King’s College London Mark Sainsbury Lecture 2023

Friday 2 June, 6-8pm

“Consequentialism, Cluelessness, Clumsiness, and Counterfactuals”

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.) I 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. I think 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, I think that these problems quickly generalise to a number of other moral theories. But the point is most easily made for objective consequentialism, so I will focus largely on it.

I 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).

Venue: KCL Strand, Safra Lecture Theatre

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


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