and Decision Procedure: A Reply to Madison
Powers. Utilitas 6 (1994): 177182.
[DOI: 10.1017/S0953820800001552]
Argues that the distinction between criterion and decision procedure cannot do all the work that some
consequentialists want because there are limits on the divergence between the two. Cast as a defense of
his account of well-being, but perhaps the best introduction to Griffins influential work on this issue.

Lenman, James. Consequentialism and Cluelessness. Philosophy and Public Affairs 29.4
(2000): 342370.
[DOI: 10.1111/j.1088-4963.2000.00342.x]
Forceful presentation of the epistemic argument that consequentialism cannot be the correct moral theory
because we can never know all the consequences of our actions. Excellent examples, and a good
introduction to the debate.

Mackie, J. L. Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong . Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1983.
Argues that, because of its informational demands, utilitarianism is an ethic of fantasy. Clear, if rather
simplistic, presentation of a standard objection. Ideal introduction for those seeking a taste of the issues.
See chapter 4, section 2.

Sobel, David. Full Information Accounts of Well-Being. Ethics 104.4 (1994): 784810.
[DOI: 10.1086/293655]
Argues that individual well-being cannot be determined and commensurated. Focuses on full information
accounts, where an individuals well-being is identified with what she would prefer from some privileged
epistemic standpoint. Critical discussion of a key consequentialist assumption.

17 of 22

9/24/2011 08:37

Oxford Bibliographies Online - Ethical Consequentialism

http://www.oxfordbibliographiesonline.com.avoserv.library.fordham.edu/...

Integrity
Many opponents of consequentialism object that agents cannot be required to view the world entirely from an
impartial perspective. Williams 1973 objects that consequentialism undermines the agents integrity by
requiring her to view her own projects merely as just another input to the impersonal utilitarian calculus. Brink
1986 develops a similar objection based on the importance of the personal point of view. Railton 1984 is a
careful examination of the related charge that consequentialism alienates agents from their projects. Crisp 1997
is a readable account of the main issues. The integrity objection is often linked to the demandingness objection.
Railton 1984 is especially good on these connections. However, the two objections have generated their own
literatures, and are thus discussed separately here. Another similar objection is Rawlss charge that
utilitarianism ignores the separateness of persons. However, this objection primarily relates to political
philosophy, another topic discussed in a separate section. Many nonstandard forms of consequentialism,
notably hybrid views and rule consequentialism, are defended on the grounds that they avoid these two
objections. So the works cited under these other topics often discuss integrity and demandingness.
Brink, David. Utilitarian Morality and the Personal Point of View. Journal of Philosophy 83
(1986): 417438.
[DOI: 10.2307/2026328]
Develops an objection to consequentialism that is akin to the integrity objection of Williams 1973, drawing
on the significance of the personal point of view.

Crisp, Roger. Integrity. In Mill on Utilitarianism . By Roger Crisp, 135-153. London: Routledge,
1997.
The most accessible account of Williamss integrity objection (see Williams 1973), and related problems
for consequentialism.

Railton, Peter. Alienation, Consequentialism, and the Demands of Morality. Philosophy and

Public Affairs 13 (1984): 134171.


Brings together the two objections of integrity and demandingness, around the central notion of alienation.
Sophisticated extension of the classic objection presented by Williams 1973. Reprinted in Scheffler 1988
(cited under Anthologies) and in Railton 2003 (cited under Human Well-Being).

Williams, Bernard. A Critique of Utilitarianism. In Utilitarianism: For and Against . Edited by


J. J. C. Smart and Bernard Williams, 77150. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1973.
The classic presentation of one of the most influential modern objections to consequentialism. Engaging
and forceful style. Although Williamss arguments have been developed more clearly and systematically by
others, there is still much to be gained by reading them in the original.

Demandingness
Given the state of the world, act consequentialism seems to be an extremely demanding moral theory. Sobel

18 of 22

9/24/2011 08:37

Oxford Bibliographies Online - Ethical Consequentialism

http://www.oxfordbibliographiesonline.com.avoserv.library.fordham.edu/...

2007 is a very good introduction to the debate and also discusses the connections with other related objections.
Some consequentialists (extremists) reply that morality simply is very demanding. Singer 1972 argues that all
affluent people should donate to charity until they reach the point where further donations would place them in
as precarious a position as those they could save. Kagan 1989 is the most significant philosophical defense of
extremism, consisting of a sustained rebuttal of key nonconsequentialist distinctions. Other consequentialists
(moderates) argue that consequentialism can avoid extreme demands. This is often a key motivation for
departures from standard consequentialism, such as hybrid views and rule consequentialism. Chapter 2 of
Scheffler 2003 presents the objection forcefully, and defends the moderate demands of the authors hybrid
theory. Murphy 2000 is a detailed and ingenious discussion of the benchmark against which demands should be
measured. Mulgan 2001 discusses several consequentialist responses to the demandingness objection, before
developing a combined consequentialism that combines act and rule consequentialism. Cullity 2004 is a
readable and nuanced discussion of the demands of benevolence.
Cullity, Garrett. The Moral Demands of Affluence . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
[DOI: 10.1093/0199258112.001.0001]
Explores the demands of a commonsense principle of benevolence. Not limited to consequentialism, but
addresses the same underlying moral issue. Shows that demandingness is a problem for all moral
theories, not just consequentialism.

Kagan, Shelly. The Limits of Morality . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Rebuts a moderate position by attacking commonsense options and constraints. The gap in Kagans
argument is that he does not offer a positive defense of the reason to promote the good. One of the most
influential and readable statements of the extreme consequentialist position.

Mulgan, Tim. The Demands of Consequentialism . Oxford: Clarendon, 2001.


Discusses the main consequentialist responses to the demandingness objection, especially the extremism
of Kagan 1989 and Singer 1972, Slotes satisficing consequentialism, rule consequentialism, and
Schefflers hybrid view (Scheffler 2003). Develops a combined consequentialism bringing together act and
rule consequentialism.

Murphy, Liam. Moral Demands in Nonideal Theory . New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Chapters 2 and 3 offer one of the best discussions of how to measure the demands of a moral theory. A
difficult, complex book. Suitable for graduate students and above. Gives pause for thought to anyone who
thinks it is clear how the demandingness objection works.

Scheffler, Samuel. The Rejection of Consequentialism . Oxford: Clarendon, 2003.


Develops a hybrid view in response to the demands of an unrestricted act consequentialism. Chapter 2
explicitly addresses demandingness. Represents one of the main approaches in current debate.

19 of 22

9/24/2011 08:37

Oxford Bibliographies Online - Ethical Consequentialism

http://www.oxfordbibliographiesonline.com.avoserv.library.fordham.edu/...

Singer, Peter. Famine, Affluence, and Morality. Philosophy and Public Affairs 1 (1972):
229243.
Much-anthologized and much-discussed article. Presents the infamous example of the person walking
past a child drowning in a pond. Very forceful argument for a demanding morality, and against
self-serving responses. Ideal as a provocative reading for introductory classes.

Sobel, David. The Impotence of the Demandingness Objection. Philosophers Imprint 7.8
(2007): 117.
Argues that the demandingness objection has no independent force, as we will only find demandingness
intuitions compelling if we have already rejected consequentialism for other reasons. Clear, up-to-date
account of the literature on the topic, and an ideal introduction.

CONSEQUENTIALIST POLITICAL THEORY


The classical utilitarians were often more interested in politics than individual morality, and many of the works
cited under Classical Utilitarianism discuss classical utilitarian political philosophy. Mill 1998 is the classic
statement of the relationship between utilitarianism and justice. Kymlicka 2001 is a good introduction to the
utilitarian political tradition. Frey 1984 is an influential collection of articles asking whether consequentialists
can embrace rights. Goodin 1995 argues that utilitarianism is much more plausible for political theory than for
individual morality. Since the 1970s, one particular focus is the utilitarian response to Rawls. Rawls 1971 offers
a sustained critique of utilitarianism, centered on the complaint that it ignores the separateness of persons.
Scheffler 2001 is an excellent overview of the ensuing debate. Recent discussion of consequentialist political
theory often focuses on demandingess or future people, both covered separately here.
Frey, Ray, ed. Utility and Rights . Oxford: Blackwell, 1984.
Collection of essays on all aspects of the clash between utilitarianism and the theory of rights. Includes
contributions from both consequentialists (Frey, Sumner, Hare, Griffin), and their opponents (Raz, Mackie,
McCloskey, Narveson, Ryan).

Goodin, Robert. Utilitarianism as a Public Philosophy . New York: Cambridge University Press,
1995.
[DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511625053]
Collection of freestanding essays, united by the common theme of a return to the classical utilitarian
tradition, where utilitarianism is primarily an account of institutional justice, rather than individual
morality. Argues that institutional utilitarianism avoids many standard recent objections to
consequentialism, especially those relating to impartiality or alienation.

Kymlicka, Will. Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction . Oxford: Oxford University


Press, 2001.
Clear, accurate presentation of the utilitarian approach to political philosophy. Ideal as an introduction to

20 of 22

9/24/2011 08:37

Oxford Bibliographies Online - Ethical Consequentialism

http://www.oxfordbibliographiesonline.com.avoserv.library.fordham.edu/...

both historical and current debates. See chapter 2.

Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism . Edited by Roger Crisp. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Chapter 5, On the Connexion between Justice and Utility, is a classic statement of the place of rights and
justice within classical utilitarianism. Originally published in 1861. Crisps edition has a philosophical
introduction, thorough notes, and an extended bibliography.

Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice . Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1971.


Seminal text of 20th-century political philosophy. Argues that utilitarianism ignores the separateness of
persons and develops that critique within Rawlss original position. (Sections 5 and 2730.) Rawls regards
utilitarianism as his theorys main rival. Essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the place of
utilitarianism in recent political philosophy.

Scheffler, Samuel. Rawls and Utilitarianism. In Boundaries and Allegiances: Problems of Justice

and Responsibility in Liberal Thought . Edited by Samuel Scheffler, 149172. Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2001.
Explores Rawlss conflicting and changing attitudes to utilitarianism, both in Rawls 1971 and in later work.
Highlights common ground between Rawls and utilitarianism, and explores the possible place of
utilitarianism within a Rawlsian overlapping consensus. Excellent background for consequentialists
interested in Rawlsian liberalism. Reprinted in The Cambridge Companion to Rawls, edited by Samuel
Freeman (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 426459.

FUTURE PEOPLE
Consequentialists give a high priority to obligations to future people, as the potential impact of our actions on
future well-being is enormous. One key issue is aggregation, discussed separately above (See Aggregation and
Distribution). Another is Parfits non-identity problem. Parfit 1984 is the seminal text and is still essential
reading. Roberts and Wasserman 2009 is a broad-ranging collection demonstrating how pervasive the
nonidentity problem has become in contemporary moral theory. Roberts 2002 seeks to reconcile personaffecting intuitions with consequentialism. Mulgan 2006 defends a moderate consequentialist account of our
obligations to future people, and offers the most sustained consequentialist discussion of intergenerational
justice. Vallentyne and Kagan 1997 is a good introduction to the many puzzles raised for utilitarianism by the
prospect of an infinite future.
Mulgan, Tim. Future People . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.
[DOI: 10.1093/019928220X.001.0001]
Defends a rule consequentialist account of our obligations to future people, and a liberal consequentialist
account of intergenerational justice. Seeks to side step the standard debates by construing standard
puzzles such as the repugnant conclusion as pertaining to obligations, as put forth in Parfit 1984, rather
than the comparative values of possible futures.

21 of 22

9/24/2011 08:37

Oxford Bibliographies Online - Ethical Consequentialism

http://www.oxfordbibliographiesonline.com.avoserv.library.fordham.edu/...

Parfit, Derek. Reasons and Persons . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.
Seminal text on future people. Introduces the nonidentity problem, repugnant conclusion, and mere
addition paradox. The foundation for all subsequent debate, and still essential reading. Suitable for
introductory classes. See especially Part 4.

Roberts, Melinda. A New Way of Doing the Best That We Can: Person-Based Consequentialism
and the Equality Problem. Ethics 112.2 (2002): 315350.
[DOI: 10.1086/324321]
Defends person-affecting consequentialism, where our obligation is to maximize the well-being of each
person. Argues that this enables consequentialism to respect various person-affecting intuitions, and
thereby resolve Parfits nonidentity problem. Representative of one influential response to Parfit 1984.

Roberts, Melinda, and David Wasserman, eds. Harming Future Persons: Ethics, Genetics and the

Nonidentity Problem . Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2009.


[DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4020-5697-0]
Collection of new essays by leading contemporary participants in the debate over Parfits nonidentity
problem (Parfit 1984). Covers theoretical issues in normative ethics as well as practical questions in
medical ethics. Up-to-date overview of the debate.

Vallentyne, Peter, and Shelly Kagan. Infinite Value and Finitely Additive Value Theory. Journal of

Philosophy 94 (1997): 526.


[DOI: 10.2307/2941011]
Defends a particular way to extend consequentialism to cover an infinite future. The best introduction to
the puzzles surrounding infinite value.

LAST MODIFIED: 06/29/2011


DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195396577-0026
BAC K TO TOP

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

22 of 22

9/24/2011 08:37