Sophisticated Alienation

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  1. 1.

    Examples of these kinds of objections can be found in the following: Bernard Williams, “A Critique of Utilitarianism,” in J.J.C. Smart and Bernard Williams, Utilitarianism: For and Against (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), 77–150; Michael Stocker, “The Schizophrenia of Modern Ethical Theories,” Journal of Philosophy 73 (1976): 453–66; Susan Wolf, “Moral Saints,” Journal of Philosophy 79 (1982): 419–39; William H. Wilcox, “Egoists, Consequentialists, and Their Friends,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 16 (1987): 73–84; Neera Badhwar Kapur, “Why it Is Wrong to Be Always Guided by the Best: Consequentialism and Friendship,” Ethics 101 (1991): 483–504; Dean Cocking and Justin Oakley, “Indirect Consequentialism, Friendship, and the Problem of Alienation,” Ethics 106 (1995): 86–111.

  2. 2.

    See Peter Railton, “Alienation, Consequentialism, and the Demands of Morality,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 13 (1984): 134–71; Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984); Alastair Norcross, “Consequentialism and Commitment,” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 78 (1997): 380–403; Philip Pettit, “The Inescapability of Consequentialism,” in Luck, Value, and Commitment: Themes from the Ethics of Bernard Williams, ed. Ulrike Heuer et al. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 41–70.

  3. 3.

    See Railton op. cit., pp. 153, 157.

  4. 4.

    The example is adapted from Stocker, op. cit., p. 461.

  5. 5.

    See Railton, op. cit., p. 153; Norcross, op. cit., p. 394; Matthew Tedesco, “Indirect Consequentialism, Suboptimality, and Friendship,” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 87 (2006): 567–77, p. 568; Elinor Mason, “Do Consequentialists Have One Thought Too Many?” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 2 (1999): 243–61, p. 256.

  6. 6.

    See Railton, op. cit., p. 144.

  7. 7.

    Railton notes that preoccupation with things, including the objective consequentialist criterion, interferes with daily activity (see ibid., p. 154).

  8. 8.

    As Jackson notes, in order to act for some effect we need not consciously entertain that effect at the moment; see Frank Jackson, “Decision-Theoretic Consequentialism and the Nearest and Dearest Objection,” Ethics 101 (1991): 461–82, pp. 469–70.

  9. 9.

    Norcross, for example, says that the sophisticated consequentialist might not entertain the belief in the truth of utilitarianism on some occasions; see Norcross, op. cit., p. 388.

  10. 10.

    Mason, “One Thought Too Many,” p. 255.

  11. 11.

    Wilcox criticizes some portrayals of the sophisticated consequentialist, insofar as he seems to lack a dominant commitment to the agent neutral good (see Wilcox, op. cit.). Such individuals, thinks Wilcox, cannot truly remain consequentialists. Pettit suggests that the sophisticated consequentialist need not organize his life around the impersonal good (see Pettit, “Inescapability of Consequentialism,” p. 49). The statement is ambiguous, however. Does it mean that the impersonal good does not play a dominant role in his dispositions? Or does it mean that the impersonal good is not the only disposition that organizes his life? The latter is plausible, the former not.

  12. 12.

    See Railton, op. cit., p. 153; Norcross, op. cit., p. 394; Tedesco, op. cit., p. 568; Mason, “One Thought Too Many,” p. 256.

  13. 13.

    Nevertheless, both Railton and Norcross allow for the possibility of the sophisticated consequentialist completely suppressing his consequentialist reasoning. See Railton, op. cit., p. 155; Norcross, op. cit., pp. 391–93.

  14. 14.

    Norcross, for example, is happy to assert that the utilitarian need not have “one thought too many,” but the manner in which the extra thought is kept out of mind is left vague (op. cit., pp. 385–87). Philip Pettit provides a brief and inadequate account of what he calls “triggers” that bring consequentialist reasoning to the forefront (in “Consequentialism and Moral Psychology,” International Journal of Philosophical Studies 2 [1998]: 1–17, p. 15). Mason says that she will not address the complexities of the motivation of the sophisticated consequentialist (see “Can an Indirect Consequentialist Be a Real Friend?” Ethics 108 [1998]: 386–93, p. 388, note 8). According to Railton, the problem of when consequentialist reasoning should be used is a difficult empirical question, which he does not begin to answer (op. cit., p. 156). Scott Woodcock attempts something of an answer to this difficult empirical question; see Scott Woodcock, “When Will Your Consequentialist Friend Abandon You for the Greater Good?” Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy 4 (2010): 1–23.

  15. 15.

    See Pettit, “Moral Psychology,” p. 15; Pettit, “Inescapability of Consequentialism,” p. 47; Woodcock, op. cit., p. 17, note 35.

  16. 16.

    Pettit, “Moral Psychology,” p. 15.

  17. 17.

    Card seems to have a similar account in mind when he speaks of a sophisticated consequentialist moving to explicit consequentialist deliberations when he recognizes, with psychological cues, some pressing need for agent neutral goods; see Robert F. Card, “Consequentialism, Teleology, and the New Friendship Critique,” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 85 (2004): 149–72, p. 165–69; see also Mason, “One Thought Too Many.”

  18. 18.

    See Mason, “One Thought Too Many,” p. 257.

  19. 19.

    See Norcross, op. cit., pp. 391–93.

  20. 20.

    See Railton, op. cit., p. 155.

  21. 21.

    See Stocker, op. cit.

  22. 22.

    This feature is not essential to sophisticated consequentialism. Some brands of consequentialism might include friendship in a list of inherent goods. Card, for instance, says that a sophisticated consequentialist must desire friendship itself as an inherent value; see Card, op. cit., p. 154.

  23. 23.

    Railton mentions that the human mind is capable of only so much self-regulation and refinement, and that it is liable to bias and error (See Railton, op. cit., p. 158). Railton also compares the sophisticated consequentialist to someone who must learn to deal with his timidity, which is portrayed as a defect (p. 154). Norcross grants that it would be better if people could go without commitments, thereby producing more good (See Norcross, op. cit., p. 385).

  24. 24.

    Mason is most explicit on this point; see Mason, “Real Friend,” p. 389; see also Card, op. cit., p. 166.

  25. 25.

    What I am considering as inflexible dispositions, Railton describes as “sturdy”; see Railton, op. cit., p. 157.

  26. 26.

    See Norcross, op. cit., pp. 399–401.

  27. 27.

    Candace Upton recognizes that we have more flexible dispositions, which she calls context dispositions (see Candace L. Upton, “Context, Character and Consequentialist Friendships,” Utilitas 20 (2008): 334–47). She fails to recognize that a flexible consequentialist disposition toward friendship includes the rationale of acting for the greater good, or if she recognizes this fact she is unable to perceive why anyone might object to it.

  28. 28.

    See Norcross, op. cit., pp. 399–401.

  29. 29.

    See Mason, “Real Friend.”

  30. 30.

    See Card, op. cit., pp. 164–67. Tedesco tries to defend Mason by suggesting that a sophisticated consequentialist can still reject harmful friendships because he judges them not to be true friendships, or at least not the kind of friendship that falls under his general disposition toward friendship (see Tedesco, op. cit.). Pettit, like Card, finds entirely untenable the idea of giving unlimited leverage to a particular friendship (see Pettit, “Inescapability of Consequentialism,” p. 47).

  31. 31.

    See, for example, Cocking, op. cit.

  32. 32.

    Woodcock is concerned only with the question of a consequentialist abandoning a friend (see Woodcock, op. cit.). Likewise, Upton is concerned with abandoning friendship; she does not perceive that someone might object to the character of an explicitly consequentialist friendship (see Upton, op. cit.). Edmund Henden, as well, reduces the worry of explicit consequentialist reasoning to a question of abandoning friendship, although he does quickly raise, and dismiss, the issue of instrumentality itself, even apart from the risk of abandoning the friendship; see Edmund Henden, “Restrictive Consequentialism and Real Friendship,” Ratio 20 (2007): 179–93, especially p. 186.

  33. 33.

    See Railton, op. cit., p. 141.

  34. 34.

    See Badhwar Kapur, op. cit., pp. 498, 500.

  35. 35.

    Badhwar Kapur suggests that friendship cannot be seen primarily as a means to some independent end; see Badhwar Kapur, op. cit., pp. 483, 491. On the other hand, Card thinks that if consequentialism includes friendship itself as a good, then the friend is not being used as a means for some further end (see Card, op. cit., p. 160). A similar point is made by Gomberg (see Paul Gomberg, “Consequentialism and History,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 19 (1989): 383–403, pp. 387–89). As far as Giuseppe is concerned, however, the neutral good of such a so-called friendship is not his good; rather, his personal and relative good is an instrument for producing this neutral good. As Wolf notes, his good is to be desired “under the description ‘a contribution to the general happiness’.” See Wolf, op. cit., p. 429.

  36. 36.

    Badhwar Kapur also thinks that the sophisticated consequentialist must maintain a conscious recognition that the good of the friend is instrumental; see Badhwar Kapur, op. cit., p. 493.

  37. 37.

    The point is generally conceded. See, for instance, Railton, op. cit., p. 136; Mason, “One Thought Too Many,” p. 249; Pettit, “Inescapability of Consequentialism,” p. 44.

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Jensen, S.J. Sophisticated Alienation. J Value Inquiry 54, 309–323 (2020).

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