Douglas W. Portmores Online Papers (Last Updated: 12/5/08)
Working Drafts: (Comments and citations are welcome, but please do not quote without permission.)
1. Imperfect Reasons and Rational Options. Draft of 12/5/08.
Abstract: Agents often face a choice of what to do. And it seems that, in most of these choice situations, the relevant reasons do not require performing some particular act, but instead permit performing any of numerous act alternatives. This is known as the basic belief. Below, I argue that the best explanation for the basic belief is not that the relevant reasons are incomparable (Raz) or that their justifying strength exceeds the requiring strength of opposing reasons (Gert), but that they are imperfect reasonsreasons that do not support performing any specific act, but instead support choosing any of the numerous alternatives that would each produce the same valuable result. In the process, I develop and defend a novel theory of objective rationality, arguing that it has a number of advantages over its rivals.
Keywords: Reasons Rationality Incomparability Imperfect Reasons Objective Rationality Subjective Rationality The Basic Belief Justifying Strength Requiring Strength Rational Options Future Courses of Action Joseph Raz Joshua Gert Derek Parfit Sergio Tenenbaum Michael E. Bratman Fred Feldman Michael J. Zimmerman.
2. Consequentializing Commonsense Morality. Draft of 12/1/08.
Abstract: This is Chapter Four of my Commonsense Consequentialism: Wherein Morality Meets Rationality. In this chapter, I argue that that any plausible nonconsequentialist theory can be consequentialized, which is to say that, for any plausible nonconsequentialist theory, we can construct a consequentialist theory that yields the exact same set of deontic verdicts that it yields..
Keywords: Consequentializing Maximizing rationality Agent-relative Teleology Deontology Teleological conception of reasons Constraints Options Supererogation Moral dilemmas Richard Brook Campbell Brown James Dreier Frances Kamm Jennie Louise Mark Schroeder Samuel Scheffler Thomas Scanlon Ben Sachs.
3. Teleological Conception of Practical Reasons. Draft of 11/12/08.
Abstract: This is Chapter Three of my Commonsense Consequentialism: Wherein Morality Meets Rationality. In this chapter, I defend the teleological conception of practical reasons, which holds that the reasons there are for and against performing a given act are wholly determined by the reasons there are for and against preferring its outcome to those of its available alternatives, such that, if S has most reason to perform ai, all things considered, then, of all the outcomes that S could bring about, S has most reason to desire that oi (i.e., ais outcome) obtains, all things considered.
Keywords: Teleology Consequentialism Practical reasons Normativity Internalism Derek Parfit Thomas Scanlon Elizabeth Anderson Nicholas Sturgeon Thomas Hurka Richard Arneson.
4. Consequentialism and Moral Rationalism. Draft of 11/12/08.
Abstract: This is Chapter Two of my Commonsense Consequentialism: Wherein Morality Meets Rationality. In this chapter, I make a presumptive case for moral rationalism: the view that agents can be morally required to do only what they have decisive reason to do, all things considered. I argue that this view compels us to accept consequentialism, but at the same time leads us to reject all traditional versions of the theory. I begin by explaining how moral rationalism leads us to reject what is, perhaps, the most traditional of all versions of consequentialism: utilitarianism.
Keywords: Consequentialism Overridingness Practical reasons Rationality Blameworthiness Maximizing rationality Moral rationalism Teleological conception of practical reasons Constraints Options Supererogation Self-other asymmetry Moral dilemmas.
5. The Teleological Conception of Practical Reasons. Draft of 11/6/08.
Abstract: In this paper, I defend the teleological conception of practical reasons, which holds that since any rational action must aim at some result, reasons that bear on whether to perform an action must appeal to the desirability or undesirability of having that result occur, taking into account also the intrinsic value of the act itself (Scanlon 1998, 84). On this conception, practical reasoning involves, first, determining which ends one has reason to desire and, second, determining which available action will best achieve those ends.
Keywords: Teleology Consequentialism Practical reasons Normativity Internalism Derek Parfit Thomas Scanlon Elizabeth Anderson Nicholas Sturgeon Thomas Hurka Richard Arneson.
6. Welfare and Posthumous Harm. Draft of 9/6/2005.
Abstract: I argue that even if death marks the unequivocal and permanent end to ones existence, people have good reason to be prudentially concerned with whats going to happen after their deaths, for, as I argue, a persons welfare can be affected by posthumous events. I begin the paper by addressing two widely discussed problems concerning posthumous harm: the problem of the subject and the problem of retroactivity, arguing that they can both be solved. However, I show that even if these two problems can be solved, a significant problem remains: the standard account of posthumous harm, which holds that posthumous events can harm us by thwarting our desires, is untenable, since it presupposes an implausible version of the desire-fulfillment theory of welfare. We need, then, a new account of how posthumous events can affect ones welfare. On the account that I argue for, the extent to which the pain, hardship, and sacrifice endured during ones life diminishes ones welfare depends, in part, on the extent to which they were instrumental in producing some desired end, which in turn depends on the course of posthumous events. In other words, I argue that it is, prudentially speaking, better to suffer for the sake of bringing some desired end to fruition than it is to suffer in vain, and since posthumous events can determine which of these is the case, they can be responsible for a persons being better or worse off.
Keywords: Welfare Wellbeing Posthumous harm Desire fulfillment Self-sacrifice Past desires Meaningfulness Thomas Scanlon Simon Keller Steven Luper Derek Parfit Mark Overvold George Pitcher Joel Feinberg.
Note: This paper is now pretty much defunct. Its most interesting bits have been more fully developed in two other papers. These two descendants are Desire Fulfillment and Posthumous Harm and Welfare, Achievement, and Self-Sacrifice (see below for abstracts). Nevertheless, Ill keep the link to this paper alive (for awhileat least), partly because it is cited in a couple places and partly because it contains some material not discussed in either of its two descendants.
Published Papers: (If you dont have access to the various databases, e-mail me and Ill send you copies of whatever interests you.)
1. Consequentializing, forthcoming in Philosophy Compass (Draft of 11/6/08).
Abstract: A growing trend of thought has it that any plausible nonconsequentialist theory can be consequentialized, which is to say that it can be given a consequentialist representation. In this essay, I explore whether this claim is true and what does and doesnt follow from it. I also explain the procedure for consequentializing, give an account of the motivation for consequentializing, and rebut one common objection to the consequentializing project. [This draft includes an extra section, section 7, which will not appear in Blackwells Philosophy Compass.]
Consequentialism Consequentializing Maximizing rationality Agent-relative
Teleology Deontology Teleological conception of reasons Constraints
Options Supererogation Moral dilemmas Campbell Brown
2. Rule-Consequentialism and Irrelevant Others, forthcoming in Utilitas. (Draft of 9/10/08.)
Abstract: In this paper, I argue that Brad Hookers rule-consequentialism implausibly implies that what earthlings are morally required to sacrifice for the sake of helping their less fortunate brethren depends on whether or not other people exist on some distant planet even when these others would be too far away for earthlings to affect.
Keywords: Famine Brad Hooker Obligations toward the needy Richard Arneson Rule-consequentialism Tim Mulgan.
3. Are Moral Reasons Morally Overriding? Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 11 (2008): 369-388.
Abstract: In this paper, I argue that those moral theorists who wish to accommodate agent-centered options and supererogatory acts must accept both that the reason an agent has to promote her own interests is a nonmoral reason and that this nonmoral reason can prevent the moral reason she has to sacrifice those interests for the sake of doing more to promote the interests of others from generating a moral requirement to do so. These theorists must, then, deny that moral reasons morally override nonmoral reasons, such that even the weakest moral reason trumps the strongest nonmoral reason in the determination of an acts moral status (e.g., morally permissible or impermissible). If I am right, if these moral theorists are committed to the view that nonmoral reasons are relevant to determining whether or not an act is morally permissible, then it would seem that they have their work cut out for them. Not only will they need to determine what moral reasons there are, but also what nonmoral reasons there are and which of these are relevant to determining an acts moral status. Furthermore, they will need to account for how these two very different sorts of reasonsmoral and nonmoral reasonscome together to determine an acts moral status. I will not attempt to do this work here, but only to argue that the work needs to be done.
reasons Nonmoral reasons Overridingness Agent-centered options Rational
options Supererogation The basic belief Imperfect reasons
Note: An earlier
version of this paper was presented, with Noell Birondo commenting, at the
2006 APA Pacific Division Meeting in
4. Dual-Ranking Act-Consequentialism, Philosophical Studies 138 (2008): 409-427.
Abstract: Dual-ranking act-consequentialism (DRAC) is a rather peculiar version of act-consequentialism. Unlike more traditional forms of act-consequentialism, DRAC doesnt take the deontic status of an action to be a function of some evaluative ranking of outcomes. Rather, it takes the deontic status of an action to be a function of some non-evaluative ranking that is in turn a function of two auxiliary, evaluative rankings. I argue that DRAC is promising in that it can accommodate certain features of commonsense morality that no single-ranking version of act-consequentialism can: supererogation, agent-centered options, and the self-other asymmetry. I also defend DRAC against two objections: (1) that its dual-ranking structure is ad hoc and (2) that it denies (putatively implausibly) that it is always permissible to make self-sacrifices that dont make things worse for others.
Keywords: Utilitarianism Consequentialism Self-other asymmetry Agent-centered options Supererogation Ted Sider Clay Splawn.
Abstract: Many philosophers hold that the achievement of ones goals can contribute to ones welfare apart from whatever independent contributions that the objects of those goals, or the processes by which they are achieved, make. Call this the Achievement View, and call those who accept it achievementists. In this paper, I argue that achievementists should accept both (a) that one factor that affects how much the achievement of a goal contributes to ones welfare is the amount that one has invested in that goal and (b) that the amount that one has invested in a goal is a function of how much one has personally sacrificed for its sake, not a function of how much effort one has put into achieving it. So I will, contrary to at least one achievementist (viz., Keller 2004, 36), be arguing against the view that the greater the amount of productive effort that goes into achieving a goal, the more its achievement contributes to ones welfare. Furthermore, I argue that the reason that the achievement of those goals for which one has personally sacrificed matters more to ones welfare is that, in general, the redemption of ones self-sacrifices in itself contributes to ones welfare. Lastly, I argue that the view that the redemption of ones self-sacrifices in itself contributes to ones welfare is plausible independent of whether or not we find the Achievement View plausible. We should accept this view so as to account both for the Shape-of-a-Life Phenomenon and for the rationality of honoring sunk costs.
Keywords: Welfare Wellbeing Achievement Self-sacrifice Sunk costs Redeeming misfortunes the Shape of a Life Phenomenon Thomas Scanlon Simon Keller Fred Feldman J. David Velleman Thomas Hurka Thomas Kelly.
6. Desire Fulfillment and Posthumous Harm, American Philosophical Quarterly 44 (2007): 27-38. (This is a preprint. For citation purposes, please refer to the published version, which is available upon request as a scanned PDF file.)
Abstract: This paper argues that the standard account of posthumous harm is untenable. The standard account presupposes the desire-fulfillment theory of welfare, but I argue that no plausible version of this theory can allow for the possibility of posthumous harm. I argue that there are, at least, two problems with the standard account from the perspective of a desire-fulfillment theorist. First, as most desire-fulfillment theorists acknowledge, the theory must be restricted in such a way that only those desires that pertain to ones own life count in determining ones welfare. The problem is that no one has yet provided a plausible account of which desires these are such that desires for posthumous prestige and the like are included. Second and more importantly, if the desire-fulfillment theory is going to be at all plausible, it must, I argue, restrict itself not only to those desires that pertain to ones own life but also to those desires that are future independent, and this would rule out the possibility of posthumous harm. If Im right, then even the desire-fulfillment theorist should reject the standard account of posthumous harm. We cannot plausibly account for posthumous harm in terms of desire fulfillment (or the lack thereof).
Keywords: Welfare Wellbeing Posthumous harm Desire fulfillment Past desires Steven Luper Derek Parfit MarK Overvold George Pitcher Joel Feinberg.
7. Consequentializing Moral Theories, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 88 (2007): 39-73.
Abstract: To consequentialize a given non-consequentialist theory, take whatever considerations that the non-consequentialist theory holds to be relevant to determining the deontic status of an action and insist that those considerations are relevant to determining the proper ranking of outcomes. In this way, the consequentialist can produce an ordering of outcomes that when combined with her criterion of rightness yields the same set of moral verdicts that the non-consequentialist theory yields. In this paper, I argue that any plausible non-consequentialist theory can be consequentialized. I explain the motivation for the consequentializing project and defend it against recent criticisms by Mark Schroeder. Against further challenges, I argue that the fact that any non-consequentialist theory can be consequentialized doesnt entail that were all consequentialists nor does it entail that consequentialism is empty. Lastly, I argue that although the consequentializer will need to appeal to our considered moral convictions in determining how to rank outcomes, this in no way renders the resulting consequentialist position circular or uninformative.
Keywords: Consequentialism Consequentializing Maximizing rationality Agent-relative Teleology Deontology Agent-centered constraints Agent-centered options Supererogation Campbell Brown James Dreier Jennie Louise Mark Schroeder Samuel Scheffler.
Note: This paper contains (among other things) a reply to Mark Schroeders Not So Promising After All: Evaluator-Relative Teleology and Common-Sense Morality, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 87 (2006): 348-356. Those interested in this debate should also see Mark Schroeders Teleology, Agent-Relative Value, and Good, Ethics 117 (2007): 265-295.
8. Combining Teleological Ethics with Evaluator Relativism: A Promising Result, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 86 (2005): 95-113.
Abstract: Consequentialism is an agent-neutral teleological theory, and deontology is an agent-relative non-teleological theory. I argue that a certain hybrid of the twonamely, non-egoistic agent-relative teleological ethics (NATE)is quite promising. This hybrid takes what is best from both consequentialism and deontology while leaving behind the problems associated with each. Like consequentialism and unlike deontology, NATE can accommodate the compelling idea that it is always permissible to bring about the best available state of affairs. Yet unlike consequentialism and like deontology, NATE accords well with our commonsense moral intuitions.
Keywords: Consequentialism Teleology Paradox of deontology Evaluator-relative Agent-relative Teleology Deontology Agent-centered constraints Agent-centered options Fitting pro-attitudes Amartya Sen Jorge L. A. Garcia A. C. Ewing Franz Brentano.
Note: For a critique, see Mark Schroeders Not So Promising After All: Evaluator-Relative Teleology and Common-Sense Morality, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 87 (2006): 348-356 as well as his Teleology, Agent-Relative Value, and Good, Ethics 117 (2007): 265-295. For my reply, see my Consequentializing Moral Theories, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 88 (2007): 39-73.
9. Position-Relative Consequentialism, Agent-Centered Options, and Supererogation, Ethics 113 (2003): 303-332.
Abstract: I argue that a version of maximizing act-consequentialism can accommodate both agent-centered options and supererogatory acts. Specifically, I argue that position-relative consequentialismthe theory that holds that agents ought always to act so as to bring about what is, from their own individual positions, the best available state of affairscan account for the fact that agents have a moral option whenever the state of affairs in which the agent safeguards her own interests is, from her position, all-things-considered better but morally worse than the state of affairs in which she sacrifices these interests for the sake of others.
Keywords: Consequentialism Teleology Paradox of deontology Evaluator-relative Agent-relative Teleology Deontology Agent-centered constraints Agent-centered options Duties to self Supererogation Amartya Sen Samuel Scheffler.
Note: Notes 31 and 32 should be transposed. Their places in the text were reversed accidentally by the printers. In note 32, I mention and feebly attempt to address an interesting objection by Stephen Darwall. My latest view, as espoused in my Dual-Ranking Act-Consequentialism, avoids this objection. Betsy Postow criticizes the account of supererogation that I give here in her Supererogation Again, Journal of Value Inquiry 39 (2005): 245-253. My latest view, as espoused in my Dual-Ranking Act-Consequentialism, avoids this objection as well.
10. Can an Act-Consequentialist Theory Be Agent-Relative? American Philosophical Quarterly 38 (2001): 363-77. (This is a preprint. For citation purposes, please refer to the published version, which is available upon request as a scanned PDF file.)
Abstract: A theory is agent neutral if it gives every agent the same set of aims and agent relative otherwise. Most philosophers take act-consequentialism to be agent-neutral, but I argue that at the heart of consequentialism is the idea that all acts are morally permissible in virtue of their propensity to promote value and that, given this, it is possible to have a theory that is both agent-relative and act-consequentialist. Furthermore, I demonstrate that agent-relative act-consequentialism can avoid the counterintuitive implications associated with utilitarianism while maintaining the compelling idea that it is never wrong to bring about the best outcome.
Keywords: Consequentialism Deontology Teleology Agent-relative Paradox of deontology Samuel Scheffler Frances Howard-Snyder.
11. McNaughton and Rawling on the Agent-Relative/Agent-Neutral Distinction, Utilitas 13 (2001): 350-6. [From EBSCO Host ASU access only.]
Abstract: In this paper, I criticize David McNaughton and Piers Rawling's formalization of the agent-relative/agent-neutral distinction. I argue that their formalization is unable to accommodate an important ethical distinction between two types of conditional obligations. I then suggest a way of revising their formalization so as to fix the problem.
Keywords: Agent-relative Agent-neutral Conditional obligations David McNaughton Piers Rawling.
Note: For a reply from McNaughton and Rawling, see their Conditional and Conditioned Reasons, Utilitas 14:2 (2002): 240-248.
12. Commonsense Morality and Not Being Required to Maximize the Overall Good, Philosophical Studies 100 (2000): 193-213.
Abstract: On commonsense morality, there are two types of situations where an agent is not required to maximize the impersonal good. First, there are those situations where the agent is prohibited from doing so--constraints. Second, there are those situations where the agent is permitted to do so but also has the option of doing something else--options. I argue that there are three possible explanations for the absence of a moral requirement to maximize the impersonal good and that the commonsense moralist must appeal to all three in order to account for the vast array of constraints and options we take there be.
Keywords: Commonsense morality Maximizing rationality Overall good Agent-centered constraints Agent-centered options Imperfect reasons Rational options Shelly Kagan.
Abstract: Recently a number of philosophers have suggested that the 'total principle' does not imply the 'repugnant conclusion' provided that a certain axiological view (namely, the 'discontinuity view') is correct. Nevertheless, as I point out, there are three different versions of the 'repugnant conclusion', and it appears that the 'total principle' will imply two of the three even if the 'discontinuity view' is correct. I then go on to argue that one of the two remaining versions turns out not to be repugnant after all. Second, I argue that the last remaining version is not, as it turns out, implied by the 'total principle'. Thus, my arguments show that the 'total principle' has no repugnant implications.
Keywords: Total principle Repugnant conclusion Mere addition paradox Incommensurable values Discontinuity View Derek Parfit.
14. Can Consequentialism Be Reconciled with Our Common-Sense Moral Intuitions? Philosophical Studies 91 (1998): 1-19.
Abstract: Consequentialism is usually thought to be unable to accommodate many of our commonsense moral intuitions. In particular, it has seemed incompatible with the intuition that agents should not violate someone's rights even in order to prevent numerous others from committing comparable rights violations. Nevertheless, I argue that a certain form of consequentialism can accommodate this intuition: agent-relative consequentialism--the view according to which agents ought always to bring about what is, from their own individual perspective, the best available outcome. Moreover, I argue that the consequentialist's agent-focused account of the impermissibility of such preventive violations is more plausible than the deontologist's victim-focused account. Contrary to Frances Kamm, I argue that agent-relative consequentialism can adequately deal with single-agent cases, cases where an agent would have to commit one rights violation now in order to minimize her commissions of such rights violations over time.
Keywords: Consequentialism Agent-relative Commonsense Morality Agent-centered constraints Minimizing violations Paradox of deontology Single-agent cases Patient-focused Victim-focused Agent-focused Frances Kamm Richard Brook.