If, as I have argued elsewhere, consequentialism is not fundamentally concerned with such staples of moral theory as rightness, duty, obligation, moral requirements, goodness (as applied to actions), and harm, what, if anything, does it have to say about such notions? While such notions have no part to play at the deepest level of the theory, they may nonetheless be of practical significance. By way of explanation I provide a linguistic contextualist account of these notions. A contextualist approach to all these notions makes room for them in ordinary moral discourse, but it also illustrates why there is no room for them at the level of fundamental moral theory. If the truth value of a judgment that an action is right or good varies according to the context in which it is made, then rightness or goodness can no more be properties of actions themselves than thisness or hereness can be properties of things or locations themselves.
Keywordscontextualism consequentialism harm right good linguistic
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- 1.“Good and Bad Actions”, The Philosophical Review, Vol. 106, No. 1; January 1997, pp. 1–34; “A Consequentialist Case for Rejecting the Right”, The Journal of Philosophical Research, Vol. 18; 1993, pp. 109–125, co-authored with Frances Howard-Snyder; “Reasons and Demands: Rethinking Rightness”, in James Dreier (ed.) Blackwell Contemporary Debates in Moral Theory, forthcoming; “Harming in Context”, Philosophical Studies, 2004 forthcoming; “Scalar Act-Utilitarianism”, in Henry R. West (ed.) Blackwell Guide to Mill’s Utilitarianism, forthcoming.Google Scholar
- 2.For fully detailed sccounts, see “Good and Bad Actions”, and “Harming in Context”, Op. Cit.Google Scholar
- 3.For specific examples, see “Good and Bad Actions” op. Cit., 5–5.Google Scholar