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Group 12 page for Reading Notes

Please post your reading notes to this page. Please start each set of reading notes with the author, title of the work, and the sections of the work you're discussing in your notes.

Intro to Consequentialism (Sept 18)

1. Basic Issues and Simple Versions

Various versions of consequentialism have been created because of disagreement on what the best theory is. These versions are considered consequentialism if they follow the basic principles of Plain Consequentialism.

a. Introduction to Plain Consequentialism

Plain Consequentialism: Of all the things a person might do at any given moment, the morally right action is the one with the best overall consequences*. (If there is no one best action because several actions are tied for best consequences, then of course any of those several actions would be right.)

  • Consequentialism does not define what kind of consequences are good.

b. What is a “Consequence”?

According to consequentialism an action consists of two consequences, a) the action itself, and b) the consequences the action causes.

Consequentialism on most versions is a theory about the moral quality of actions.

These actions are not hiccups or small twitches, they are considered to be deliberate. Therefore actions should be understood to mean intentional actions.

For example, someone offers you a deck of cards. If you pick the King of Spades (KoS) off the top of the deck you win a million dollars. You pick the KoS and win a million dollars. Was the million dollars a consequence of your action of picking a card? Arguably no. Your intentional action of picking a card was to pick a card, not pick the KoS. In this case, the consequence of your intentional action was 1/52 chance of a million dollars--not a 100% chance of a million dollars, not a 50% chance of millions dollars, but a 1/52 chance of a cake.

Most consequences of most actions are not actual outcomes, but only probabilities of outcomes.

The usual consequentialist view is that a 50% chance of a certain good outcome is half as good as that good outcome itself, and a 10% chance is one tenth as good.

Hence it would be misleading to say that consequentialism is the view that morality is all about results. When you go on exchange and take Pass/Fail courses, the school does not care whether you get 51% or 99%. They only care whether or not you pass the course--even though, as explained above, the success, when it happens, is arguably not a “consequence” of your intentional action at all.

Question 1: Say you were stuck on an island. There’s no wildlife on this animal and the waters are not safe to fish in. You share this predicament with a huge savage man and one of his loved ones. His loved one had just passed away because of dehydration. According to Plain Consequentialism it is morally right to convince this man to eat his loved one because it will keep the both of you alive? Or is it morally right?

c. Plain Scalar Consequentialism

Plain Scalar Consequentialism: Of any two things a person might do at any given moment, one is better than another to the extent that the overall consequences are better than the other’s overall consequences.

We saw in Plain Consequentialism that only the action with the best consequences is right. If you do second-best then it is morally wrong. Here, Plain Scalar Consequentialism is saying that you should do the action that produces the best overall consequences but it leaves out right and wrong.

Question 2: What if the basis of the action is morally wrong already? For example, I am 17 with a fake ID. I walk into a liquor store to buy alcohol. I am choosing between a cider and a 26 ounce Captain Morgan’s. Getting really drunk would bring me the most happiness tonight. Does that mean I buy the hardball?

d. Expectable Consequentialism and Reasonable Consequentialism

Usually when you make a decision you do not know who, how, and what it will affect in the future.

Is this for or against consequentialism?

For: It is impossible to know what is morally right; morality seems permanently controversial and mysterious.

Against: We are responsible for doing what is morally right and so we must be able to know what is morally right.

Plain Consequentialism implies that an action not having the best overall consequences is morally wrong.

Plain Scalar Consequentialism is the same but concludes that the action is morally very bad.

Expectable Consequentialism: The morally right action is the action whose reasonably expectable consequences are best. (There can also be a scalar version of this view and of the others introduced below.)

Now say that someone who offered you a million dollars put the KoS on the top of the deck every time. As you would assume there is a very low chance of picking the KoS but in this case there is a 100% chance of picking it. This point can be expressed by saying that there is a 0.019 epistemic probability of heads, or that the reasonably expectable consequences of picking the KoS includes a 0.019 chance of picking the KoS.

Strange implication in Expectable Consequentialism.

Must be informed to determine whether or not the action produces reasonable consequences. Say Person A you’re running for the bus and someone asks for a lighter. That lighter is the key to the destruction of the world but reasonably you say no because you are running for the bus. Thus, without reasonably thinking about the choice, you have done what it would have been reasonable to estimate would have the best results.

Reasonable Consequentialism: An action is morally right if and only if it has the best reasonably expected consequences.

Must come to a reasonable conclusion beforehand about the consequences.

Dual Consequentialism

Reasonable Consequentialism too simple.

Say you find me in a forest around you cabin. I have fallen badly and have many wounds. There are a few cuts that need to be stitched. They’re bleeding really badly so you have to stitch them up, forgetting to sterilize the needle. Now it was wrong to not sterilize the needle, but in another sense it was morally right.

Dual Consequentialism: The word “right” is ambiguous. It has a moral sense and an objective sense. (i) The objectively right action is the action with the best consequences, and (ii) the morally right action is any action with the best reasonably expected consequences.

Rule Consequentialism

If Person A does something because Person B and C do it and it saves time and money then consequentialism would agree with it. If that action is throwing garbage into their apartment building’s empty pool then the question comes into play whether or not the people value a place to throw their garbage more than a beautiful pool to swim in. In this case, if each person follows consequentialism, the results are predictably worse than if everyone does something else instead.

Rule Consequentialism: An action is morally right if and only if it does not violate the set of rules of behavior whose general acceptance in the community would have the best consequences--that is, at least as good as any rival set of rules or no rules at all.

Example: Brenda had a baby, that baby brings joy to the whole family. The family would not have this joy if Brenda had chosen not to have a baby.

Mill, Utilitarianism (Sept. 23)


Mill,Utilitarianism, pp. 4-5

Mill describes utilitarianism as the pursuit of happiness: actions that are right promote pleasure, whereas actions that are wrong produce pain. Within this Mill argues that there are some kinds of pleasure that are more desirable/more valuable than others.

Premise 1: It would be absurd that the estimation of pleasures should depend on quantity alone.

Premise 2: Few human beings would wish to change into any of the lower animals even if they would receive the fullest allowance of the beast’s pleasures.

Premise 3: A being of higher faculties requires more to make them happy.

Conclusion 1: Quality of pleasure has greater value than quantity of pleasure.

Premise 4: Pleasures that animals or “Beasts” seek does not satisfy what human beings consider to be happiness.

Premise 5: There isn't a known epicurean theory of life which does not assign to the pleasures of intellect, such as imagination or moral sentiments, a higher value of pleasure than those of mere sensation.

Premise 6: Of two pleasures, if there is one to which the majority who have experienced of both decide a preference, that is the more desirable pleasure.

Conclusion 2: Some things in life will give higher quality of pleasures than others.


Mill's definition of happiness is "intended pleasure, and the absence of pain" (p.4). However, he also states that certain pleasures are of greater value than others. For example, most people would agree that graduating university would be a more desirable pleasure than eating a cupcake. This would mean that graduating from university would be the right action. But what Mill is not accounting for is the pain and stress that comes from going to university before the pleasure of graduation is obtained. Whereas the cupcake, while a less valuable of a pleasure, has little to no pain associated with it. So Mill's definition of happiness is inherently flawed due to the fact that often, to obtain the most valuable pleasures, one has to deal with a lot of pain.

==== A comment from Christina ====
I just want to make sure everyone has the right idea for the exam: I think Mill does deal with this issue, precisely in the points he makes about quality vs. quantity. He says that the higher pleasures are better even if those capable of them don’t experience as much of the lower pleasures as possible. A lower quantity of pleasure, in the higher pleasures, is better than a higher quantity of pleasure in the lower pleasures. Remember the quote: “it’s better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.” That indicates that even if there is less pleasure overall, or even more pain, in a life with the higher pleasures, it’s still better.
==== end comment ====

Mill indicates that higher pleasures, such as achieving lifetime ambitions, living a healthy lifestyle, or being financially stable, are more valuable than lower pleasures consisting of sensual indulgences such as going to parties, watching movies, or interacting with friends. However it’s the small more beastly pleasures we seek on a daily basis despite the fact they may harm our chance of achieving the more valuable pleasures. Why do you think that is?

As premise 6 states, of two pleasures, one will always be more enjoyable than the other, and this is decided based on which one the majority of people prefer. What does this mean for the minority who don’t have the same opinion on what the more desirable pleasure is? Is their life truly less pleasurable?

Mill, Utilitarianism (Sept. 25)

The core belief of Utility is that people can only desire happiness. Mill states that one of the counter arguments to this is that people desire virtue as well. He accepts that as true, but only because he views virtue as a means to happiness. And thus, when people desire virtue, what they really desire is that happiness that is associated with virtue (20).

1) People can only desire virtue or happiness

2) Virtue is a means to happiness

C) People can only desire happiness

From a morality standpoint, this could be seen as problematic. Virtue is a quality that can easily be associated with morality. The problem here lies in the fact that if people are acting in a virtuous manner only because it is a means to their happiness, is it valid to say they are acting morally. Or is the moral action simply happening coincidentally?

Earlier in the reading (11), Mill states that there is one fundamental principle of morality, and therefore, there must also be subordinate principles. Would it be fair to say, in relation to that point, that perhaps Mill is stating happiness as the fundamental principle of Utilitarianism, and that the desire for virtue is just a subordinate desire that works for the one, fundamental principle of happiness?

Mill also concedes the fact that there is no moral system that has zero conflicting obligations (12). A conflicting obligation in Utilitarianism is that a Utilitarian, can break his/her own set of rules, for the sake of Utility. In order to best illustrate this we must consider the idea of higher and lower pleasures.


Student A wishes to graduate university with academic distinguishment (a higher pleasure of the intellectual variety). Student A makes many sacrifices up to the point of their last semester. At the start of their last semester, Student A realizes they missed out on much of the university experience by investing so much into graduating with distinguishment. For the last semester, Student A invests more into other aspects of university, and will not graduate with distinguishment as a result. By doing so, Student A achieves pleasure on a lower level, but fails in achieving a higher level of pleasure. This functions as Utility still because a lower pleasure was achieved in a time where there wouldn’t have been any pleasure at all (the last semester). However, with that came the sacrifice of the higher pleasure that was initially desired.

Mill, Utilitarianism (Sept. 30)


Justice is defined as… (pp. 20-21)

P1: Justice involves respecting each person’s legal rights, and injustice involves the violation of those legal rights
P2: Justice also involves respecting each person’s moral rights, and injustice involves taking or withholding moral rights.
P3: Sometimes these moral rights may not coincide with the legal rights described above, in which case legal rights are not considered the ultimate criterion of justice
P4: Justice involves each person’s obtainment of what he or she deserves, and injustice involves someone obtaining a good or undergoing a negative process that they do not deserve
P5: Justin involves holding or keeping faith with others, and injustice involves violating faith or promises
P6: Justice is consistent with the notion of impartiality of actions, and is considered inconsistent with partial behaviour or showing of preferences.
P7: There are cases in which partiality is accepted or even applauded when it involves being partial towards family or close friends, and when you can do so without any harm towards other people.
C: The concept of justice involves a set of moral requirements which involve more social utility than other requirements do. However, these moral requirements may clash with each other, in which case it is acceptable to overrule them in favour of a more important social duty.

Questions for discussion:
- It appears that most people agree generally with what moral requirements constitute just behaviour. However, Mills does not discuss what exactly constitutes acceptable social duties that can override these general principles. What kinds of issues can arise from this lack of clear definition?
- What are some examples of instances in which it would be acceptable to overrule these moral requirements for justice?

Later consequentialism (Oct. 2)

Rule utilitarianism (Oct. 7)

XFB - Rule Utilitarianism acc. to Brandt.

Argument 1 RU states that an action is fixed not by its direct consequences - (premise 1): but by a moral code that’s been accepted by the majority of the people (90% or above). If at least 90% of adults (out of a society) subscribe to principle A, and 90% subscribe to principle B - then the moral principles A and B have currency in the society, aka are viable. But this is the case if and only if, (premise 2): the moral principles A and B belong to a moral code of a society.

Argument 2 A society is composed of institutions - but is not itself an institution. An institution (ex: church, family or university) is oriented towards meeting a specific goal (university to educate). As such, for the institution to function, everyone who belongs to it must satisfy certain rules (ex: teacher to teach.) Given that a society doesn’t have a goal - it cannot determine a moral system for its individuals. Just as much as an institution can not claim its rules to be moral codes.

Thus, "an act is right if and only if it would not be prohibited by a moral rule that is part of an ideal moral code for a society." C.Hendricks

Brandt named this theory the "ideal code" theory. The moral code should not be accepted by the contemporary society, but by the idealistic society, aka follow the rules that would be ideal and that’d produce the most happiness vs. following the rules that already exist, as the current society may have flaws in its moral beliefs.

Kant, Groundwork (Oct. 28)

- Golden Rule cannot serve as a principle, as it does not contain what duties are to be done towards oneself

- Practical legislation lies objectively in the rule and the form of universality, and if so, then is capable of being a law

The Kingdom of Ends

- “a systematic combination of rational beings through communal objective laws” (433)

1) Our individual wills are designed to produce universal laws

2) Universals laws determine the validity of ends

3) Living in accordance with our individual wills will result in valid ends

My understanding is that Kant is saying that our individual wills determine what is morally acceptable and what is not. In addition, his Kingdom of Ends is wholly predicated upon rational beings making decisions in accordance with their will. Kant considers people to be rational, self-conscious beings. So if a person, makes a decision against their will, are they no longer considered a rational being?

Kant, "On a Supposed Right to Lie (Oct. 30)


“On a Supposed Right to Tell Lies From Benevolent Motives”

In this text, Kant responds to texts from French Philosopher Benjamin Constant. Constant claims that “to tell the truth is a duty, but only towards him who has a right to the truth.”
Kant poses and answers two questions:
1. Do we have a right to be untruthful in cases where we must answer with a yes or no?
2. Are we bounded to be truthful/untruthful in situations in which we are able to prevent misdeeds that threaten or harm ourselves or others?

This is Kant’s argument:
P1: It is our formal duty to tell the truth in cases where an answer cannot be avoided. Lying violates our sense of justice.
P2: The duty to tell the truth makes no distinction between different people
P3: False statements do not necessarily wrong those who you are lying to, but rather, they wrong others in general because lies delegitimize and take away credit from declarations and claims in general
P4: Harm caused to others by telling the truth is due by accident or by the actions that occurred as a consequence, not by telling the truth in itself
C1: Truthfulness is an unconditional formal duty of justice that cannot be forsaken for convenience or expediency.

P5: A principle recognized as being true must never be abandoned
P6: If a principle recognized as true appears to be difficult to apply, this is because we have not made use of the “middle principle” (which could be influenced by our political system..?) that allows for its application
P7: The political system must accommodate justice and not vice versa
P8: (Taken from P1) it is recognized as true that telling the truth is a formal duty and is a rule of justice.
C2: Our political system must accommodate those the formal duty to tell the truth

Final Conclusion: Truthfulness is a sacred and unconditional principle of justice, and cannot be forsaken for convenience or expediency. There are no exceptions to this principle of justice, including within our political system.

Questions for Discussion:
1. Would you agree with Kant's view on the right to tell a lie vs. Constant's? Why?

2. One criticism with Kant's argument is that it can be difficult to rationalize that bad outcomes resulting from you telling the truth (when you could have easily lied) are not in some way your fault. Can you think of one example scenario?

Intro to Virtue Ethics (Nov. 4)


Virtue Ethics (2a-2d)

Compared to studying the morality of specific acts, virtue ethics discusses the broader issues such as what types of people we should be and how we should live our lives. Virtue ethics is based off the concept of character, and the idea that if one has a virtuous character one will live a virtuous life.

Virtue ethics argues: because of the focus on character, as compared to individual acts, virtue ethics is a more accurate method of judging a person’s morality than another moral theory such as consequentialism or deontology.

Premise 1: Virtue ethics is character-based. Whereas consequentialism is outcome-based, and Kantian theories are agent-based.

Premise 2: Having the virtuous inner dispositions will also involve being moved to act in accordance with them. Therefore if you are a virtuous person you will act virtuously.

Premise 3: Character traits are stable, fixed, and reliable dispositions. Meaning a person with a certain character trait can be relied upon to act a certain way in multiple situations over a long period of time.

Premise 4: Virtue requires choice, understanding, and knowledge. Someone cannot be accidentally or unintentionally be virtuous. Unlike consequentialism, which is based solely on outcome, the virtuous act must be chosen knowingly, and the person choosing it must recognize its value and appropriateness.

Premise 5: Because both deontological and consequentialist types of theories rely on one inflexible rule or principle that is expected to apply to all situations, they cannot accommodate the complexity of all the moral situations that are likely to be encountered.

Premise 6: The virtuous response cannot be captured in a single rule or principle. Knowing virtue/being virtuous is a matter of experience, sensitivity, and ability to perceive and reason practically. Because of this complexity it can be applied to all situations.

Conclusion: Virtue ethics is a more accurate judge of morality than theories such as consequentialism or deontology.


Can you think of any situations where outcome would be a better judge of morality than character (whether the person was acting virtuously/has a virtuous character)?

Premise 4 states, “Virtue requires choice, understanding, and knowledge. Someone cannot be accidentally or unintentionally be virtuous. Unlike consequentialism, which is based solely on outcome, the virtuous act must be chosen knowingly, and the person choosing it must recognize its value and appropriateness.” Why do you think there so much importance placed on recognition of choosing to act virtuously?

Later virtue theory (Nov. 18)

XFB A virtuous agent is one responsible for the virtues it holds, and who acts on their basis.

Premise 1: Though Aristotle's moral theory " Virtue ethics " is clearly distinct from relativism, contemporary philosophers believe his view to coincide with the Relativist Theory of morality.

Premise 2: The reason is, the criteria upon which to assess the morality of an act is determined by the agent itself, that is, not determined by an objective, universal and established rule, law or principle.

Premise 3: Aristotle's "eudaimonia" however, is clearly determined by a single objective code inherent to human existence. That is, he believes all beings to have an inherent understanding of reason and rationality. If this being acts in virtue of this inherent reason and rationality, he/she shall be able to live a good life.

Premise 4: An act is right if the agent believes to be acting in accordance with rationality and reason. Rationality and reason foster the flourishing of the human and is thus deemed morally right. The relativists argues that any sense for rationality and reason is determined by the authority, which thus dictates whatever the individual may deem morally right or wrong. In such light, Aristotle's Eudaimonia would be utterly determined by the "collective unconscious" of the his own society.

Premise 5: But Aristotle furthers his claim by grounding his notion of virtue into human experience. Indeed, regardless of its society, each and every individual will be confronted with various experiences upon which he & she will have to make a decision. From this experience, and from experience in general, humans shape their understanding of virtues, of what's rational and of what's reasonable. The phenomenon of "Acting virtuously" must consequently adapt to the context, the person, the situation. As such, the relativist view of having one's moral judgement based elementally on the given society is clearly different from Aristotle's view, which centers on human existence.

As such, the virtue lies in the eye of the agent (if that makes any sense) In other words, don't depend on others or society to provide you with a definition of a "virtuous action". Aristotle's notion of Virtue entails a hermeneutic function, which renders the understanding of virtue your responsibility. By sharing this collective understanding of reason and rationality, and by focusing on human existence, Aristotle's virtue of ethics theory comprises an objective understanding of morality, which transcends any criteria provided by societal beliefs and traditions. Human flourishing is a universal phenomenon.


This notion appears to me to be quite Ideal. In that, perhaps every body has an inherent understanding of reason, which grows with him or her. In this same light, everybody knows that a healthy salad is better than a fatty burger. What I'm point at is, laziness is a strong "quality" of being human - and in this light, not everybody shall live in accordance to the virtue they hold. It seems to me like if this was to be the case, we, as a specie, would be far ahead already. That is to say, yes, I fully adhere with his moral theory. And to my eyes, its the most thorough we've seen so far. However, is it really achievable??