Is Objective Consequentialism Compatible with the Principle that “Ought” Implies “Can”?
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Some philosophers hold that objective consequentialism is false because it is incompatible with the principle that “ought” implies “can”. Roughly speaking, objective consequentialism is the doctrine that you always ought to do what will in fact have the best consequences. According to the principle that “ought” implies “can”, you have a moral obligation to do something only if you can do that thing. Frances Howard-Snyder has used an innovative thought experiment to argue that sometimes you cannot do what will in fact have the best consequences because you do not know what will in fact have the best consequences. Erik Carlson has raised two objections against Howard-Snyder’s argument. This paper examines Howard-Snyder’s argument as well as Carlson’s objections, arguing that Carlson’s objections do not go through but Howard-Snyder’s argument fails nonetheless. Moreover, this paper attempts to show that objective consequentialism and other objectivist moral theories are compatible with the principle that “ought” implies “can”. Finally, this paper analyses a special kind of inability: ignorance-induced inability.
KeywordsObjective consequentialism “Ought” implies “can” Ignorance-induced inability
This paper has benefited from the comments of audiences in Saarbrücken and Konstanz. I am especially grateful for the help received from Christoph Fehige, Sebastian Köhler, and Attila Tanyi. Research on this paper has been funded by a project grant of the German Research Foundation (Grant number: TA 820/1-1).
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