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Proceedings of the XXII World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 10, 2008

Ethics

Donald C. Hubin
Pages 167-176

The Limits of Consequentialism

Modern consequentialism is a very broad theory. Consequentialists can invoke a distribution sensitive theory of value to address the issues of distributive justice that bedeviled utilitarianism. They can attach intrinsic moral value to such acts truth-telling and promise-keeping and, so, acknowledge the essential moral significance of such acts in a way that classical utilitarianism could not. It can appear that there are no limits to consequentialism’s ability to respond to the criticisms against utilitarian theories by embracing a sophisticated theory of value. But there are limits. They are imposed by consequentialism’s commitment to ground considerations of rightness solely on considerations of goodness. Some consequentialists have attempted to incorporate elements of guilt and desert into the theory of value. This can be done, consistent with consequentialist scruples, only if these notions can be analyzed without appeal to deontic concepts such as right and wrong. I analyze the problem consequentialists face and suggest a way incorporate notions of guilt and desert in a theory of value without relying in any fundamental way on concepts of right and wrong action.

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