Why Impossible Options Are Better: Consequentializing Dilemmas

Utilitas 33 (2):221-236 (2021)
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To consequentialize a deontological moral theory is to give a theory which issues the same moral verdicts, but explains those verdicts in terms of maximizing or satisficing value. There are many motivations for consequentializing: to reconcile plausible ideas behind deontology with plausible ideas behind consequentialism, to help us better understand deontological theories, or to extend deontological theories beyond what intuitions alone tell us. It has proven difficult to consequentialize theories that allow for moral dilemmas or that deny that “ought” implies “can.” This article argues that the problem is best solved by allowing impossible actions as inputs into consequentializations. It shows that all other approaches that have been advocated are inadequate. It also argues that progress in consequentialization, and in formal ethics more generally, requires thinking about more than just wrongness and permissibility; we should think about contrary-to-duty obligations and degrees of wrongness as well.



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Brian Talbot
University of Colorado, Boulder

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