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Volume 36 Issue 3 (April 2005), Pages 259-411


Abstract: This article argues that consequentialism does not work as a comprehensive theory of right action. The argument is that what course of action maximizes the good makes sense only within a particular context, but that it is impossible to supply such a context while adhering to a global consistency requirement. A global consistency requirement merely specifies the demand for maximization: it insists that an individual action, in order to be morally right, must be optimific relative not only to a set of temporally and spatially local alternatives but also to all future possibilities that the action would preclude. I further argue that an appropriate context is impossible to provide because act consequentialism invokes incompatible temporal horizons, that of action and that of a maximizable good. The incompatibility between these two horizons makes it impossible for there to be any morally salient, consistent assignment of consequences to actions, and thus renders act consequentialism empty.

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