From the Front Flap
Commonsense Consequentialism is a book about morality, rationality, and the interconnections between the two. In it, Douglas W. Portmore defends a version of consequentialism that both comports with our commonsense moral intuitions and shares with other consequentialist theories the same compelling teleological conception of practical reasons.
Broadly construed, consequentialism is the view that an act’s deontic status is determined by how its outcome ranks relative to those of the available alternatives on some evaluative ranking. Portmore argues that outcomes should be ranked, not according to their impersonal value, but according to how much reason the relevant agent has to desire that each outcome obtains and that, when outcomes are ranked in this way, we arrive at a version of consequentialism that can better account for our commonsense moral intuitions than even many forms of deontology can. What’s more, Portmore argues that we should accept this version of consequentialism, because we should accept both that an agent can be morally required to do only what she has most reason to do and that what she has most reason to do is to perform the act that would produce the outcome that she has most reason to want to obtain.
Although the primary aim of the book is to defend a particular moral theory (viz., commonsense consequentialism), Portmore defends this theory as part of a coherent whole concerning our commonsense views about the nature and substance of both morality and rationality. Thus, it will be of interest not only to those working on consequentialism and other areas of normative ethics, but also to those working in metaethics. Beyond offering an account of morality, Portmore offers accounts of practical reasons, practical rationality, and the objective/subjective obligation distinction.
From the Back Flap
Douglas W. Portmore is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Arizona State University. His research focuses mainly on morality, rationality, and the interconnections between the two, but he also writes on wellbeing, posthumous harm, and the nonidentity problem.
From the Back Cover
“This is a really great book: an encompassing work of systematizing moral philosophy in the classic style. Ambitious theorizing of this scale and consequence is a rare treat in the contemporary landscape, so Portmore’s thorough development of a comprehensive moral theory will serve as a model for much work to come. The view outlined in these pages is repeatedly insightful and illuminating, and forms a coherent package worthy of admiration. An important contribution to the field.” — Mark Schroeder, Philosophy, University of Southern California
(A brief synopsis of each chapter follows below. All but the front matter, the back matter, and the first chapter are password protected. If you don’t have the password, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to send it to you.)
· Post-Copyedited Manuscript as a PDF [Password Protected*]: Coming on 4/19/2011.
· Pre-Copyedited Manuscript as a PDF (Current Draft: 10/23/10) [Password Protected*]. This is the final version of the manuscript that I’ll be submitting to OUP for production. It’s not as nicely formatted as the chapters below, but it is the most up-to-date version of the manuscript. Note that the relevant figures and tables appear at the end of each chapter.
· Earlier drafts:
0. Front Matter
0.1. Title Page (First Posted: 11/3/08. Current Draft: 5/27/09)
0.2. Dedication (First Posted: 11/3/08. Current Draft: 5/27/09)
0.3. Table of contents (First Posted: 10/6/08. Current Draft: 9/6/10)
0.4. Acknowledgements (First Posted: 11/3/08. Current Draft: 9/6/10)
0.5. Abbreviations (First Posted: 9/6/10. Current Draft: 9/6/10)
1. Why I Am Not a Utilitarian (25 pp. – 11,378 words – First Posted: 12/26/08. Current Draft: 8/20/10)
1.1. Utilitarianism: The good, the bad, and the ugly
1.2. The plan for the rest of the book
1.3. My aims
1.4. Objective oughts and objective reasons
1.5. Conventions that I’ll follow throughout the book
2. Consequentialism and Moral Rationalism [Password Protected*] (36 pp. – 17,139 words – First Posted: 11/3/08. Current Draft: 9/5/10)
2.1. The too-demanding objection: How moral rationalism leads us to reject utilitarianism
2.2. The argument against utilitarianism from moral rationalism
2.3. How moral rationalism compels us to accept consequentialism
2.4. What is consequentialism?
2.5. The presumptive case for moral rationalism
2.6. Some concluding remarks
3. The Teleological Conception of Practical Reasons [Password Protected*] (32 pp. – 15,526 words – First Posted: 11/7/08. Current Draft: 8/23/10)
3.1. Getting clear on what the view is
3.2. Clearing up some misconceptions about the view
3.3. Scanlon’s putative counterexamples to the view
3.4. Arguments for the view
4. Consequentializing Commonsense Morality [Password Protected*] (38 pp. – 16,789 words – First Posted: 12/1/08. Current Draft: 8/27/10)
4.1. How to consequentialize
4.2. The deontic equivalence thesis
4.3. Beyond the deontic equivalence thesis: How consequentialist theories can do a better job of accounting for our considered moral convictions than even some nonconsequentialist theories can
4.4. The implications of the deontic equivalence thesis
4.5. An objection
5. Dual-Ranking Act-Consequentialism: Reasons, Morality, and Overridingness [Password Protected*] (38 pp. – 17,246 words – First Posted: 1/29/09. Current Draft: 8/31/10)
5.1. Some quick clarifications
5.2. Moral reasons, overridingness, and agent-centered options
5.3. Moral reasons, overridingness, and supererogation
5.4. A meta-criterion of rightness and how it leads us to adopt dual-ranking act-consequentialism
5.5. Norcross’s objection
5.6. Splawn’s objection
5.7. Violations of the transitivity and independence axioms
6. Imperfect Reasons and Rational Options [Password Protected*] (52 pp. – 24,349 words – First Posted: 4/15/09. Current Draft: 9/2/10)
6.1. Kagan’s objection: Are we sacrificing rational options to get moral options?
6.2. Imperfect reasons and rational options
6.4. Securitism and the basic belief
6.5. Securitism’s suppositions and implications
7. Commonsense Consequentialism [Password Protected*] (41 pp. – 16,415 words – First Posted: 5/13/09. Current Draft: 9/3/10)
7.1. The best version of act-utilitarianism: commonsense utilitarianism
7.2. Securitist consequentialism and the argument for it
7.3. Commonsense consequentialism and how it compares with traditional act-consequentialism
7.4. What has been shown and what remains to be shown
8. Back Matter
8.1. Glossary (21 pp. – 6,805 words – First Posted: 11/3/08. Current Draft: 9/6/10)
8.2. Bibliography (13 pp. – 3,140 words – First Posted: 11/3/08. Current Draft: 9/6/10)
8.3. Index (13 pp. – 1,665 words – First Posted: 7/30/10. Current Draft: 9/6/10) – At the moment this is just a list of entries without the relevant page references.
*All but the front matter, the back matter, and the first chapter are password protected. If you don’t have the password, email me at email@example.com and I’ll be happy to send it to you. I’m happy to give it out to anyone who asks for it; I just want to keep track of who is reading it.
Chapter 1: The chapter explains the motivation for the book, which is to find a moral theory that accommodates what’s compelling about act-utilitarianism while avoiding most, if not all, of its counterintuitive implications. It is argued that what’s compelling about act-utilitarianism is the idea that an act’s deontic status is determined by the agent’s reasons for preferring its outcome to those of the available alternatives such that it can never be morally wrong for her to act so as to bring about the outcome that she has most reason to want to obtain. And it is argued that what is most problematic about act-utilitarianism is its implication that agents are sometimes required to act in ways that they lack decisive reason to act. The chapter also lays out the plan for the book and explains the book’s focus on what we objectively ought to do and why this is of fundamental importance.
Chapter 2: The chapter argues, on the basis of a conceptual connection between wrongdoing and blameworthiness, that we should accept moral rationalism: the view that an agent can be morally required to perform a given act only if she has decisive reason, all things considered, to perform that act. And it argues that although we should reject all traditional versions of act-consequentialism given moral rationalism and certain plausible assumptions about what agents have decisive reason to do, we should accept some version act-consequentialism, for act-consequentialism is entailed by the conjunction of moral rationalism and a certain plausible conception of practical reasons, viz., the teleological conception of practical reasons. Lastly, it is argued that act-consequentialism is best construed as a theory that ranks outcomes, not according to their impersonal value, but according to how much reason the relevant agent has to desire that each outcome obtains.
Chapter 3: The chapter argues that since our actions are the means by which we affect the way the world goes, and since our intentional actions aim at making the world go a certain way, we should hold that what agents have most reason to do is to act so as to make the world go as they have most reason to want it to go. More precisely, an agent’s reasons for action are a function of her reasons for preferring certain possible worlds to others, such that what she has most reason to do is to bring about the possible world, which of all those available to her, is the one that she has most reason to want to obtain. This is what’s known as the teleological conception of practical reasons, and it is argued that this view is unsurpassed in its ability to systematize our considered convictions about practical reasons.
In sum, the argument for act-consequentialism that’s given in the first three chapters is as follows:
§ Moral Rationalism: An act’s deontic status is determined by the agent’s reasons for and against performing it, such that, if a subject, S, is morally required to perform an act, x, then S has most reason to perform x.
§ Teleological Conception of Practical Reasons: The agent’s reasons for and against performing an act are determined by her reasons for and against preferring its outcome to those of the available alternatives, such that, if S has most reason to perform x, then, of all the outcomes that S could bring about, S has most reason to desire that x’s outcome obtains.
§ Act-Consequentialism: An act’s deontic status is determined by the agent’s reasons for and against preferring its outcome to those of the available alternatives, such that, if S is morally required to perform x, then, of all the outcomes that S could bring about, S has most reason to desire that x’s outcome obtains.
Chapter 4: The chapter argues for the deontic equivalent thesis: the thesis that, for any plausible nonconsequentialist moral theory, there is a consequentialist counterpart theory that is extensionally equivalent to it. It is argued that, from this thesis, we can infer that consequentialism can accommodate all the essential features of commonsense morality (e.g., supererogatory acts, special obligations, agent-centered options, agent-centered restrictions, etc.), but that we cannot infer from this thesis, as some have claimed, that we are all consequentialists. Lastly, it is argued that consequentialism can do a better job of accounting for certain commonsense moral intuitions than even victim-focused deontology can.
Chapter 5: The chapter argues that in order to accommodate many typical agent-centered options and to resolve the paradox of supererogation, we should accept that non-moral reasons can, and sometimes do, prevent moral reasons, even those with considerable moral requiring strength, from generating moral requirements. What’s more, we should accept that an agent’s performing a given act is morally permissible if and only if there is no available alternative that she has both more (moral) requiring reason and more reason, all things considered, to perform. And it is argued that, given this account of moral permissibility, the consequentialist has no choice but to adopt a dual-ranking version of consequentialism—one that ranks outcomes both in terms of how much moral reason the agent has to want them to obtain and in terms of how much reason, all things considered, the agent has to want them to obtain.
Chapter 6: The chapter addresses the worry that if we defend agent-centered options by arguing that non-moral reasons can successfully counter moral reasons and thereby prevent them from generating moral requirements, we end up sacrificing rational options to get moral options. It is argued that we should accept rational securitism and that our doing so allows us to account for rational options. On this view, the rational status of an individual action is a function of its role in some larger, temporally-extended plan of action, and that this plan of action is to be evaluated not with respect to whether the agent will be able to perform all the corresponding parts of the plan when the time comes, but with respect to whether, in embarking on the plan now, the agent will be able to secure now that she will, when the time comes, perform all the corresponding parts of the plan.
Chapter 7: The chapter argues that the best version of act-utilitarianism (as well as the best version of consequentialism) will: (1) evaluate sets of actions and not just individual actions, (2) presuppose securitism as opposed to actualism or possibilism, (3) index permissions and obligations to times, and (4) possess a dual-ranking structure. It argues for a version of indirect consequentialism according to which the moral permissibility of an individual action is determined by whether or not it is contained within some maximal set of actions that is itself morally permissible. This version of indirect consequentialism—viz., commonsense consequentialism—is able to accommodate all the basic features of commonsense morality: agent-centered restrictions, special obligations, agent-favoring options, agent-sacrificing options, supererogation, the self-other asymmetry, and even the idea that some acts are supererogatory in the sense of going above and beyond what imperfect duty requires.