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When Will Your Consequentialist Friend Abandon You for the Greater Good?

by Scott Woodcock

According to a well-known objection to consequentialism, the answer to the preceding question is alarmingly straightforward: your consequentialist friend will abandon you the minute that she can more efficiently promote goodness via options that do not include her maintaining a relationship with you. The most prominent response to this objection is to emphasize the profound value of friendship for human agents and to remind critics of the distinction between the theory’s criterion of rightness and an effective decision-making procedure. Whether or not this response is viable remains a contentious issue within the now considerable literature generated on the topic, yet it is a curious fact that the debate has unfolded in such a way that the question of when a consequentialist agent ought to break from her indirect methods of promoting the good and revert back to a direct form of consequentialist decision-making has not been decisively settled. In this paper, I claim that the empirical considerations at stake for resolving this question are more complicated than is normally acknowledged; however, I argue that this should not deter sophisticated consequentialists from endorsing flexible psychological dispositions in order to monitor these empirical considerations as best as can be expected for agents with our distinctly human faculties and limitations.

ISSN 1559-3061
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