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"Consequentialism, Cluelessness, Clumsiness, and Counterfactuals"

The Annual Mark Sainsbury Lecture by Alan Hájek, Professor of Philosophy at Australian National University, and Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities



Abstract: According to objective consequentialism, a morally right action is one that has the best consequences. (These are not just the immediate consequences of the actions, but the long-term consequences, perhaps until the end of history.) Alan will argue that on one understanding this makes no sense, and on another understanding, it has a startling metaphysical presupposition concerning counterfactuals. Objective consequentialism has faced various objections, including the problem of “cluelessness”: we have no idea what most of the consequences of our actions will be. Alan thinks that on these understandings, objective consequentialism has a far worse problem: its very foundations are highly dubious. Even granting these foundations, a worse problem than cluelessness remains, which I call “clumsiness”. Moreover, Alan thinks that these problems quickly generalise to a number of other moral theories. But the point is most easily made for objective consequentialism, so he will focus largely on it.

Alan will consider three ways that objective consequentialism might be improved:

  1. Appeal instead to short-term consequences of actions;
  2. Understand consequences with objective probabilities;
  3. Understand consequences with subjective/evidential probabilities.

But even here, there be dragons.

Chaired by David Sosa (UT Austin).

All are welcome. The event is free, but registration is mandatory. Registration ends on 31 May at 11:30 p.m.

Event details

Safra Lecture Theatre
Strand Campus
Strand, London, WC2R 2LS