Philosophy, Department of


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A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Philosophy, Under the Supervision of Professor David Sobel. Lincoln, Nebraska: December, 2011

Copyright (c) 2011 Justin James Moss


Bernard Williams’s formulation of the Demandingness Objection holds that living a moral life, as the consequentialist understands it, is incompatible with living a life that is good for human beings. This is because the demands of consequentialist morality threaten to overwhelm the life of the person who cares about being moral, thus leaving no time for their own projects and interests. Several prominent consequentialists have responded to the Demandingness Objection by seeking a more moderate and indirect form of consequentialism that does not require as strong a duty of beneficence as classical utilitarianism. I review and criticize three prominent moderate forms of consequentialism: Brad Hooker’s rule consequentialism; the theories of Samuel Scheffler and Tim Mulgan, which share an agent centered prerogative; and Liam Murphy’s collective principle of beneficence. As the primary method of criticism, I develop a type of collective action problem, which I refer to as the Polluter’s Dilemma. This dilemma occurs when a moral theory permits agents to favor their own interests and in doing so create a very small harm that affects all other agents. These small harms accumulate, and the result is that the long-term interests of all agents are greatly harmed. I provide reasons to think that acceptable forms of consequentialism must avoid the Polluter’s Dilemma, and I argue that the three mentioned forms of moderate consequentialism do not avoid the Polluter’s Dilemma. In concluding, I review a form of consequentialism that, I argue, avoids both the Polluter’s Dilemma and the Demandingness Objection. Based on this result, I make recommendations about how future consequentialist moral theories should develop. Consequentialists should seek a moral theory that leaves agents room for their own projects, but that theory should be flexible enough to recognize which stringent demands are appropriate and which stringent demands are not, and the theory should not support the aims of agents that leave everyone worse off in the long term.

Adviser: David Sobel