Philosophy Ethical Consequentialism
by
Tim Mulgan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 October 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0026

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. Pettit’s “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, 241–248. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.

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    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.

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    • Parfit, Derek. Reasons and Persons. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.

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      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.

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      • Pettit, Philip. “Consequentialism.” In A Companion to Ethics. Edited by Peter Singer, 230–240. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.

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        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.

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        • Pettit, Philip. “The Consequentialist Perspective.” In Three Methods of Ethics. By Baron, Marcia, Philip Pettit, and Michael Slote, 92–174. Oxford: Blackwell, 1997.

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          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.

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          • Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter. “Consequentialism.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta, 2008.

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            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.

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            • 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, 3–74. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1973.

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              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.

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              • Williams, Bernard. “A Critique of Utilitarianism.” In Utilitarianism: For and Against. By J. J. C. Smart and Bernard Williams, 77–150. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1973.

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                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 Williams’s arguments have been developed more clearly and systematically by others, there is still much to be gained by reading them in the original.

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                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 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.

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                  Three main strands in contemporary normative ethics—Kantian ethics, consequentialism, and virtue ethics—are 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.

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

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                    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.

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

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                      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.

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                      • Shaw, William. Contemporary Ethics: Taking Account of Utilitarianism. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1999.

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                        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).

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                        • Singer, Peter. Practical Ethics. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

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                          Partisan but highly readable introduction, written from an act utilitarian perspective. Excellent coverage of issues: animals, abortion, euthanasia, famine relief. Ideal provocative introductory text.

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                          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 Parfit’s 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.

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                            Essays by leading philosophers on Parfit’s 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 Parfit’s original text, and thus to contemporary consequentialism. Suitable background reading for senior undergraduates and above.

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

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                              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.

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                              • Scheffler, Samuel, ed. Consequentialism and Its Critics. Oxford Readings in Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.

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                                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.

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                                • Sen, Amartya, and Bernard Williams, eds. Utilitarianism and Beyond. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

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                                  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.

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                                  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 Mill’s 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.

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                                    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 fascinating insight into a very original thinker.

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                                    • Godwin, William. Enquiry Concerning Political Justice. Abridged and edited by K. Codell Carter. Oxford: Clarendon, 1971.

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                                      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.

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                                      • Mill, John Stuart. A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive. Edited by J. M. Robson. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1973.

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                                        Mill’s 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 Mill’s utilitarianism in its philosophical context. First published 1843. Reprint of 8th edition of 1872.

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                                        • Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty. Edited by Gertrude Himmelfarb. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1974.

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                                          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 Mill’s liberalism and his utilitarianism is unclear, and the subject of huge subsequent controversy. First published 1793.

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                                          • Mill, John Stuart. Principles of Political Economy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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                                            Mill’s influential views on economics. Less accessible than Mill’s 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.

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                                            • Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism. Edited by Roger Crisp. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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                                              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 Mill’s overall philosophical project. Originally published in 1861. Crisp’s edition has a philosophical introduction, thorough notes, and an extended bibliography.

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                                              • Paley, William. The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 2002.

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

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                                                • Sidgwick, Henry. The Methods of Ethics. 7th ed. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1981.

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                                                  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.

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                                                  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 Mill’s 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 Mill’s philosophy, and West 2006 provides a variety of perspectives on Mill’s 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 Sidgwick’s 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.

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                                                    In the Routledge Philosophy Guidebook series. Combines detailed exegesis of Mill’s essay Utilitarianism with up-to-date discussion of well-being, the scope of consequentialism, and Williams’s “integrity” objection. Ideal background for students studying Mill in the context of contemporary moral theory.

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                                                    • Mulgan, Tim. “Classical Utilitarianism.” In Understanding Utilitarianism. By Tim Mulgan, 7-44. Stocksfield, UK: Acumen, 2007.

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                                                      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.

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                                                      • Rosen, Frederick. Classical Utilitarianism from Hume to Mill. London: Routledge, 2003.

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                                                        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.

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                                                        • Schneewind, J. Sidgwick and Victorian Moral Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

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                                                          Detailed examination of Sidgwick’s 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.

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                                                          • Schofield, Philip. Utility and Democracy: The Political Thought of Jeremy Bentham. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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                                                            Historical exploration of Bentham’s 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 Bentham’s thought.

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                                                            • Schultz, Bart. Henry Sidgwick, Eye of the Universe: An Intellectual Biography. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

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                                                              One of the best philosophical biographies. Written by a philosopher, who places Sidgwick’s 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 Sidgwick’s Methods of Ethics (Sidgwick 1981, cited under Primary Texts).

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                                                              • Skorupski, John. The Cambridge Companion to Mill. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

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                                                                Readable and comprehensive collection of expert essays on the main aspect of Mill’s philosophy. The best single volume multiauthor resource on Mill. Ideal background for readers at all levels.

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                                                                • West, Henry. The Blackwell Guide to Mill’s Utilitarianism. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006.

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                                                                  Combines the full text of Mill’s 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.

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                                                                  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 Mill’s 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 Rawls’s reflective equilibrium method to argue in favor of rule consequentialism.

                                                                  • Bennett, Jonathan. “Whatever the Consequences.” Analysis 26.3 (1966): 83–102.

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                                                                    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.

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                                                                    • Hare, R. M. Moral Thinking: Its Levels, Method, and Point. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981.

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                                                                      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.

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                                                                      • 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..

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                                                                        Appropriates Rawls’s reflective equilibrium methodology to defend rule consequentialism. One of the clearest arguments that consequentialism provides the best fit with commonsense morality.

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                                                                        • Mill, John Stuart. “Of What Sort of Proof the Principle of Utility is Susceptible.” In Utilitarianism. By John Stuart Mill. Edited by Roger Crisp, 81–86. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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                                                                          Mill’s notorious “proof” of utilitarianism. Often taken out of context and treated as a series of logical errors. Best seen instead in the context of Mill’s empiricist philosophy, and especially his lack of our contemporary obsession with moral skepticism or relativism.

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                                                                          • Parfit, Derek. Reasons and Persons. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.

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                                                                            While not explicitly presented as such, Parfit’s 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 outlook—and they have been subsequently deployed as such. See Parts 2–4.

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                                                                            • Scheffler, Samuel. “Introduction.” In Consequentialism and its Critics. Edited by Samuel Scheffler, 1–13. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.

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                                                                              Argues that nonconsequentialism is self-defeating. Similar arguments are expanded in two other articles in the same collection: Scheffler’s own “Agent-Centered Restrictions, Rationality, and the Virtues” (reprinted in Scheffler 2003, cited under Hybrid Views, Agent-Neutrality, and Agent-Relativity) and Parfit’s “Is Common-sense Morality Self-Defeating?” (Reprinted from Journal of Philosophy 76.10 (1979): 533–545).

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                                                                              • Sidgwick, Henry. The Methods of Ethics. 7th ed. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1981.

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                                                                                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 1–3 (both titled “The Method of Utilitarianism”).

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                                                                                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 Mill’s 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 Aristotle—linking 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.

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                                                                                  Uses Mill’s hedonism—and especially his distinction between higher and lower pleasures—as the springboard for a discussion of late-twentieth-century consequentialist debates about well-being. Ideal for undergraduate courses. See chapters 2–3.

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                                                                                  • Crisp, Roger. “Well-Being.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2008.

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                                                                                    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.

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                                                                                    • Feldman, Fred. Pleasure and the Good Life: Concerning the Nature, Varieties, and the Plausibility of Hedonism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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                                                                                      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.

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                                                                                      • Griffin, James. Well-Being: Its Meaning, Measurement, and Moral Importance. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986.

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                                                                                        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 to its methods and preoccupations.

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

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                                                                                          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.

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                                                                                          • Parfit, Derek. “What Makes Someone’s Life Go Best.” In Reasons and Persons. By Derek Parfit,493-502. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.

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                                                                                            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.

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                                                                                            • Railton, Peter. “Facts and Values.” In Facts, Values, and Norms: Essays toward a Morality of Consequence. By Peter Railton, 5–31. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

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                                                                                              Defends an ideal advisor theory of well-being—a version of the informed-desire account—situated within a naturalist moral realism. This, along with the other essays in Railton’s collection, present a very good introduction to the naturalist strand of contemporary consequentialism. Originally published in Philosophical Topics 14 (1986): 5–31.

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                                                                                              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 Parfit’s 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 Parfit’s 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): 247–266.

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                                                                                                Argues that it is impossible to find Parfit’s “Theory X,” an intuitively plausible account of value (Parfit 1984). A very good introduction to the literature both on impossibility theorems and on intermediate positions between average and total utilitarianism.

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

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                                                                                                  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.

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                                                                                                  • Hurka, Thomas. “Value and Population Size.” Ethics 93 (1983): 496–507.

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                                                                                                    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.)

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                                                                                                    • Parfit, Derek. Reasons and Persons. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.

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                                                                                                      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.

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                                                                                                      • Parfit, Derek. “Overpopulation and the Quality of Life.” In Applied Ethics. Edited by Peter Singer, 145–164. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

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                                                                                                        Extends Parfit’s 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.

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                                                                                                        • Parfit, Derek. “Equality and Priority.” Ratio 10 (1997): 202–221.

                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1111/1467-9329.00041Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                          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.

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                                                                                                          • Ryberg, Jesper, and Torbjorn Tannsjo, eds. The Repugnant Conclusion: Essays on Population Ethics. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer, 2004.

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                                                                                                            Very focused collection of essays by leading scholars on Parfit’s 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.

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                                                                                                            • Temkin, Larry. “Intransitivity and the Mere Addition Paradox.” Philosophy and Public Affairs 16 (1987): 138–187.

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                                                                                                              Argues that Parfit’s 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.)

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                                                                                                              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 theory’s 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): 467–481.

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                                                                                                                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.

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                                                                                                                • Bales, Eugene. “Act-Utilitarianism: Account of Right-Making Characteristics or Decision-Making Procedure?” American Philosophical Quarterly 8 (1971): 257–265.

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                                                                                                                  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.

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                                                                                                                  • Carlson, Eric. Consequentialism Reconsidered. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic, 1995.

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                                                                                                                    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.

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

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                                                                                                                      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.

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                                                                                                                      • Griffin, James. “The Distinction between Criterion and Decision Procedure: A Reply to Madison Powers.” Utilitas 6 (1994): 177–182.

                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1017/S0953820800001552Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                        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.

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                                                                                                                        • Hurka, Thomas. Virtue, Vice, and Value. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1093/0195137167.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                          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.

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                                                                                                                          • Parfit, Derek. Reasons and Persons. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.

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                                                                                                                            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.

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                                                                                                                            • Pettit, Philip, and Michael Smith. “Global Consequentialism.” In Morality, Rules, and Consequences. Edited by Brad Hooker, Elinor Mason, and Dale E. Miller, 121–133. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000.

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                                                                                                                              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 Kagan’s article “Evaluative Focal Points” in the same volume (pp. 134–155), this introduces a new level of abstraction.

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                                                                                                                              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 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 Hooker’s 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.

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                                                                                                                                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 Brandt’s views on the relationship between utilitarianism and metaethics, and on the implications of utilitarianism.

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                                                                                                                                • Harsanyi, John. “Rule Utilitarianism and Decision Theory.” Erkenntnis 11.1 (1977): 27–53.

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                                                                                                                                  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.

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                                                                                                                                  • Hooker, Brad. Ideal Code, Real World: A Rule-Consequentialist Theory of Morality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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                                                                                                                                    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.

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                                                                                                                                    • Hooker, Brad. “Rule Consequentialism.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2004.

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                                                                                                                                      Balanced account of rule consequentialism, both historical and contemporary. Written by the view’s leading contemporary exponent. Up-to-date, and likely to remain so. The best place to look for the latest developments.

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                                                                                                                                      • Mulgan, Tim. “Rule Consequentialism.” In The Demands of Consequentialism. By Tim Mulgan, 53–103. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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                                                                                                                                        Sustained critique of Hooker’s formulation of rule consequentialism (see Hooker 2000). Presents a number of new objections, as well as explaining old objections.

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                                                                                                                                        • Murphy, Liam. Moral Demands in Nonideal Theory. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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                                                                                                                                          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.

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                                                                                                                                          • Urmson, J. O. “The Interpretation of the Moral Philosophy of J. S. Mill.” Philosophical Quarterly 3 (1953): 33–39.

                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.2307/2216697Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                            Defends a rule utilitarian interpretation of Mill’s 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.

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                                                                                                                                            • Woodard, Christopher. Reasons, Patterns, and Cooperation. New York: Routledge, 2008.

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                                                                                                                                              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.

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                                                                                                                                              Hybrid Views, Agent-Neutrality, and Agent-Relativity

                                                                                                                                              Sidgwick famously contrasted the agent’s 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 Scheffler’s 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): 167–185.

                                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1007/BF00381686Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                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.

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

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                                                                                                                                                  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.

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                                                                                                                                                  • Nagel, Thomas. The Possibility of Altruism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1972.

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                                                                                                                                                    Argues that all reasons for action are objective, and derives moral principles from altruism. Regards ethics as a branch of psychology, and ethical requirements as rational requirements. Nagel’s views have been very influential, not least because he taught many of the next generation of moral philosophers. See especially chapters 7 and 10.

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                                                                                                                                                    • Portmore, Douglas. “Position-Relative Consequentialism, Agent-Centered Options, and Supererogation.” Ethics 113 (2003): 303–332.

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                                                                                                                                                      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.

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

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                                                                                                                                                        Defends a hybrid moral theory, combining consequentialism with an agent-centered prerogative allowing disproportionate weight for the agent’s 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.

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                                                                                                                                                        • Sen, Amartya. “Evaluator Relativity and Consequential Evaluation.” Philosophy and Public Affairs 12.2 (1983): 113–132.

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                                                                                                                                                          Responds to a critique by Donald Regan of Sen’s “Rights and Agency” (Philosophy and Public Affairs 11.1 [1982]: 3–39). Systematic account of the possibility of, and motivation for, evaluator-relative judgments. A classic paper that sets the scene for subsequent debate.

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                                                                                                                                                          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 Utility.” Philosophical Studies 129 (2006): 149–179.

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

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                                                                                                                                                            • Griffin, James. “The Human Good and the Ambitions of Consequentialism.” Social Philosophy and Policy 9.2 (1992): 118–132.

                                                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1017/S0265052500001436Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                              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.

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                                                                                                                                                              • Griffin, James. “The Distinction between Criterion and Decision Procedure: A Reply to Madison Powers.” Utilitas 6 (1994): 177–182.

                                                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1017/S0953820800001552Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                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 Griffin’s influential work on this issue.

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                                                                                                                                                                • Lenman, James. “Consequentialism and Cluelessness.” Philosophy and Public Affairs 29.4 (2000): 342–370.

                                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1111/j.1088-4963.2000.00342.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                  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.

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                                                                                                                                                                  • Mackie, J. L. Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1983.

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                                                                                                                                                                    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.

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                                                                                                                                                                    • Sobel, David. “Full Information Accounts of Well-Being.” Ethics 104.4 (1994): 784–810.

                                                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1086/293655Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                      Argues that individual well-being cannot be determined and commensurated. Focuses on full information accounts, where an individual’s well-being is identified with what she would prefer from some privileged epistemic standpoint. Critical discussion of a key consequentialist assumption.

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                                                                                                                                                                      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 agent’s “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 Rawls’s 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): 417–438.

                                                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.2307/2026328Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                        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.

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                                                                                                                                                                        • Crisp, Roger. “Integrity.” In Mill on Utilitarianism. By Roger Crisp, 135-153. London: Routledge, 1997.

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                                                                                                                                                                          The most accessible account of Williams’s “integrity” objection (see Williams 1973), and related problems for consequentialism.

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                                                                                                                                                                          • Railton, Peter. “Alienation, Consequentialism, and the Demands of Morality.” Philosophy and Public Affairs 13 (1984): 134–171.

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                                                                                                                                                                            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).

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                                                                                                                                                                            • Williams, Bernard. “A Critique of Utilitarianism.” In Utilitarianism: For and Against. Edited by J. J. C. Smart and Bernard Williams, 77–150. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1973.

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                                                                                                                                                                              The classic presentation of one of the most influential modern objections to consequentialism. Engaging and forceful style. Although Williams’s arguments have been developed more clearly and systematically by others, there is still much to be gained by reading them in the original.

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                                                                                                                                                                              Demandingness

                                                                                                                                                                              Given the state of the world, act consequentialism seems to be an extremely demanding moral theory. Sobel 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 author’s 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: 10.1093/0199258112.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                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.

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                                                                                                                                                                                • Kagan, Shelly. The Limits of Morality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

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                                                                                                                                                                                  Rebuts a moderate position by attacking commonsense options and constraints. The gap in Kagan’s 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.

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

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

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                                                                                                                                                                                    • Murphy, Liam. Moral Demands in Nonideal Theory. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      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.

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

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                                                                                                                                                                                        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.

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                                                                                                                                                                                        • Singer, Peter. “Famine, Affluence, and Morality.” Philosophy and Public Affairs 1 (1972): 229–243.

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                                                                                                                                                                                          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.

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                                                                                                                                                                                          • Sobel, David. “The Impotence of the Demandingness Objection.” Philosophers’ Imprint 7.8 (2007): 1–17.

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                                                                                                                                                                                            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.

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                                                                                                                                                                                            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.

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                                                                                                                                                                                              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).

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                                                                                                                                                                                              • Goodin, Robert. Utilitarianism as a Public Philosophy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

                                                                                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511625053Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                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.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                • Kymlicka, Will. Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                  Clear, accurate presentation of the utilitarian approach to political philosophy. Ideal as an introduction to both historical and current debates. See chapter 2.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism. Edited by Roger Crisp. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                    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. Crisp’s edition has a philosophical introduction, thorough notes, and an extended bibliography.

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

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                                                                                                                                                                                                      Seminal text of 20th-century political philosophy. Argues that utilitarianism ignores “the separateness of persons” and develops that critique within Rawls’s original position. (Sections 5 and 27–30.) Rawls regards utilitarianism as his theory’s main rival. Essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the place of utilitarianism in recent political philosophy.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Scheffler, Samuel. “Rawls and Utilitarianism.” In Boundaries and Allegiances: Problems of Justice and Responsibility in Liberal Thought. Edited by Samuel Scheffler, 149–172. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                        Explores Rawls’s 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. 426–459.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                        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 Parfit’s 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 person-affecting 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.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                          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.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Parfit, Derek. Reasons and Persons. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                            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.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Roberts, Melinda. “A New Way of Doing the Best That We Can: Person-Based Consequentialism and the Equality Problem.” Ethics 112.2 (2002): 315–350.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1086/324321Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                              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 Parfit’s nonidentity problem. Representative of one influential response to Parfit 1984.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                              • Roberts, Melinda, and David Wasserman, eds. Harming Future Persons: Ethics, Genetics and the Nonidentity Problem. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2009.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4020-5697-0Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Collection of new essays by leading contemporary participants in the debate over Parfit’s 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.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Vallentyne, Peter, and Shelly Kagan. “Infinite Value and Finitely Additive Value Theory.” Journal of Philosophy 94 (1997): 5–26.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.2307/2941011Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Defends a particular way to extend consequentialism to cover an infinite future. The best introduction to the puzzles surrounding infinite value.

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