Front Page Titles (by Subject) The Problems of Consequentialism - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1980, vol. 3, No. 1
The Problems of Consequentialism - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1980, vol. 3, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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- Editorial Staff
- Associate Editors
- Bibliographic Essay: Karen I. Vaughn, John Locke’s Theory of Property: Problems of Interpretation
- I: I Rights, Freedom, and Ethics
- The Need Vs. the Right to Freedom
- Gewirth: Is Virtue Knowledge?
- Aquinas: Natural Right Or Natural Law?
- Hobbes and Conventional Morality
- The Problems of Consequentialism
- Utilitarianism and Prescriptivism
- Non-utilitarian, Anti-welfarist Morality
- Do Humans Have ‘equal’ Rights?
- Self-knowledge and Knowing Others
- The Problems With “moral Education”
- Human Nature and Ethics
- II: Locke and the Tradition of Dissent
- Grotius, Locke, and Property
- Locke, Consent, State, and Property
- Locke’s First Treatise and Modernity
- Locke and the Executive
- Religion, Regicide, and Resistance
- William Penn: Religious Liberal
- Samuel Gorton: Antinomian Radical
- Harrington’s Aristotelian Republicanism
- Burgh: the Ambivalent Lockean Radical
- Price On Moral and Civil Liberty
- Priestley and Liberty
- Stateless Defense of Rights
- Mill, Communism, and Human Nature
- Spain and Political Ideology
- III: Women, Family, and Freedom
- Hobbes and the Politicized Family
- Hobbes’s Leviathan: Family and State
- Plato On Women and Property
- Children and Family
- J.s. Mill, Harriet Taylor, & Women
- Varieties of Feminism
- Rousseau’s Anti-feminism
- The Roots of Rousseau’s Anti-feminism
- Feminism, the Saint-simonians & Fourier
- Woman’s Power and Weakness In Literature
- Lesbianism Vs. Cultural Oppression
- Woman’s Fear of Freedom
- Antifeminism In Political Science
- Women In the Social Sciences
- IV: Culture, Humanities, and Freedom
- Montaigne: the Virtues of Modernity.
- Mandeville: the Culture & Virtue of Capitalism
- Melville On Slavery
- Melville and America: 1848
- Prometheus, Love, and Liberty
- Blake’s America: Liberation & Art
- Thoreau On the Free Human Self
- Zamyatin and the Self
- French Avant-garde Politics & Culture
The Problems of Consequentialism
“Against Consequentialism.” American Journal of Jurisprudence 23(1978):21–72.
Consequentialism (i.e., the view that the criterion of a moral act is its conduciveness to measurable results) has usually been attacked by intuitive appeals to strong counter-examples. But a deeper analysis is needed to attack the ultimate, consequentialist presuppositions. Grisez attempts to establish: (1) that as a theoretical position, the consequentialist attempt to employ “greater good” as the univocal criterion makes the expression literally meaningless, and (2) that as a method of moral reasoning, consequentialism reduces to a type of rationalization.
- (1) After reviewing numerous arguments against the feasibility of commensurability (i.e., the view that goods can be measured or weighed by some common unit), Grisez argues that the very phenomena of moral choice and deliberation are incompatible with any possible commensurability for non-moral goods. Moral deliberation presupposes an unavoidable incommensurability amongst basic, non-moral goods (e.g. life, health), because without a basic conflict between or among desires/interests/values, there would be no (perceived) reason to even begin deliberating. Since pre-moral (or pre-chosen) goods must be in conflict for deliberation to begin, this implies that they cannot be reduced to a common denominator that would eliminate conflict and the need to choose. Prior to actual moral choice, the consequentialist advice to choose the “greater good” is literally meaningless. This is so because those who are deliberating regard different values as genuine alternatives and do not already know in what alternative the “greater good” will lie.
- (2) In addition to the problem of using “greater good” univocally in the face of genuine moral alternatives, Grisetz maintains that the consequentialist-type of moral reasoning is basically a type of pseudo-reasoning. For the consequentialist takes his notion of the good or the desired as given and considers deliberation to be directed exclusively towards the choice of means. By separating the choice of means from the choice of ends, he reduces morality to a mere problem of finding the best strategy for supporting or attaining what he already happens to want or desire. But what is rationalization, if not the process of looking only for support for what one already desires, not asking “the questions which would be raised by someone who disapproved of the course of action to which one is tempted?” By starting with the question “What do I want?” rather than with the question “What shall I be?” consequentialism reduces the moral role of reason to that of a mere “slave of the passions.”