I think we need to be careful with this term “consequentialism.” I used in the very loose sense that what it is reasonable or “sensible” to do is what seems to be required given objective X and set of conditions Y. This is to me the in the area of the much-disputed term “ought,” which people seem to think refers to only to “ought” as a moral requirement. But in my usage the idea would be used in an argument against any sort of collectivism or utilitarianism, save only — PERHAPS !!! — in the most extreme of circumstances.
Consequently, she says grinning, I thought we should have a definition of the term in the context of moral philosophy which will provide a good grounding so that we are all talking about the same thing when we say “consequentialism” or “consequentialist.”
Here is the first bit of a discussion of the term in the article on “Utilitarianism,” from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong of Duke University:
2. What is Consequentialism?
This array of alternatives raises the question of which moral theories count as consequentialist (as opposed to deontological), and why. In actual usage, the term ’consequentialism‘ seems to be used as a family resemblance term to refer to any descendant of classic utilitarianism that remains close enough to its ancestor in the important respects. Of course, different philosophers see different respects as the important ones. Hence, there is no agreement on which theories count as consequentialist under this definition.
To resolve this vagueness, we need to determine which of the various claims of classic utilitarianism are essential to consequentialism. One claim seems clearly necessary. Any consequentialist theory must accept the claim that I labeled ‘consequentialism’, namely, that certain normative properties depend only on consequences. If that claim is dropped, the theory ceases to be consequentialist.
[Snip of exploration of broader meanings, which might even include my own usage. Interesting but not germane to the immediate point. –J.]
What matters is only that we get clear about exactly which claims are at stake when someone supports or criticizes what they call “consequentialism”. Then we can ask whether each objection really refutes that particular claim.
[End excerpt; remainder of article continues to explore the idea of consequentialism, along with other ideas and terms regarding utilitarianism.]
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