Position‐relative consequentialism, agent‐centered options, and supererogation

Ethics 113 (2):303-332 (2003)
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In this paper, I argue that maximizing act-consequentialism (MAC)—the theory that holds that agents ought always to act so as to produce the best available state of affairs—can accommodate both agent-centered options and supererogatory acts. Thus I will show that MAC can accommodate the view that agents often have the moral option of either pursuing their own personal interests or sacrificing those interests for the sake of the impersonal good. And I will show that MAC can accommodate the idea that certain acts are supererogatory in the sense of not being morally required even though they are what the agent has most moral reason to do. These two theses are surprising in themselves, but even more surprising is how I arrive at them. I argue that anyone generally concerned to accommodate, in some coherent fashion, our pre-theoretical moral intuitions at both the normative and meta-ethical levels will have to give a certain account of agent-centered options and supererogatory acts and that this account is the very one that allows for the maximizing act-consequentialist to accommodate both. So my paper will not only be of interest to those concerned with the tenability of consequentialism, but also to anyone interested in giving a coherent account of our pre-theoretical moral intuitions.



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Douglas W. Portmore
Arizona State University

Citations of this work

Consequentialism.Walter Sinnott-Armstrong - 2019 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Supererogation and Conditional Obligation.Daniel Muñoz & Theron Pummer - 2022 - Philosophical Studies 179 (5):1429–1443.
Wronging Oneself.Daniel Muñoz & Nathaniel Baron-Schmitt - forthcoming - Journal of Philosophy.
The Ethics of Partiality.Benjamin Lange - 2022 - Philosophy Compass 1 (8):1-15.

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References found in this work

The Limits of Morality.Michael Slote - 1991 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 51 (4):915-917.
Defending options.Shelly Kagan - 1994 - Ethics 104 (2):333-351.
Kagan on "the appeal to cost".Michael E. Bratman - 1994 - Ethics 104 (2):325-332.
Above and Below the Line of Duty.Susan Wolf - 1986 - Philosophical Topics 14 (2):131-148.

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