Combinative Consequentialism and the Problem of Act Versions

Philosophical Studies 167 (3):585-596 (2014)
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In the 1960’s, Lars Bergström and Hector-Neri Castañeda noticed a problem with alternative acts and consequentialism. The source of the problem is that some performable acts are versions of other performable acts and the versions need not have the same consequences as the originals. Therefore, if all performable acts are among the agent’s alternatives, act consequentialism yields deontic paradoxes. A standard response is to restrict the application of act consequentialism to certain relevant alternative sets. Many proposals are based on some variation of maximalism, that is, the view that act consequentialism should only be applied to maximally specific acts. In this paper, I argue that maximalism cannot yield the right prescriptions in some cases where one can either (i) form at once the intention to do an immediate act and form at a later time the intention to do a succeeding act or (ii) form at once the intention to do both acts and where the consequences of (i) and (ii) differ in value. Maximalism also violates normative invariance, that is, the condition that if an act is performable in a situation, then the normative status of the act does not depend on what acts are performed in the situation. Instead of maximalism, I propose that the relevant alternatives should be the exhaustive combinations of acts the agent can jointly perform without performing any other act in the situation. In this way, one avoids the problem of act versions without violating normative invariance. Another advantage is that one can adequately differentiate between possibilities like (i) and (ii)



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Johan E. Gustafsson
University of Texas at Austin

Citations of this work

Opting for the Best: Oughts and Options.Douglas W. Portmore - 2019 - New York, NY, USA: Oxford University Press.
Maximalism and Moral Harmony.Douglas W. Portmore - 2018 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (2):318-341.
Moral Obligations: Actualist, Possibilist, or Hybridist?Travis Timmerman & Yishai Cohen - 2016 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 94 (4):672-686.
Actualism and Possibilism in Ethics.Travis Timmerman & Yishai Cohen - 2019 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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Oughts, options, and actualism.Frank Jackson & Robert Pargetter - 1986 - Philosophical Review 95 (2):233-255.
The Concept of Moral Obligation.Lou Goble - 1996 - Philosophical and Phenomenological Research 60 (1):242-244.

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