Consequentialism and moral demands
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The aim of this thesis is to outline a form of consequentialism which denies the deeply unintuitive claim that we have a moral obligation to bring about the best consequences we can. Consequentialism should not be understood primarily as a theory of morality narrowly conceived as focusing on obligation, but instead as a theory of the goodness and choiceworthiness of our actions and practices, and of what there is most reason to do. I begin from the well-rehearsed objection to consequentialism that it is unreasonably demanding, arguing that this constitutes a good objection to the theory in its traditional form, but showing that my favoured form of consequentialism- one which limits itself to claims about value and reasons- is not susceptible to it. I discuss criticisms of consequentialism from influential work in the second half of the twentieth century, showing how the strongest objections outlined therein apply only to consequentialism as a theory of moral obligation, and not to consequentialism as a theory of value. Finally, I outline what a consequentialist should say positively about moral demands, explaining the limited role which the theory should have in shaping our moral obligations. I conclude that consequentialists should not be preoccupied with developing a distinctively consequentialist theory of moral demands.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosopy
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