DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L013-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved February 29, 2024, from

4. Rule-consequentialism

The second alternative to direct act-consequentialism is rule-consequentialism, which offers a more substantive role for moral rules or principles. Individual acts are judged right or wrong by reference to the rules; the rules, but not the individual acts, are judged by the results of accepting them. The right action is, roughly, the one that is in conformity with a set of moral rules which, if generally accepted, would tend to produce better results than any other set of viable rules we might accept. Rule-consequentialism differs from indirect act-consequentialism in two ways. It maintains that each decision should be guided by thoughts about which action is the right one, and denies that the right action is necessarily the one with the best results. In deciding which rules to accept we should bear in mind that the rules need to be clear, reasonably simple and not too difficult to comply with, given human nature. If they meet these requirements, it is likely that such rules will not be too dissimilar to our present ones.

Rule-consequentialism might be a plausible moral theory, but should it properly be seen as a form of consequentialism? It apparently abandons a central tenet of consequentialism: the claim that our goal should be to maximize the good. The rule I should follow, on this view, is the one that would have better consequences, if generally accepted, than any other rule. If it is not, in fact, generally accepted, then in following it I may not get as close to maximizing the good as I would if I followed some other policy. For that reason, perhaps, act-consequentialism has remained most popular among defenders of the theory, despite its difficulties.

Citing this article:
McNaughton, David and Piers Rawling. Rule-consequentialism. Consequentialism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L013-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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