This entry is the second installment of a three-part series on consequentializing non-consequentialist moral theories. As noted in Part I, a number of philosophers accept what’s called Dreier’s Conjecture: For any moral theory M, there is some conceivable theory of the good that, when combined with the consequentialist principle “φ-ing is morally permissible iff φ-ing would produce the best available state of affairs,” yields moral verdicts that are, in every instance, identical to those of M. In her forthcoming article, Jennie Louise concludes from this conjecture that all moral theories are consequentialist (forthcoming, pp. 2 & 33). In this installment, I argue that this can’t be right since analogues of Dreier’s Conjecture are true of most moral theories, including Kantianism, contractualism, virtue ethics, and divine command theory. Thus, if Dreier’s Conjecture establishes that we’re all consequentialists, then these analogues establish that we’re all Kantians, contractualists, virtue ethicists, and divine command theorists as well, and this is just absurd.
Consider first virtue ethics. The analogue of Dreier’s Conjecture in this case would be: For any moral theory M, there is some conceivable theory of the virtues that, when combined with the virtue ethicist principle “φ-ing is morally permissible iff φ-ing is what a virtuous agent would characteristically do in the circumstances,” yields moral verdicts that are, in every instance, identical to those of M. For example, if we hold that what it is characteristic for virtuous agents to do in all circumstances is to maximize aggregate utility, we arrive at a view that is extensionally equivalent to utilitarianism. Furthermore, if we hold that what it is characteristic for virtuous agents to do in all circumstances is to treat humanity as an end-in-itself or to obey God’s commands, we arrive at views that are extensionally equivalent to Kantianism and divine command theory, respectively.
Next, consider divine command theory. The analogue of Dreier’s Conjecture in this case would be: For any moral theory M, there is some conceivable theory of God’s commands that, when combined with the divine command theorist principle “φ-ing is right iff φ-ing is commanded by God,” yields moral verdicts that are, in every instance, identical to those of M. For example, if we hold that God has commanded us to maximize aggregate utility, we arrive at a view that is extensionally equivalent to utilitarianism.
Similar analogues can be constructed for contractualism, Kantianism, and others. In each case, the recipe is as follows. Take the fundamental moral principle that the theory endorses (e.g., “φ-ing is morally permissible iff φ-ing involves treating humanity as an end-in-itself and not merely as a means”). Conjoin that fundamental moral principle with some other view (in this case, a view about what it is to treat humanity as an end-in-itself as opposed to as a mere means) to arrive at the same moral verdicts as M. Thus if M is utilitarianism, we conjoin the Kantian moral principle with the view that giving everyone equal consideration while doing what will maximize aggregate utility is what it means to treat humanity as an end-in-itself.
So suppose for a moment that Dreier’s Conjecture is true. What, then, follows from it? Well, it can’t be, as Louise seems to suggest, that we are all consequentialists. For analogous conjectures are true of virtue ethics, the divine command theory, and others, and it can’t be that we are consequentialists and virtue ethicists and divine command theorists. So something must be awry here. In the final installment (which I’ll post tomorrow), I’ll try to diagnosis what has gone wrong.
Brown, Campbell (2004). “Consequentialise This.” Working manuscript—draft of June
1, 2004. Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University.
Dreier, James (1993). “Structures of Normative Theories,” The Monist 76: 22-40.
Louise, Jennie (forthcoming). “Relativity of Value and the Consequentialist Umbrella,” The Philosophical Quarterly.
Portmore, Douglas W. (2001). “Can an Act-Consequentialist Theory Be Agent-Relative?” American Philosophical Quarterly 38: 363-377.