Thought: A Journal of Philosophy

Volume 5, Issue 2, June 2016

Johan E. Gustafsson
Pages 108-118

Consequentialism with Wrongness Depending on the Difficulty of Doing Better

Moral wrongness comes in degrees. On a consequentialist view of ethics, the wrongness of an act should depend, I argue, in part on how much worse the act’s consequences are compared with those of its alternatives and in part on how difficult it is to perform the alternatives with better consequences. I extend act consequentialism to take this into account, and I defend three conditions on consequentialist theories. The first is consequentialist dominance, which says that, if an act has better consequences than some alternative act, then it is not more wrong than the alternative act. The second is consequentialist supervenience, which says that, if two acts have equally good consequences in a situation, then they have the same deontic status in the situation. And the third is consequentialist continuity, which says that, for every act and for any difference in wrongness δ greater than zero, there is an arbitrarily small improvement of the consequences of the act which would, other things being equal, not change the wrongness of that act or any alternative by more than δ. I defend a proposal that satisfies these conditions.