Chapter Info

Chapter 1: Why I Am Not a Utilitarian

Abstract: The chapter explains the motivation for the book, which is to find a moral theory that accommodates what’s compelling about act-utilitarianism while avoiding most, if not all, of its counterintuitive implications. It is argued that what’s compelling about act-utilitarianism is the idea that an act’s deontic status is determined by the agent’s reasons for preferring its outcome to those of the available alternatives such that it can never be morally wrong for her to act so as to bring about the outcome that she has most reason to want to obtain. And it is argued that what is most problematic about act-utilitarianism is its implication that agents are sometimes required to act in ways that they lack decisive reason to act. The chapter also lays out the plan for the book and explains the book’s focus on what we objectively ought to do and why this is of fundamental importance.

Keywords: utilitarianism, objective ought, moral rationalism, objective reasons, consequentialism

Chapter 2: Consequentialism and Moral Rationalism

Abstract: The chapter argues, on the basis of a conceptual connection between wrongdoing and blameworthiness, that we should accept moral rationalism: the view that an agent can be morally required to perform a given act only if she has decisive reason, all things considered, to perform that act. And it argues that although we should reject all traditional versions of act-consequentialism given moral rationalism and certain plausible assumptions about what agents have decisive reason to do, we should accept some version of act-consequentialism, for act-consequentialism is entailed by the conjunction of moral rationalism and a certain plausible conception of practical reasons—namely, the teleological conception of practical reasons. Lastly, it is argued that act-consequentialism is best construed as a theory that ranks outcomes, not according to their impersonal value, but according to how much reason the agent has to desire that each outcome obtains.

Keywords: utilitarianism, consequentialism, too-demanding objection, moral rationalism, moral responsibility, blameworthiness, wrongdoing, Peter Singer, David Sobel, Stephen Darwall

Chapter 3: The Teleological Conception of Practical Reasons

Abstract: The chapter argues that since our actions are the means by which we affect the way the world goes, and since our intentional actions aim at making the world go a certain way, we should hold that what agents have most reason to do is to act so as to make the world go as they have most reason to want it to go. More precisely, an agent’s reasons for action are a function of her reasons for preferring certain possible worlds to others, such that what she has most reason to do is to bring about the possible world, which of all she can actualize through her actions, is the one that she has most reason to want to be actual. This is what’s known as the teleological conception of practical reasons, and it is argued that this view is unsurpassed in its ability to systematize our considered convictions about practical reasons.

Keywords: teleology, practical reasons, buck-passing, desires, value, desirability, T. M. Scanlon, Elizabeth Anderson

Chapter 4: Consequentializing Commonsense Morality

Abstract: The chapter argues for the deontic equivalent thesis: the thesis that, for any plausible nonconsequentialist moral theory, there is a consequentialist counterpart theory that is extensionally equivalent to it. It is argued that, from this thesis, we can infer that consequentialism can accommodate all the essential features of commonsense morality (e.g., supererogatory acts, special obligations, agent-centered options, agent-centered restrictions, etc.), but that we cannot infer from this thesis, as some have claimed, that we are all consequentialists. Lastly, it is argued that consequentialism can do a better job of accounting for certain commonsense moral intuitions than even victim-focused deontology can.

Keywords: consequentializing, supererogatory acts, moral dilemmas, special obligations, agent-centered options, agent-centered restrictions, deontic equivalence

Chapter 5: Dual-Ranking Act-Consequentialism: Reasons, Morality, and Overridingness

Abstract: The chapter argues that in order to accommodate many typical agent-centered options and to resolve the paradox of supererogation, we should accept that non-moral reasons can, and sometimes do, prevent moral reasons, even those with considerable moral requiring strength, from generating moral requirements. What’s more, we should accept that an agent’s performing a given act is morally permissible if and only if there is no available alternative that she has both more (moral) requiring reason and more reason, all things considered, to perform. And it is argued that, given this account of moral permissibility, the consequentialist has no choice but to adopt a dual-ranking version of consequentialism—one that ranks outcomes both in terms of how much moral reason the agent has to want them to obtain and in terms of how much reason, all things considered, the agent has to want them to obtain.

Keywords: overridingness, paradox of supererogation, moral reasons, non-moral reasons, agent-centered options, transitivity, independence axiom, Alastair Norcross, Clay Splawn

Chapter 6: Imperfect Reasons and Rational Options

Abstract: The chapter addresses the worry that if we defend agent-centered options by arguing that non-moral reasons can successfully counter moral reasons and thereby prevent them from generating moral requirements, we end up sacrificing rational options to get moral options. It is argued that we should accept rational securitism and that our doing so allows us to account for rational options. On this view, the rational 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 all the corresponding parts of the plan when the time comes, but with respect to whether, in embarking on the plan now, the agent will be able to secure now that she will, when the time comes, perform all the corresponding parts of the plan.

Keywords: the basic belief, rational options, imperfect reasons, objective rationality, securitism, plans, intentions, procrastination, self-torturer, Joseph Raz, Joshua Gert, Shelly Kagan, Warren Quinn

Chapter 7: Commonsense Consequentialism

Abstract: The chapter argues that the best version of act-utilitarianism (as well as the best version of consequentialism) will: (1) evaluate sets of actions and not just individual actions, (2) presuppose securitism as opposed to actualism or possibilism, (3) index permissions and obligations to times, and (4) possess a dual-ranking structure. It argues for a version of indirect consequentialism according to which the moral permissibility of an individual action is determined by whether or not it is contained within some maximal set of actions that is itself morally permissible. This version of indirect consequentialism—viz., commonsense consequentialism—is able to accommodate all the basic features of commonsense morality: special obligations, agent-favoring options, agent-sacrificing options, agent-centered restrictions, supererogatory acts, the self-other asymmetry, and even the idea that some acts are supererogatory in the sense of going above and beyond what imperfect duty requires.

Keywords: actualism, possibilism, maximal sets of actions, securitism, imperfect duties, supererogatory acts, superperfecterogatory acts, agglomeration, Professor Procrastinate