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Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics Volume 8$
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Mark C. Timmons

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198828310

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198828310.001.0001

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Why Desperate Times (But Only Desperate Times) Call for Consequentialism

Why Desperate Times (But Only Desperate Times) Call for Consequentialism

(p.211) 10 Why Desperate Times (But Only Desperate Times) Call for Consequentialism
Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics Volume 8

Chelsea Rosenthal

Oxford University Press

People often think there are moral duties that hold irrespective of the consequences, until those consequences exceed some threshold level—that we shouldn’t kill innocent people in order to produce the best consequences, for example, except when those consequences involve saving millions of lives. This view is known as “threshold deontology.” While clearly controversial, threshold deontology has significant appeal. But it has proven quite difficult to provide justifications for it that aren’t ad hoc. This chapter develops a new, non-ad hoc justification, by showing that acting like a threshold deontologist is a good strategy for being moral, given our uncertainty and imperfect moral knowledge. And failing to use good strategies for being moral is, itself, morally bad. The argument of the chapter draws on a broader account of moral uncertainty under which we have a moral responsibility to use good procedures for being moral (“procedural oughts”), alongside ordinary, first-order moral responsibilities (“substantive oughts”).

Keywords:   threshold deontology, moral uncertainty, consequentialism, deontology, procedural oughts, substantive oughts

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