Combinative consequentialism and the problem of act versions
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In the 1960’s, Lars Bergström and Hector-Neri Castañeda noticed a problem with alternative acts and consequentialism. The source of the problem is that some performable acts are versions of other performable acts and the versions need not have the same consequences as the originals. Therefore, if all performable acts are among the agent’s alternatives, act consequentialism yields deontic paradoxes. A standard response is to restrict the application of act consequentialism to certain relevant alternative sets. Many proposals are based on some variation of maximalism, that is, the view that act consequentialism should only be applied to maximally specific acts. In this paper, I argue that maximalism cannot yield the right prescriptions in some cases where one can either (i) form at once the intention to do an immediate act and form at a later time the intention to do a succeeding act or (ii) form at once the intention to do both acts and where the consequences of (i) and (ii) differ in value. Maximalism also violates normative invariance, that is, the condition that if an act is performable in a situation, then the normative status of the act does not depend on what acts are performed in the situation. Instead of maximalism, I propose that the relevant alternatives should be the exhaustive combinations of acts the agent can jointly perform without performing any other act in the situation. In this way, one avoids the problem of act versions without violating normative invariance. Another advantage is that one can adequately differentiate between possibilities like (i) and (ii).
KeywordsConsequentialism Alternatives Maximalism Act versions Actualism Possibilism Normative invariance
I wish to thank Gustaf Arrhenius, John Cantwell, Erik Carlson, Sven Ove Hansson, Jens Johansson, Martin Peterson, Wlodek Rabinowicz, Tor Sandqvist, and an anonymous referee for valuable comments. Thanks also to my audiences at Preferences and Decisions: A Workshop at the Division of Philosophy, KTH, Royal Institute of Technology, May 17, 2011; Filosofidagarna, University of Gothenburg, June 12, 2011; ECAP7: Seventh European Congress of Analytic Philosophy, Vita-Salute San Raffaele University and University of Milan, September 3, 2011; the seminar in practical philosophy at Uppsala University, October 21, 2011; and ISUS XII 2012, New York University Stern School of Business, August 11, 2012. Financial support from Riksbankens Jubileumsfond and Fondation Maison des sciences de l’homme is gratefully acknowledged.