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Tyler Zimmer

on 4 May 2017

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Objection #1
Objection #2

Instructor: Dr. Tyler Zimmer

Learning Objectives
Deepen our grasp of how consequentialism works.
Understand the classic objections/criticisms of consequentialism.
Evaluate whether you think these criticisms are sound.
Consequentialism may require us to do things that clash with our considered judgments about what is most just.
The Problem:
Its not all about maximizing the good (pleasure).
"An individual who finds that he enjoys seeing others in positions of lesser liberty has no claim whatsoever to this enjoyment."
It is wrong to say that the right = maximizing the good. Instead, "the concept right is prior to that of good."
Consequentialist Replies?
The Demandingness Objection
Consequentialism fails to make a distinction between the
and the
Obligation vs. Supererogation
We are required to do it.
We will have done wrong if we don't.
Not required, but would be commendable.
Above and beyond the call of duty.
When have we done

Is Peter Singer demanding too much of us?
Should we have more license to pursue our own projects and goals?
Too Demanding?
Why should maximizing utility be our sole, fundamental life project?
Shouldn't any convincing story about morality leave more space for individual prerogative?
Consequentialist Replies
(1) Tough luck. Nobody said that doing the right thing would be easy.
(2) Doesn't the "too demanding" objection simply pander to the privileges of the already well-off?
(3) So you're saying we should refrain from making the world a better place even though it's possible to do so?
(4) Perhaps the best outcomes are produced by self-interested motivations in the marketplace.
Bernard Williams
From Williams's 1973 paper "A Critique of Consequentialism"
"The Jim and Peter Case"
What should you do? Pull the trigger and kill one innocent person (thereby saving 19 others), or refuse in which case Peter will kill all 20?
Williams's Key Points:
Utilitarianism can't explain why we might
to know what to do. It makes things crystal clear: kill the innocent person and don't think twice.
Guilt would be irrational.
Utilitarianism doesn't value the fact that we might have a
hard time living with ourselves if we did this
Bernard Williams' Criticism:
"Consequentialism is basically indifferent to whether a state of affairs... is caused
by what I do
or... by
what other people do
or what I allow or make them do... for consequentialism all causal connections
are on the same level
, and it makes no difference... whether the causation of a given state of affairs lies through the agent or not." Williams (1973), pp.93-94
What's the right way to think about a case like this?
Williams's second case: Should George take the job?
George is a scientist who has been offered a job making high tech weapons for the government. He opposes the use of such weapons and believes the US government will use them to kill and subdue people around the world whenever it promotes the interest of US business.
He reasons that if he takes the job and works slowly and inefficiently, fewer of the weapons will be made and fewer people will die. If he doesn't take it, however, someone more enthusiastic will and more people will die as a result.
If he does take it, he would be helping make things that cause innocents to die, albeit fewer than otherwise.
What should he do? Is this a hard decision? How does integrity come into play?
"One thought too many?"
Williams on Integrity...
Williams and Smart (1973)
Utilitarianism: For and Against
Imagine you are forced to choose between saving your significant other or a stranger.
How would a consequentialist ask us to reason about what to do here?
Williams = we should save our significant other without thinking twice... to run utility calculations is to have "one thought too many."
Is Williams right? If so, why? If not, why not?
1. Injustice
2. Demandingness
3. Integrity

Three Classic Objections
Consequentialism doesn't value
, so it is false.
What is the
of integrity? What is the opposite of the verb "to integrate"?
Our actions and daily life are in harmony with our values and convictions and life projects...
The different parts of our life are integrated, they hang together.
We aren't divided against ourselves and alienated from our own sense of self, our own values, etc.
Williams's Argument:
Integrity is a supremely important value that any plausible moral theory must account for.
Consequentialism places demands on us that compromise our integrity.
That is so because consequentialism only values impersonal outcomes, it doesn't properly value our individual projects and commitments -- that is, it doesn't value integrity the way it should.
Therefore, consequentialism is a flawed moral theory and should be rejected.
Consequentialism directs us to maximize the sum total amount of pleasure in the world.
The more people there are, the more possible pleasure there can be.
Thus, other things equal, consequentialism seems to direct us to maximize the size of the population.
The Repugnant Conclusion
From Derek Parfit
Reasons and Persons
“For any possible population of at least ten billion people, all with a very high quality of life, there must be some much larger imaginable population whose existence, if other things are equal, would be better even though its members have lives that are barely worth living”
Derek Parfit
The Repugnant Conclusion
"Repugnant Conclusion"
is supposed to be an argument
Reductio ad absurdum:
the strategy is to apply the theory of consequentialism and try to show that it entails an absurdity... thereby giving us a reason to reject the theory itself.
Repugnant Conclusion
Consequentialism implies that a world with 10 million people who are living marvelous lives is
obviously worse
than a world with 100 trillion people living lives that are barely worth living.
It implies that we should have strong reason to want to move from the first to the second. But this seems absurd.
How should a consequentialist respond to this criticism?
A Saving Reply?
Maybe instead of maximizing the
sum total amount
of pleasure in the world, we should instead maximize the
average amount
of pleasure in the world.
Principle of Utility
Maximize average utility. The best consequences are those with the highest average utility.
Principle of Average Utility
Maximize utility. The best consequences are those with the greatest total amount of utility.
A Problem for Maximizing Average Utility?
Also from Parfit,
Reasons and Persons
Which world is best, from the perspective of greatest average utility?
Amount of Pleasure
Width measures size of population
Which world is best from the perspective of consequentialism? A, B, C or Z?
Width measures size of population
Amount of Utility
A Problem?
It looks like applying the principle of average utility suggests that world A is vastly superior to world B, because the population on the other side of the river in B brings down the average.
But this implies that we ought to move from world B to A.
But "moving from B to A" means exterminating (killing off) the lower utility population for the sake of bringing the average up.... but that can't be what morality requires.
The Injustice Objection:
1. There are cases where maximizing utility will require us to do injustice.
2. But any viable ethical theory wouldn't do that -- it would, instead, require us only to what's right and what's just.
3. So,
Consequentialism is fundamentally flawed and we should reject it.
The Injustice Objection Summarized
The Repugnant Conclusion Summarized
Consequentialism says we should prefer
, but this strikes most as counter-intuitive -- or, worse, as "repugnant."
The root problem is that adding additional worthwhile lives to a world
make it worse according to consequentialism.
But then it seems like we should want to increase the population ad infinitum, simply for the sake of raising the sum of utility.
Another Test Case:
Consequentialism demands that we always do whatever we can to maximize overall utility.
But, this is too demanding -- we have our own lives to live and it would be wrong to demand that we forget about all of our own aspirations, projects and relationships.
This is a flawed way of thinking about what morality requires of us.
Therefore, we should reject consequentialism.
Is there anything
inherently wrong
or unjust with slavery?
Is it possible to imagine a state of affairs where enslaving some number of people maximized overall utility?
If enough people benefited, it seems as if slavery
be justified (from a consequentialist point of view).
R.M. Hare's Answer
But how likely is this to be true in practice?

It is extremely doubtful that there have been
real examples of slavery in history that maximized overall utility?
Does it promote greatest good for greatest number? Does it maximize utility?


Rule by unelected dictator or unelected group of elites.
Rule by the rich.
Rule by hereditary aristocracy.
John Rawls's Criticism
Consequentialism is too focused on the overall
sum total amount
of pleasure, when moral philosophy ought to be more concerned with individual persons.
Rawls famously argued that consequentialists,
"don't take seriously the distinction between persons."
Review of Consequentialism
Consequentialism in a nutshell...
What is intrinsically good?

What is morally right?

What is a just society?
Peter Singer, "Famine, Affluence and Morality" (1972)
As I write this, in November 1971, people are dying in East Bengal from lack of food, shelter, and medical care. The suffering and death that are occurring there now are not inevitable, not unavoidable in any fatalistic sense of the term... it is not beyond the capacity of the richer nations to give enough assistance to reduce any further suffering to very small proportions.... generally speaking, people have not given large sums to relief funds; they have not written to their parliamentary representatives demanding increased government assistance; they have not demonstrated in the streets, held symbolic fasts, or done anything else directed toward providing the refugees with the means to satisfy their essential needs. At the government level, no government has given the sort of massive aid that would enable the refugees to survive for more than a few days.
"If it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it."
EXAMPLE: is tipping servers obligatory or supererogatory?
Potential Problem
Consequentialists say that the ends
justify the means.
But is that true?
Aren't there at least some means that are so horrific that they are never morally justified?
Imagine some action that seems morally wrong in itself.
Now, ask yourself: would performing this action be morally right if it was the best way of maximizing overall utility?
Rawls on the "Injustice Objection"
1. Consequentialism is too focused on sum-ranking and fails to give the individual her due.
2. As a result, following consequentialism would mean perpetrating injustices against individuals.
3. This suggests consequentialism misidentifies what justice is really about.
4. But if this is true, then consequentialism must be rejected, since the whole point of moral theory is to give us a plausible picture of what justice is.
How should they respond to Rawls's critique?
Two lines of response...
(1) The objection relies upon unrealistic assumptions.
(2) The examples Rawls provides aren't
examples of injustice -- the states of affairs in these examples are, in fact, just.
You can see this principle at work in the case about buying shoes vs. saving lives.
More compromising replies:
(1) We should at least
to do what's best, even if we always fall short.
(2) Consequentialism works best as a guide for public policy, not individual choice. For individual choice we'd need other principles.
(3) We could try to maximize
utility instead of
sum total
(4) We could relax the maximization requirement so that we're only required to meet a threshold of sufficiency.
A Theory of Justice (1971)
"Each member of society has an inviolability... which even the welfare of everyone else cannot override... Justice denies that the loss of freedom for some is made right by a greater good shared by others."
John Rawls (1971), pp.24-25
Consequentialism conflates all persons into one.

Consequentialism does not take seriously the distinction between persons.
Rawls's Attack on Consequentialism
Whatever maximizes the good for the greatest number.
A society that maximizes the good for greatest number.
For consequentialists, the
right is defined in terms of the good.
We can't know what's morally right unless we know what's good.
The Good and the Right
Consequentialists advise us to think about morality from an impartial perspective (think of the "benevolent spectator.")
Consequentialism is Optimific
Consequentialism directs persons and institutions to
We are morally obligated to do the most good possible.
The Ends Always Justify the Means
No action in particular is always and everywhere wrong.
Anything could be right if it were necessary to promote the best overall outcome.
Imagine we could measure how well everyone is doing by obtaining a value, W.

For each person in the universe, we could list their welfare level: W , W , W ... etc.

Traditional consequentialism says: maximize the sum of all these values W

The greater W is, the better from the perspective of morality.
Reductio ad Absurdum?
Utilitarianism: For and Against

Utilitarianism and Beyond

The Rejection of Consequentialism

Beyond Consequentialism

Essays on Ethics, Social Behavior and Science
J.J.C. Smart and Bernard Williams
Edited by Amartya Sen and Bernard Williams
Samuel Scheffler
Paul Hurley
John C. Harsanyi
Full transcript