, Volume 162, Issue 2, pp 219-236

Rule consequentialism and disasters

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Abstract

Rule consequentialism (RC) is the view that it is right for A to do F in C if and only if A’s doing F in C is in accordance with the set of rules which, if accepted by all, would have consequences which are better than any alternative set of rules (i.e., the ideal code). I defend RC from two related objections. The first objection claims that RC requires obedience to the ideal code even if doing so has disastrous results. Though some rule consequentialists embrace a disaster-clause which permits agents to disregard some of the rules in the ideal code as a necessary means of avoiding disasters, they have not adequately explained how this clause works. I offer such an explanation and show how it fits naturally with the rest of RC. The second disaster objection asserts that even if RC can legitimately invoke a disaster-clause, it lacks principled grounds from distinguishing disasters from non-disasters. In response, I explore Hooker’s suggestion that “disaster” is vague. I contend that every plausible ethical theory must invoke something similar to a disaster clause. So if “disaster” is vague, then every plausible ethical theory faces a difficulty with it. As a result, this vagueness is not a reason to prefer other theories to RC. However, I argue, contra Hooker, that the sense of “disaster” relevant to RC is not vague, and RC does indeed have principled grounds to distinguish disasters from non-disasters.