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journal of philosophical research
volume xviii
editor associate editor editorial board

University of Nebraska

Robert Audi

Charles Sayward Robert Audi

University of Nebraska

University of Nebra ska

William P. Alston

Syracuse University Founding Editor Bowling Green State University Philosophy Documentation Center Representative University of Delaware American Philosophical Association Representative University of Calgary Canadian Philosophical Association Representative Ohio State University Immediate Past Editor

Richard H. Lineback

Frank Dilley
Kai Nielsen

Robert G. Turnbull

editorial secretary Cindy Richards

Bowling Green State University Philosophy Documentation Center Representative University of Nebraska, Lincoln

editorial assistants Priscella Guerra and Douglas M. Weber
Published with the sponsorship of the Philosophy Documentation Center, the American Philosophical Association, the Canadian Philosophical Association, and the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Produced with the financial aid and material assistance of the Philosophy Documentation Center and the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

We are pleased to announce that beginning with the 1994 Volume. OPhilosophy Documentation Center 1993 ISSN 0153-8364 All rights reserved . Panayot Butchvarov succeeds Robert Audi as Editor.

and the fact that something is wrong creates a reason not to do it. According to this maximizing function. We explore two concepts of wrongness: to do something wrong is to be blameworthy. We reject this on the grounds that there is not a satsifactory way for a consequentialist to account for the badness of actions. otherwise it is wrong. actions should be evaluated purely in terms that admit of degree. in functions that tell us what actions are right and wrong. as opposed to states of affairs. theories that tell us what things are good and bad. Consequentialists are not alone on this score. 1993 A CONSEQUENTIALIST CASE FOR REJECTING THE RIGHT FRANCES HOWARD-SNYDER AND ALASTAIR NORCROSS PURDUE UNIVERSITY AND SOUTHERN METHODIST UNIVERSITY ABSTRACT Satisficing and maximizing versions of consequentialism have both assumed that rightness is an all-ornothing property. and that the second is just as much a feature of badness as of wrongness.JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHICAL RESEARCH VOLUME XVIII. We argue that the first of these is not available to the consequentialist because of her views on blame. 1. Consequentialists have employed theories of value. We argue that this is inimical to the spirit of consequentialism. We consider the possibility that a consequentialist should simply equate wrongness with badness. Deontolo- . and that. The most common function from the good to the right can be expressed as follows: an act is right if and only if it produces at least as much good as any alternative available to the agent. rightness and wrongness are not matters of degree. If so. We conclude that the consequentialist can make no sense of the concept of wrongness. from the point of view of the consequentialist. We first consider the suggestion that rightness and wrongness are a matter of degree. Introduction onsequentialism has traditionally been viewed a s a theory of right action. this raises the question of whether the claim that something is wrong says any more than that it is bad.

a doctor. being a keeping of a binding promise.g.' Such an action is not morally required of the doctor. A supererogatory act. E. is rightness and wrongness not a matter of degree? We will argue that. Why. is generally characterized as an act which is not requited. since this is the most popular form of consequentialism. There seem to be two connected motivations for rejecting this. properties that make an action right and wrong-e. actions should be evaluated purely in terms that admit of degrees. But this is not the case with consequentialism. . Utilitarianism is said to require the doctor to go and help the victims of the epidemic. and that the second is just as much a feature of badness as of wrongness. We conclude that the consequentialist can make no sense of the concept of wrongness. We explore two concepts of wrongness: the fact that an act was wrong makes the agent blameworthy.g. but it produces more utility than the morally permissible alternative of remaining in his home town. So the property of an act that makes it right or wrong-how much good it produces relative to available alternatives-is naturally thought of as a matter of degree. None of our points. Such theories are said to classify as wrong all acts that fail to maximize. 2. In typical deontological theories. this raises the question of whether the claim that something is wrong says any more than that it is bad. Perhaps. So one wouldn't expect the rightness or wrongness of an act to be a matter of degree for deontology. We shall conduct our discussion in terms of utilitarianism. however. though. The Supererogation Objection We can approach our topic by focussing first on an objection which is commonly raised for consequentialist theories such as utilitarianism: that they leave no room for supererogation. some who have rejected consequentialism because of its views on wrongness may be more attracted to a theory constructed along the lines that we suggest. Goodness and badness are clearly matters of degree. We argue that the first of these is not available to the consequentialist because of her views on blame. There is an important difference. however. although in doing so he will be putting himself at great risk. Our argument is directed towards those who are already attracted to consequentialism. from the point of view of a consequentialist. then. We are not undertaking to argue for consequentialism against any rival moral theory. or a telling of a lie-are not naturally thought of as matters of degree. Does that mean that rightness and wrongness should be treated as matters of degree? If so. a killing of an innocent person. though. but which is in some way better than the alternatives. who hears of an epidemic in another town may choose to go to the assistance of the people who are suffering there..110 HOWARD-SNYDER AND NORCROSS gists concur that rightness and wrongness are not matters of degree. and the fact that the act would be wrong is a reason not to do it. will rely on the utilitarian value theory.

We see nothing to recommend this claim. The utilitarian can avoid these consequences by retreating to a form of satisficing utilitarianism. then you do something wrong. would accept this. (Most people. one can allow that the boundary between right and wrong can in some cases be located on the scale at some point short of the best. the wealthy are required to give up a minimal proportion of their incomes for the support of the poor and hungry. then he would be required to do all he could to save them. people sometimes go beyond the call of duty. For example. If you don’t produce a s much good as is required. people who fail to make certain extreme sacrifices for the greater good are usually not wrong. Here’s an argument for the view that rightness and wrongness isn’t an all-or-nothing affair. if all the doctor could do and needed to do to save the villagers were to send a box of tablets or a textbook on diseases. The position of the boundary between right and wrong may be affected by such factors as how much self-sacrifice is required of the agent by the various options. It seems harsh to demand or expect that the doctor sacrifice his life for the villagers. It is abundantly clear that the difference between two wrong actions-one slightly wrong and the other seriously wrong-can be at least as great as the difference between a slightly wrong action and a minimally right one. and that’s all there is to it. and it would make it possible for her to go beyond the call of duty.* For example. A moral theory which says that there is a really significant moral difference between giving 9% and lo%. On a non-maximizing theory what is required may be less than the best. Such similarities should be reflected in moral similarities.g. On the other hand. Both forms of utilitarianism share the view that a moral miss is as good as a mile.) Suppose Jones is obligated to give 10% of his income to charity. then it is wrong. This would allow that an agent can do her duty without performing the best action available to her. but not between giving 11% and 12%. The difference between giving 8% and 9% is the same. Wrongness: All-or-Nothing or Scalar Satisficing versions of utilitarianism. At . 3. assume that the rightness of an action is an all-or-nothing property. including deontologists such as Kant and Ross. Maximizing utilitarianism would not allow that. it may be perfectly permissible for the doctor to stay at home. looks misguided. And second. as the difference between giving 9% and lo%. in some obvious physical sense. or between giving 11% and 12%. and how much utility or disutility they will produce. no less than the traditional ones. On a maximizing theory the required amount is the most good available. even though the best option would have been to go and help with the epidemic.REJECTING THE RIGHT 111 First. otherwise it is right. If an action does not produce at least the required amount of good. Suppose that we have some obligations of beneficence. e. To do your duty is to do the best thing you can possibly do.

with getting money to people who need it. the utilitarian cannot accept this. and a small difference between pairs of right actions. after all. after all. To see this. She will be equally concerned about the difference between giving 11% and 12% as the difference between giving 9% and 10%. And saying that giving 10% is right and giving only 9% is wrong seems analogously conventional and arbitrary. We do. between giving 9% and giving IO%.3 A related reason to reject an all-or-nothing line between right and wrong is that the choice of any point on the scale of possible options as a threshold for rightness will be arbitrary. The utilitarian will tell you to spend the same amount of time persuading each to give the larger sum. When we draw these lines-between the first and the rest. The difference between giving 9% and 8% is just the difference between a wrong action and a slightly worse one.112 HOWARD-SNYDER AND NORCROSS least. It does not matter whether the $5. We do. By contrast. We give medals to the top three and to no others. Given the argument of the last paragraph. Even maximization is subject to this criticism. seventh and eighth.g. suppose that Jones were tom between giving 11%and 12%and that Smith were torn between giving 9% and 10%. This is because she is concerned with certain sorts of consequences. e. We could just as easily honor the top three equally and not distinguish between them. True enough. also attach great significance to finishing in the top three. An all-or-nothing theory of right and wrong would have to say that there was a threshold. such that if one chose to give 9% one would be wrong. or between the top three and the rest. even when a much larger interval separates the runners. it must say that there is a big difference between right and wrong. We certainly don’t attach anything like the same significance to the difference between finishing. even if the two runners are separated by only a fraction of a second. say. If this distinction is to be interesting. attach great significance to the difference between winning a race and coming second.000 from Jones (who has already given 11%)would satisfy this goal as well as an extra $5. but as with many other . whereas if one chose to give 10% one would be right. at lo%.000 from Smith (who has given 9%). and the difference between giving 11% and 12% is just the difference between one supererogatory act and a slightly better one. quite apart from the difference in goodness between the options. good and bad are scalar concepts. no utilitarian should accept this. An extra $5. in this case. but we don’t think that it shows that there really is a greater significance in the difference between first and second than in any other difference. One might think that the difference between the best and the next best option constitutes a really significant moral difference. or between the final four and the others-we seem be laying down arbitrary conventions. assuming that other things are equal. or pairs of wrong actions..000 comes from one who has already given 11% or from one who has given a mere 9 % .

If she gives him the water. There are two reasons to reject this suggestion. Mother Theresa has to choose whether to give a drink of water to a dying man. he will be slightly better off than he would otherwise be. But it is utterly implausible to say that she does wrong if she gives it to him. the state of affairs is bad. Assign it a positive number if it is. so long as his situation is better after the action than before. even though it is still bad. Note that although this gives an account of a real distinction between good and bad. If it is negative. Determine whether his conscious experience is better than no experience. . This distinction is not arbitrary or conventional. Good and Bad Actions It will often happen that all the states of affairs an agent has the power to produce are bad or all are good. The second is that. The utilitarian can give a fairly natural account of the distinction between good and bad states of affairs. to make the former pair redundant. we speak of a state of affairs a s good or bad (simpliciter). For example: consider each morally significant being affected by some action. but doesn’t even halt it. let alone reverse it. It is also implausible to say that it would be a bad thing to give the man a drink. Perhaps the dividing line between right and wrong is just the dividing line between good and bad. the action is good. on the account of good and bad states of affairs we offered the utilitarian. and hence. To explain this point we need to explore what a utilitarian might say about the difference between good and bad actions. For example. Perhaps this is because the man’s situation is improved by the drink. The first is that it seems to collapse the concepts of right and wrong into those of good and bad respectively. 4. it doesn’t give us reason to attach much significance to the distinction. Then add together the numbers of all morally significant beings affected by some possible action. but it might well be that the situation is bad if she gives it to him and bad if she doesn’t. and a negative one if it isn’t. and also does wrong if she doesn’t. what would that point be? We said earlier that differences in goodness should be reflected by differences in rightness. It doesn’t make the difference between a minimally good state of affairs and a minimally bad state of affairs more significant than the difference between pairs of good states of affairs or between bad states of affairs. It could be that his situation is gradually deteriorating. so that the drink slows the deterioration. Perhaps we can say that. such as rich and tall. it is not clear that there is any satisfactory account of the difference between good and bad actions with which to equate the difference between right and wrong actions.REJECTING THE RIGHT 113 scalar concepts. But this won’t do. If the sum if positive. the state of affairs is good. Why not say something similar about right and wrong: that they are scalar phenomena but that there is a point (perhaps a fuzzy point) at which wrong shades into right? Well. He is now less badly off than he was before.

perhaps more importantly. When we wonder what the world would have been like if a particular action hadn’t been performed at time t. or t o be removed from the scene. (ii)b We imagine a world as similar as possible to the actual world before t. but. Not only do they give the wrong moral judgements about some actions. The best account we know is to be found in the writing of Alan Donagan. because the dying man is better off than he would have been if she hadn’t given him the drink. as we shall argue shortly. (ii) We imagine the agent to have been absent from the scene at the t. When we wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t done something. A good action makes the world better than it would have been if the action hadn’t been performed. Donagan defines an action a s “a deed done in a particular . A good action. Within (ii) there are two possibilities: (ii)a We imagine a world identical to the actual world before t. There are problems with the proposal. Mother Theresa’s action is good. on this proposal. we can’t simply compare states of affairs before and after a particular action. though. in which the agent miraculously vanishes from the scene at t. Any action that results in a better world is good. When we think of someone doing a good or a bad thing. we don’t suppose ourselves to be immobilized. we need an intuitively acceptable account of the latter notion. miraculously or not. an underlying concept is that of making a difference to the world.114 HOWARD-SNYDER AND NORCROSS He is actually worse off after he gets the drink than he was before. we imagine what would have had to have been different before t in order for the agent to have been absent at t. If we are to judge an action by comparing its consequences with what would have happened otherwise. We compare. but at the same time in different worlds. not states of affairs at different times in the same world. Clearly. they don’t seem to capture what we mean when we ask what would have happened if the action hadn’t been performed. it seems. The comparisons they invite are simply not the correct ones. how do we imagine things to have been changed? Two approaches with prima facie plausibility can be easily dismissed: (i) We imagine the agent to have remained immobile at t. but he would have been even worse off without the drink. If the resulting world is of equal value. That is. in which the agent is non-miraculously absent from the scene at t. Any action that results in a worse world is bad. makes the world better than it would have been if the action hadn’t been performed. The latter world provides a neutral point in terms of value. It would be a very strange account of the difference between good and bad actions that judged this to be a bad action. the action is neither good nor bad.4 Both immobility and absence from the scene fail to give us a satisfactory neutral point with which to compare the results of an agent’s actions. The current proposal is that a utilitarian judges an action as good or bad (or neither) by comparing the world that results from it with the world that would have resulted if it hadn’t been performed.

the situation. Whatever problems there are with this analysis of the difference between doing and allowing7. the situation is conceived as passive.” It is the exercise of human agency that gives an agent the option to intervene in the course of nature or to allow nature to take its course. from the point of view of action. including his bodily and mental states. does this account of what would have happened anyway fare as part of an analysis of the difference between good and bad actions? The major problem with this latest suggestion is that it entails that letting nature take its course is never good or bad. and . but it will be unacceptable nonetheless. Those that make a difference to the course of nature. as allowing to happen whatever would not have happened had he intervened. he asks what would have happened in “the course of nature” (his phrase). Hence. and when he abstains. those that leave the course of nature unchanged are abstentions. Both Agent and the freedom fighter are in a bar one night when the forces of evil arrive. He is like a deus ex machina whose interventions make a difference to what otherwise would naturally come about without them. Even those who claim that it is generally worse to do bad things than to allow them to happen (and that it is better to do good things than to allow them to happen?) will admit that some allowings can be very bad and some can be very good. How. .~ Should he be deprived of all power of action. qua agent. then. The course of nature can include not only the agent’s physical presence.. it seems to have a good deal of intuitive support.. her behavior is morally neutral. The chief policeman announces that they have been given reliable information that the freedom fighter is in the bar. who is a lazy good-for-nothing. or what would have happened anyway.6 In considering what would have happened if an agent hadn’t acted. Donagan doesn’t imagine her to be immobile or absent from the scene. he can be described as causing whatever would not have occurred had he abstained. as external to it. called Agent. who are more inclined to invest the doing/allowing distinction with moral significance than are consequentialists. Consider an agent. This may be more amenable to anti-consequentialists. Instead.REJECTING THE RIGHT 115 situation or set of circumstances. would change according to the laws of nature. but also changes in her “bodily and mental states. A couple of examples will suffice. [consisting] partly of [the agent’s] own bodily and mental ~ t a t e s ” He continues: . If someone allows to happen what would have happened anyway. All of an agent’s deeds are either interventions or abstentions. are interventions. When he intervenes. and the agent. but the freedom fighter happens to be in the toilet. His deeds as an agent are either interventions in that natural process or abstentions from intervention. and just happens to be the spitting image of a courageous freedom fighter who is wanted by the oppressive government.

however. In the absence of any other plausible alternatives. helps the utilitarian provide a satisfactory account of the difference between good and bad actions. He is seated at a desk with eleven buttons. has done a good thing! she This example also counts against both immobility and absence from the scene. according t o any plausible account of good and bad action. But the account we are considering judges them both to be morally neutral. Suppose Agent either doesn’t press any button. hard to imagine a better candidate for a good action than this one. that none of the accounts we have been considering. .9 If we have a theory of good and bad actions. also falls foul of this example. we consider different versions of the view that an action is wrong if and only if it is blameworthy. then. it had better classify this a s a good action. he explains. He was. It seems. of what would have happened if Agent hadn’t exercised her agency. because they are in a tearing hurry to get to the donut shop before it closes. or presses ‘10’. emerges from the restroom. Either would be a very bad thing to do.”s The police shoot Agent. and leave the bar satisfied. The police thrust Agent against a wall and tell her to hurry up and say whatever she has to say before they shoot her. depending on whether we suppose Agent miraculously or non-miraculously absent. Absence from the scene fares differently. to honor her arrival. She is free to press any button she wishes. all ten will die. If the button marked ‘10’ is pressed. Agent had the chance to reveal her identity and save her life. We argue that this view-even on the most plausible construal of it-is unacceptable to the utilitarian. He tells her that the buttons control the fates of ten people. However. all ten will die. if ‘9’ is pressed. in front of him. only nine will die. numbered ‘0’ through ‘lo’. Allowings can also be very bad. before the freedom fighter. What is perhaps even more counterintuitive. named Scientist. It is also clear that none of these can explain the difference between right and wrong actions. and so on down to ‘0’. Suppose that Agent stumbles onto an experiment conducted by a twisted scientist. if Agent presses ‘9*. seizing her chance to redeem her pitiful life.116 HOWARD-SNYDER AND NORCROSS they won’t leave until they kill her. about to press ‘10’. Is there an alternative account of wrongness? In the next section. mumbles “it is a far far better thing that I do now than I have ever done before. we must reject the suggestion that the dividing line between right and wrong is the line between good and bad. If no button is pressed within the next thirty seconds. this would be neutral. he turns control of the buttons over to Agent. He immediately spots Agent. According to the analysis of good and bad actions we are considering. but she chose to let things happen as they would have happened had she not exercised her agency at all. or to press none at all. unaware of what has happened. It is. The earlier suggestion. Agent. that we consider what would have happened if Agent had remained immobile.

But if WA is to be understood a s WA1. then wrongness might also come in degrees. You can ostracize him for one more hour or one more year. one more day or hour in prison.” In that case. Punishment. The scalar nature of punishment is well-suited to reflect the scalar nature of wrongness. That account says that an action is appropriate if and only if it is optimific.’ Trying to understand the wrongness of one action in terms of the wrongness of other actions is unenlightening.10 This conception of wrongness is attractive. The degrees can be as fine as you like. If this is what wrongness consists in. Wrongness as Blameworthiness We tend to blame and punish agents for their wrong actions and not for actions that are not wrong. the most natural understanding is to think of it as meaning ‘obligatory’. You can give someone one more lashing. . Some philosophers have argued that being blameworthy is of the essence of wrong action. WA would then amount to: WA2: An action is wrong if and only if it is optimific to punish the agent This suggestion avoids the uninformative circularity of WA 1. And we tend to consider it wrong to blame or punish someone for an action that was not wrong. I 2 Let us suppose that WA2 expresses the sort of connection between wrongness and .) But we don’t have a better grasp on the notion of ‘ought to sanction’ than we have on the notions of ‘ought to keep promises’ or ‘ought to feed the hungry. at least not a line which has any more significance than the line between one wrong action and another. since censure comes in degrees. (We take it that ‘wrong’ and ‘ought not to be done’ are interchangeable. from the consequentialist point of view.REJECTING THE RIGHT 117 5. There is an alternative account of appropriateness according to which it is still normative. This account would not require us to draw a sharp line between the right and the wrong. or between one right action and another. praise and shame come in degrees. The difference between one lashing and two lashings is not significantly different from the difference between two lashings and three. Consider the following definition of wrong action: WA: An action is wrong if and only if it is appropriate to impose various sanctions on the agent. One can feel shame to different degrees too. it leads to a definitional circle or regress. WA would be: WA1: An action is wrong if and only if we ought to impose various sanc- tions on the agent. What does it mean to say that it is ‘appropriate’ to sanction? Since appropriateness is a normative notion. It tells us to understand what is wrong in terms of what it is wrong not to do. or the difference between no lashings and one.

But it can sometimes be optimific to punish a utility-maximizer. is also wrong. then she has done nothing wrong. imagine that Agnes has always produced as much utility as it was possible for her to produce. with a view to its future production: accordingly. We submit that there is reason to reject the claim that the wrongness of an action is determined by whether punishing the agent would produce more utility than not. We might call this the principle of universalizability. and does very well indeed. as has been before said. but y would not. To see this consider what Sidgwick says about praise. then an action y done by someone in exactly similar circumstances. Moreover. we must mean by calling a quality. on utilitarian principles. their value is determined by their consequences. such as someone’s untimely death or suffering. none of her actions has led to any unfortunate consequences. in distributing our praise of human qualities. It might. with the same intention and the same consequences. If action x is wrong. ‘deserving of praise’.I3 The utilitarian will. we have to consider primarily not the usefulness of the quality. 1. if there is good reason to reject this method of deciding whether someone has done wrong. If someone does the best she can. If there is a conceptual connection of the sort asserted by WA2 between an action’s being wrong and its being appropriate to punish the agent. their power to produce utility. This is because our concept of wrongness is constrained by one or both of the following principles which conflict with WA2. Can it provide the utilitarian with a distinction between badness and wrongness? We believe that WA2 is not available to the utilitarian as a way of distinguishing wrong actions from bad actions. For he cannot identify wrong actions with actions which it is optimific to sanction. then there is reason to reject WA2. be optimific to punish the agent of x but not the agent of y. Hence. then we should be able to determine whether an act is wrong by determining whether punishing the agent of that act will produce more utility than not. like those actions. On the other hand. according to WA2. of course. say the same about censure as Sidgwick says about praise: we should assess whether it is good to punish or blame someone by assessing the utility of doing so. For example. . however. x would be wrong.118 HOWARD-SNYDER AND NORCROSS censure that people have in mind. but the usefulness of the praise. Punishing or blaming are actions just like promise-keeping or killing and. From a Utilitarian point of view. that it is expedient to praise it. and if Sidgwick’s account of when it is appropriate to punish is correct. 2.

We submit that there can be no conceptual connection. Given any one of these constraints on any recognizable understanding of wrongness. Rightness and Goodness as Guides to Action We raised the question of whether there was a connection between wrongness and censure because this seemed to be the best candidate for explaining the distinction between wrongness and badness. 6. the fact that an agent has done no wrong is a primafacie reason not to punish the agent.g. Suppose that punishing her will produce very slightly more utility than not doing so. we need a connection that allows for exceptions. particularly in the sorts of bizarre cases that philosophers come up with. between wrongness and punishability or blameworthiness. Agnes) who has done no wrong. So the suggestion is: WA3: An action is wrong if and only if it blame its agent.REJECTING THE RIGHT 119 Punishing her as a scapegoat might nevertheless produce more utility than not doing so. however. If her innocence did create a presumption against punishing her.14 It might be objected that the conflict between principles (1) and (2) and WA2 can be explained away if we see the relationship between the concepts of wrongness and censure as less simple than the one we have suggested. This conceptual . This would account for our disinclination to say that Agnes did something wrong. But this is not how the utilitarian sees things. if the agent has suffered a great deal as a result of his action. This suggestion will not work. This is because the soZe determinant of the appropriateness of blame or punishment is how much utility will be produced by doing so. Both kinds of reasons can be overridden. for the utilitarian. e. or prima facie appropriate not to blame someone who has done no wrong.. we argue that this is not a strike against utilitarianism. say. Imagine someone (say. It is absurd to say that she has done something wrong just in virtue of the fact that it is appropriate to punish her. The utilitarian does not think it is prima facie appropriate to blame the agent of every wrong action. The utilitarian will judge that punishing her is better than not. not punishing an innocent person. it might be urged. In the next section. i s prbra facie appropriate to Presumably also. Instead of saying that wrongness is a necessary and sufficient condition for the appropriateness of censure. the utilitarian cannot say that whether an action is wrong is determined by whether it is optimific to punish the agent for doing it. We recognize intuitively that the appropriateness of punishing or blaming someone for doing wrong is occasionally outweighed by other considerations. Why not say that wrongness makes it prima facie appropriate to censure the agent?15This prima facie appropriateness can be outweighed by such factors as the agent’s motivational state or very extreme consequences of. even if we grant that it was appropriate to punish her. then that presumption should be enough to outweigh the very slight gain in utility.

it does not guide our action. but only as giving an account of what is good and what is better than what. And there seems to be no other way to draw the distinction. It might still be useful to employ the notions of rightness and wrongness for the purposes of everyday decision-making. Utilitarianism. Opponents may grant that utilitarianism is unable to provide an account of wrongness and that it should not be seen as giving an account of right and wrong action. or of which actions ought to be per: formed. and even to set up systems of punishment and blame which assume that there is a clear and significant line between right and wrong. 2. This is not to say that it is a bad thing for people to use the word ‘right’. These different results will themselves be comparable in terms of goodness. it doesn’t guide our action. If a theory doesn’t guide our action. If a theory doesn’t tell us what we ought to do. To meet this challenge. If it is practically desirable that people should think that rightness is an all-or-nothing property. our proposed treatment of utilitarianism suggests an approach to the question of what function to employ to move from the good to the right. In different societies the results of employing different functions may well be different. The expression ‘guide our action’ can mean several things. all the morally relevant facts about those options have been discovered. Why think it is a strike against an ethical theory that it fails to give an account of wrongness? Here’s what people have told us in conversations on the topic: “A moral theory is no good unless it guides our action. To assess this argument we need to disambiguate its first premise. The fundamental moral fact about an action is how good it is relative to other available alternatives. And so different functions can be assessed as better or worse depending on the results of employing them.” This argument has three premises: 1. It may well be that societies that believe in such a line are happier than societies that don’t. the theory you have described does not tell us what we ought to do. By your own admission. or what it is wrong to do. it is no good. And if a theory does not tell us what we ought to do. ‘wrong’ or ‘ought’. In that case. does not tell us what we ought to do. There is no further fact of the form ‘x is right’. Once a range of options has been evaluated in terms of goodness. we need first to understand what motivates it. They will undoubtedly go on to claim that this is a strike against that theory. or ‘x is to-be-done’. utilitarianism should not be seen as giving an account of right action. So it is an inadequate morality. If it means ‘tell us .120 HOWARD-SNYDER AND NORCROSS resource is not available to the utilitarian. as we have described it. in their moral decision-making. 3.

But this doesn’t provide a distinctive account of wrongness.16 As Sidgwick acknowledges. If the fact that an act is wrong gives us reason to avoid it. ‘provide us with reasons for acting’. if it does constitute a reason to prevent it. when I speak of the cognition or judgement that ‘X ought to be done’-in the stricter ethical sense of the term ought-as a ‘dictate’ or ‘precept’ of reason to the persons to whom it relates. Now let’s suppose externalism is true. this reason can be overridden by other reasons. The fact that this is a bad state of affairs is what grounds the fact that one ought not to start forest fires. then the fact that it involves the production of a bad state of affairs. believe that an act is wrong and d o the act without feeling guilt. then there would be no reason to do so. whether one accepts internalism or externalism. Furthermore. Here’s why: A fawn’s suffering in a forest fire is a bad state of affairs. In that case the belief that an act is wrong gives one a reason not to do it. ought to put the animal out of its misery as quickly as possible (if there are such facts). such a reason is necessarily a motivating reason. Sidgwick’s point rests on internalism. For it may be true that one cannot consistently want to avoid doing wrong. it can do so without intervening oughts. but when it is. Here is Sidgwick in defence of something like (2): Further. it still exerts its pull in the form of guilt or uneasiness. and the belief that one state of affairs is better than the other may well give the believer a stronger reason to produce the first than the second. If this is what wrongness amounts to. gives us reason to avoid it. because we can replace each occurrence of the word . We shall construe it to mean something more like. or that God ought not to allow the fawn to suffer like this. If the badness of this state of affairs did not provide a reason to prevent it. the view that oughts are essentially motivating. On the other hand. or that a human agent. Suppose internalism is correct. and shall argue that (2) is false. even if no one is responsible for it. the fact that a state of affairs is bad gives reason to avoid producing it as much as does the fact that producing it is wrong. then it seems no defect in a theory that it lacks a concept of wrongness. this is only one motive among others which are liable to conflict with it. we shall concede ( l ) . Internalism is controversial. Instead of coming down on one side or the other of this controversy.REJECTING THE RIGHT 121 what we ought to do’ then premise (1) is question-begging. and is not alwaysperhaps not usually-a predominant motive. we shall argue that. of course.” It seems that the consequentialist internalist should take the position that the belief that a state of affairs is bud is also a motivating reason to avoid producing it. observing the situation. by itself. On that reading. I imply that in rational beings a s such this cognition gives an impulse or motive to action: though in human beings. In that case the fact that an act is wrong gives one a reason to avoid doing it f one cares about avoiding i wrongdoing.

doesn’t mean that one ought to perform it. which allows that one may have a stronger moral reason to perform an action which produces worse consequences. the deontologist may acknowledge that five deaths are better than one. We can also claim that the better the action. even that there is more moral reason to perform it than any other action. The fact that one action is better than another gives us a moral reason to prefer the first to the second. This should come as no surprise. If the agent cares about doing the best he can. Prudential reasons certainly seem to function in this way. many of us do not care about doing what we ought either. but whether they are or not. the stronger the moral reason to perform it. and so on. The first might be expressed like this: “You say that consequentialism is not a theory of the right. We are left with nothing that is distinctive about con~equentialism. My judgement that pizza is better for me than cauliflower will guide my action differently depending on how much better I judge pizza to be than cauliflower. the best action will be the one that produces the best consequences. But then. what is it a theory of. the significance each of us gives to such moral reasons relative to other reasons. feel guilt if he doesn’t. Whether moral facts are reasons for all who recognize them (the debate over internalism) is an issue beyond the scope of this paper. For example. Of the acts available to the agent. A particular species of consequentialism. such as utilitarianism. it looks a s if premise ( 2 ) in the above argument is false. if faced with a choice between killing one and letting five die. but insist that the better behavior is to allow the five to .) This distinguishes consequentialism from deontology.”~~ This is not correct. Morality thus guides action in a scalar fashion.122 HOWARD-SNYDER AND NORCROSS ‘wrong’ and its cognates in the above sentence with other moral terms such as ‘an action which produces less than the best possible consequences’ or simply ‘bad’ and the principle remains true. (Most of us would acknowledge that one has more moral reason to behave in a supererogatory fashion than simply to do one’s duty. then he will be motivated to do so. We can still claim this distinctive feature for consequentialism: it includes the view that the goodness of an action depends on the goodness of its consequences. Other action-guiding reasons also come in degrees. There are two other reasons we have encountered for requiring consequentialism to provide an account of the right. is not something which can be settled by a moral theory. This is not to concede the point to our opponents. but there are no restrictions on the kind of good that a consequentialism may be a theory of. is a theory of the good. The fact that there is a moral reason to perform some action. such as prudential and aesthetic reasons. It is true that few of us care about doing the best we can. Abolishing the notion of ‘ought’ will not seriously undermine the action-guiding nature of morality. then? It is surely not a theory of the good.18 Whether internalism is correct or not. and so on. the next best will be the one that produces the next best consequences. Well.

Cordirtion-scrzse Morality arid Corzseqireririalisrtr (Boston:Routledge and Kegan Paul. Part of what makes utilitarianism such a radical alternative to deontology.23 ENDNOTES ‘See for example. in our view. is that it allows satisficing consequentialists and scalar consequentialists to count as consequentialists. first of all. we have argued that consequentialism is best conceived as a theory of the good. then it should treat them as matters of degree. It is true that contemporary discussions of the relative merits of utilitarianism and deontology have often focused on particular examples. Having shown this. That utilitarians have felt the need to provide accounts of rightness is testimony to the pervasion of deontological approaches to ethics. the view that it is of the essence of consequentialism to insist that the agent ought always to do whatever will produce the best consequences. In addition. A further advantage of consequentialism’s rejection of the right is that it provides a solution to the problem of supererogation. Our chief method for comparing moral theories. Conclusion In this paper. According to that view. Joel Feinberg. consists in comparing their judgements about which acts are right or wrong. we have argued that the fact that consequentialism is not an account of the right is not a strike against that theory. . say. 2Michael Slote. discusses this suggestion. No longer are all acts which fail to produce the best consequences classified as wrong. and not as a theory of the right.REJECTING THE RIGHT 123 die. we argue that consequentialism should not include an account of rightness and wrongness. morality provides stronger reasons for allowing five deaths than for killing one.2oOne advantage of the suggestion we offer here over. However. is its claim that right and wrong are not fundamental ethical concepts. “Supererogation and Rules. and these moves are unavailable to the consequentialist. We have shown. asking of the different theories what options are right or wrong. nor does it make it vaccuous. according to this suggestion. since it doesn’t detract from its action-guiding capacity. 7. 1985) chapter 3. We have also encountered the following reason for requiring utilitarianism to provide an account of the right as well as the good: The utilitarian will have to provide a function from the good to the right in order to compare her theory with various deontological alternatives21. The only possible ways of doing so are by linking wrongness to badness or to punishability. that if consequentialism does include an account of rightness and wrongness.” Ethics 71 (1961): 276-88.22. to assume that a moral theory must provide an account of the right in order to be subjected to critical scrutiny begs the question against our proposed treatment of utilitarianism.

reissued (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ’For example. L.chapter 5 . That is. 5Alan Donagan. to say that judges and others ought to punish in an optimific manner means that it is optimific for third parties to punish them if they failed to do so. I4It might occur to the reader to wonder whether a satisficing version of (WA2) would work better that the ‘optimific’ version. The principles we have expressed here would produce conflicts with such a version also. Robert Adams. 428. p. in Chapter 5 of The Wilde Lectures on Religion and the Foundation of Ethics (unpublished manuscript). ‘*At first sight. She immediately looks up to see a large rock about to hit her. it appears that she should do x. 3-10. We mean that there is a . *Apologies to Charles Dickens. However. We shall focus on the obligatory reading here. that human agents have the power to break the laws of nature. (Chicago: Chicago University Press. IOEthicists as diverse as J. But it doesn’t. 1977). 4This involves a backtracking counterfactual. the claim that an action is closer to the best action than is another is quite consistent with the claim that it is no less wrong than the latter.124 HOWARD-SNYDER A N D NORCROSS 31t might be objected that maximizing utilitarianism does in fact give a scalar account of wrongness. Mill. consider this alternative: Agent is out mountain-climbing and notices that the freedom fighter is directly below her. Note that the chief objection to the obligatory reading also applies to the permissibility reading. see Jonathan Bennett.” Erhics. if not of rightness. S. endorse this view. The Merhods of Ethics 7th ed. 42. paragraph 14. we do not mean that. thus saving the freedom fighter. and J. l5When we say that someone has a prbrajacie obligation to do x. CrinrinalJristice Erhics (Winter/Spring. 1982). 42-3. and so are less wrong. this analysis seems to suggest that human agency is somehow outside nature. by the rock. pp. According to (WA2). in Utilifarianisnt. 1962). it might look as though it enjoins legislators. October 1993. “Negation and Abstention: Two Theories of Allowing. we could understand it as meaning ‘permissible’. The Theory of Moraliry. judges. and it may well turn out that this is not the case. 6Donagan. but then the freedom fighter would be killed. and ordinary people in everyday life to punish in a way that produces the best consequences. (WA2) appears to endorse maximization. and killed. 9If you are uncomfortable with the fact that the consequences of Agent’s behavior run through the wills of other agents. 13Henry Sidgwick. For a useful discussion of this passage and the distinction between doing and allowing contained therein. Some actions are closer to being right than are others. Mackie in “Moralityand the Retributive Eiiiotioiis. She could move. police. ” 1lAlternatively. She allows herself to be hit. since it seems the most popular. at first sight.

and even be aware of. and Michael Slote for helpful comments. 2 q h e full story about what distinguishes consequentialism from deontology will have to be more complicated than this. for you may not care about arithmetic truth.g. For example. and yet be not in the least motivated so to act.. be aware of the reason. 1982) for a discussion of this notion. if you are asked what is the sum of five and seven. or any other truth. which can be outweighed by other considerations. you have a reason to reply ‘twelve’. 2lThis was suggested by an anonymous referee. aesthetic. prudential reasons. 19We have heard this objection from Daniel Howard-Snyder and Shelly Kagan. If you simply didn’t care about your own well-being. John O’LearyHawthorne. The motivation may be outweighed by other motivations. op. 34. but more motivated to act in other ways. prudential reasons would not be in the least motivating. The Rejecrioiz of Coizse(liieiirialisirl (Oxford: Clarendon Press. points this out. Daniel Howard-Snyder.REJECTING THE RIGHT 125 presumption in favor of her doing x. the belief that a particular action is the best way to satisfy one of your desires may provide a necessarily motivating reason to perform that action. IsSidgwick. See Samuel Scheffler. %late. self-indulgent and the like-simply overwhelm prudential motivations. In such cases you would still be motivated to act prudentially. We take ther term “scalar” from Slote. 23We are indebted to Jonathan Bennett. who discusses scalar morality in Chapter 5 . op. It will have to incorporate the claim that the consequentialist ranking of states of affairs is not agent-centered. cir. but you may be not in the least motivated to do so.. cir. prudential reasons. which other motivations-moral. . e. p. But someone who didn’t care about her own well-being could still have. You may have a prudential reason to act in a certain way. Similarly. We are not here thinking of cases in 17There can be reasons that are not necessarily motivating. There may be reasons other than moral reasons that are necessarily motivating. but it seems to us that everything we have said in this paper about utilitarianism can be said about other forms of consequentialism. 22We conducted the argument largely in terms of utilitarianism.