Why Desperate Times (But Only Desperate Times) Call for Consequentialism

In Mark Timmons (ed.), Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Vol. 8. New York, NY, USA: Oxford University Press. pp. 211-235 (2018)
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People often think there are moral duties that hold irrespective of the consequences, until those consequences exceed some threshold level – that we shouldn’t kill innocent people in order to produce the best consequences, for example, except when those consequences involve saving millions of lives. This view is known as “threshold deontology.” While clearly controversial, threshold deontology has significant appeal. But it has proven quite difficult to provide a non-ad hoc justification for it. This chapter develops a new justification, showing that acting like a threshold deontologist is a good strategy for being moral, given our uncertainty and imperfect moral knowledge. And failing to use good strategies for being moral is, itself, morally bad.



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Chelsea Rosenthal
Simon Fraser University

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