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Absolutism and Consequentialism--No Contest - Don Locke

Absolutism and Consequentialism--No Contest - Don Locke -...

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Absolutism v Consequentialism: No Contest Author(s): Don Locke Source: Analysis, Vol. 41, No. 2 (Apr., 1981), pp. 101-106 Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of The Analysis Committee Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3327242 . Accessed: 18/08/2011 01:29 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected] Oxford University Press and The Analysis Committee are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Analysis. http://www.jstor.org
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ABSOLUTISM v CONSEQUENTIALISM: NO CONTEST By DON LOCKE CONTEMPORARY moral philosophy hasmade much of a distinction between Absolutism and Consequentialism, which appears to be the direct descendent of a more traditional distinctionbetween Deonto- logical and Teleological ethics. Since these distinctions are themselves unclear, it is equally unclear whether they are the same distinction. But neither, I shall argue, marks a useful, or even a genuine, contrast. The choice betweenAbsolutism and Consequentialism, often presented to us, is in fact no choice at all: it is possible to have your cake and eat it, or, as I would prefer, to reject them both. The term 'Consequentialism' seems apt enough, and certainly to be preferred to the increasingly wide and loose sense of 'Utilitarianism' to refer to any ethic which appeals to consequences. The import of 'Abso- lutism', similarly, is clear and familiar. So on the one hand we have theories which base moral value on the consequences of our actions; on the other we have theories that some actions have a particular moral value whatever the consequences (I concentrate on actions only for simplicity, and not because I believe that only actions can have moral value). But these are not, strictly,opposite hands. The phrase 'whatever the consequences' generates the illusion that they are, but replace it by the (at least) equally correct 'whatever the circumstances', or, more broadly still, 'whatever else may be the case', and the illusion disappears. The paradigm example of a Consequentialist ethics, Classical Utilitarian- ism, is also a perfect example of Absolutism: any action which maxi- mizes pleasure or happiness is right and good absolutely, whatever else may be the case. And if some ethical positions are simultaneously Con- sequentialist and Absolutist, others are neither. A theory of prima facie duties and obligations like that of Ross, which holds, for example, that the keeping of promises is good in itself, good because it is a promise and not because of the consequences, but can sometimes be wrong because of other features of the situation, is equallyclearly neither Con- sequentialist nor Absolutist. And no one, I
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