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Volume 47 • Number 4

October 2010



Supererogation for Utilitarianism

by Jean-Paul Vessel

I. Introduction

Consequentialism—the family of ethical theories sharing the characteristic that the moral status of any bit of behavior is determined by the values of the consequences of the alternatives available to a moral agent—has enjoyed tremendous support since the pioneering efforts of classical utilitarians like Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Continually subjected to theoretical and practical attacks, consequentialism has withstood centuries of serious criticism.

Recent critics, however—especially those influenced by contemporary schools of virtue ethics and those attracted to "satisficing" accounts of morality—have lodged a new class of objections against the venerable position. These new objections seem to be motivated in the most part by "maximizing" properties of the paradigm consequentialist theory: classical utilitarianism. Classical utilitarianism requires that for any situation in which we find ourselves, we perform a best possible alternative available to us at the time, where a best possible alternative is one than which no other alternative is better.

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ISSN: 2152-1123