The rights and wrongs of consequentialism

Brian Michael McElwee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


I argue that the strongest form of consequentialism is one which rejects the claim that we are morally obliged to bring about the best available consequences, but which continues to assert that what there is most reason to do is bring about the best available consequences. Such an approach promises to avoid common objections to consequentialism, such as demandingness objections. Nevertheless, the onus is on the defender of this approach either to offer her own account of what moral obligations we do face, or to explain why offering such a theory is ill-advised. I consider, and reject, one attempt at the second sort of strategy, put forward by Alastair Norcross, who defends a ‘scalar’ consequentialism which eschews the moral concepts of right, wrong and obligation, and limits itself to claims about what is better and worse. I go on to raise some considerations which suggest that no systematic consequentialist theory of our moral obligations will be plausible, and propose instead that consequentialism should have a more informal and indirect role in shaping what we take our moral obligations to be.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)393-412
JournalPhilosophical Studies
Issue number3
Early online date13 Oct 2009
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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