Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 247–261 | Cite as

A New Argument Against Rule Consequentialism

  • Christopher WoodardEmail author


We best understand Rule Consequentialism as a theory of pattern-based reasons, since it claims that we have reasons to perform some action because of the goodness of the pattern consisting of widespread performance of the same type of action in the same type of circumstances. Plausible forms of Rule Consequentialism are also pluralist, in the sense that, alongside pattern-based reasons, they recognise ordinary act-based reasons, based on the goodness of individual actions. However, Rule Consequentialist theories are distinguished from other pluralist theories of pattern-based reasons by implausible claims about the relative importance of act-based and pattern-based reasons in different cases. Rule Consequentialists should give up these claims. They should either embrace some other pluralist pattern-based view, or reject pattern-based reasons altogether. Note, though, that these arguments apply only to compliance-based, rather than acceptance-based, versions of Rule Consequentialism. This suggests that these two kinds of theory are more different from each other than we might previously have realised.


Act Consequentialism Rule Consequentialism Reasons Rightness Act-based reasons Pattern-based reasons Pluralism Hooker 



For their helpful comments and questions, I am very grateful to audiences at the University of Nottingham and at the Annual Conference of the British Society for Ethical Theory, University of Bristol, 9–11 July 2007. I am especially grateful to Roger Crisp and Nicholas Day.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of NottinghamNottinghamUK

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