Commonsense Consequentialism

Wherein Morality Meets Rationality
(Oxford Moral Theory)
Douglas W. Portmore

Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (October 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0199794537
ISBN-13: 978-0199794539

Commonsense Consequentialism is a book about morality, rationality, and the interconnections between the two. In it, Douglas W. Portmore defends a version of consequentialism that both comports with our commonsense moral intuitions and shares with other consequentialist theories the same compelling teleological conception of practical reasons.

Broadly construed, consequentialism is the view that an act’s deontic status is determined by how its outcome ranks relative to those of the available alternatives on some evaluative ranking. Portmore argues that outcomes should be ranked, not according to their impersonal value, but according to how much reason the agent has to desire that each outcome obtains and that, when outcomes are ranked in this way, we arrive at a version of consequentialism that can better account for our commonsense moral intuitions than even many forms of deontology can. What’s more, Portmore argues that we should accept this version of consequentialism, because we should accept both that an agent can be morally required to do only what she has most reason to do and that what she has most reason to do is to perform the act that would produce the outcome that she has most reason to want to obtain.

Although the primary aim of the book is to defend a particular consequentialist theory (viz., commonsense consequentialism), Portmore defends this theory as part of a coherent whole concerning our commonsense views about the nature and substance of both morality and rationality. Thus, it will be of interest not only to those working in normative ethics, but also to those working in metaethics.


Features
  • Highly ambitious in its scope, attempting to systematize our thinking about both morality and rationality.
  • Develops a new kind of consequentialist moral theory, one that ranks outcomes, not according to their impersonal value, but according to how much reason the relevant agent has to desire that each outcome obtains. This agent-relative version of consequentialism can, it is shown, do a better job of accommodating our commonsense moral intuitions than even many versions of deontology can.
  • Argues that it is important for normative theories to be able to evaluate not just individual actions but also sets of actions, consisting in acts that are simple or compound, synchronous or asynchronous, consecutive or inconsecutive, instantaneous or temporally-extended.
  • Argues that the deontic status of an individual action is a function of its role in some larger, temporally-extended plan of action, and that this plan of action is to be evaluated, not with respect to whether the agent will be able to perform the corresponding temporal parts of the plan as they each arise, but with respect to whether, in embarking on the plan now, the agent can secure at the current time her subsequent performance of all the corresponding temporal parts of the plan.