Skip Navigation


Philosophy 380: Seminar on Consequentialism

Fall 2013

MWF 11:15-12:20 AM

Morse-Ingersoll 108

Professor: Matt Tedesco



            Phone: 363-2146

Office Hours: Tuesdays 11:00-12:00, Wednesdays 2:45-3:45, and by appointment

            Office: Morse-Ingersoll 210

The Class:

This seminar will examine consequentialism, the moral theory that the moral status of an action is determined by its consequences. Our focus will be on understanding the various formulations of consequentialism, particularly those offered in recent decades, and the relationship between those formulations and the many criticisms that have been advanced against the theory. These criticisms include the worry that consequentialism is too demanding and the worry that it allows too much. We will also examine recent attempts to consequentialize nonconsequentialist moral theories.

In this class, you should expect:

1)     To develop a deep understanding of the contemporary literature on consequentialism;

2)     To become familiar with how philosophers engage in research in dialogue with one another;

3)     To develop your analytic and evaluative critical-thinking skills through in-class discussion and a range of writing assignments.

While #3 is characteristic of philosophy classes generally, where the emphasis is on the analysis of concepts and the critical evaluation of arguments, #1 and #2 are more particular to the 300-level seminar. At both the 100- and 200-levels, courses are typically more survey-oriented; at the 300-level, you should expect to engage more deeply on a focused topic. This difference is fundamental, and you should be mindful of it throughout the semester.


Your grade in the class will be determined as follows:


You will be responsible for posting weekly text responses to me in Moodle throughout the semester. These responses should be at least two substantial paragraphs in length. The first paragraph should briefly summarize what you take to be the thesis, main point, or purpose of the reading assignment you’ve selected to discuss (presumably something on the schedule for our next meeting). The second paragraph and beyond should contain your response to the reading. Here, you should be critically evaluating some aspect of the reading: what was particularly interesting, convincing, problematic, confusing, etc.? Your text responses will not be evaluated for correctness, but they should demonstrate a serious engagement with the reading for class. In order to help ensure that you are seriously engaging the material, each text response must be a minimum of 350 words in length; the word count must be included in the text response. This word count is merely a bare minimum; response e-mails may, and frequently do, exceed this number. Text responses that fail to seriously engage the reading, including those that fail to reach the minimum word requirement, will receive no credit.

Text responses must be received before we discuss the reading in class, and you can turn in no more than one per week. If you turn in thirteen (one for each week, excluding the first, last, and mid-term break) satisfactorily, you will receive an A for this portion of your grade. For each one not turned in, this portion of your grade will decrease by one-third of a letter grade (so, turning in twelve earns an A-, eleven a B+, etc.). For our purposes, each week ends at the start of our Friday meeting; text responses will close at the start of our Friday class meeting.

These, then, are the key principles to keep in mind about text responses: one per week, on something we have not yet discussed in class.

These text responses serve a number of purposes. Most importantly, they help ensure your critical engagement with the text throughout the semester, and may serve as the bases for your papers. You should regularly be reviewing your text responses after our class discussions, to see how your understanding of the text has developed; in this respect, they provide for you a way to track your engagement with the material. They also give me a window into your reading of the text, which in turn directly informs my teaching. I’ll have a sense of what you focused on in the reading, and what needs special attention in class. I will also draw from the content of your text responses in class, sometimes generally, but also sometimes by referencing particular text responses. I will do my best to use discretion, but please let me know in text responses if there are details in it that you would prefer not to reveal to the rest of the class.

Given the volume of text responses that I will be receiving from all of you, you should not expect regular feedback on individual text responses. I may, however, respond to individual text responses intermittently throughout the semester.


You will write three short papers of 900-1200 words each in this class, each worth 1/7 of your overall class grade. The first paper will be due by 11:15 AM on September 27th, the second will be due by 11:15 AM on October 25th, and the third will be due by 11:15 AM on November 15th. These papers will be submitted to me by e-mail. For you to receive a passing grade in the class, all papers must be satisfactorily completed. On these papers, you will be evaluated on three central criteria:

1.     The clarity and organization of your writing

2.     Your understanding of the material

3.     The argument you defend on behalf of your thesis

Further details (regarding specific guidelines and expectations) will be passed along as the semester progresses. Note that your short papers may develop arguments or ideas first considered in a text response, and one of these may serve as the basis for your longer paper.


You will write one developed paper of 2400-3000 words in this class, worth 2/7 of your overall class grade. This paper will be due by e-mail no later than 5 PM on Saturday, December 14th (the end of our final exam time slot). I strongly urge you to aim to complete this paper much earlier than this date and time, as late papers will not be accepted. As with the focused papers, this paper must be satisfactorily completed in order for you to receive a passing grade in the class—yet another reason to aim for a completion day well in advance of this due date. On this paper, you will be evaluated on five central criteria, the first three of which are identical to the focused papers:

1.     The clarity and organization of your writing

2.     Your understanding of the material

3.     The argument you defend on behalf of your thesis

4.     Your engagement with relevant secondary literature

5.     Your rebuttal of counter-arguments offered on behalf of critics of your thesis

Further details (regarding specific guidelines and expectations) will be passed along as the semester progresses. You are encouraged (but not required) to use one of your three focused papers as the basis for this developed paper.


One important distinction between seminars and other classes is the way that seminars place an especially high premium on dialogue and interaction. Student participation is essential to a well-functioning seminar, and in this spirit, you will be expected to make frequent thoughtful contributions to class discussion. If you are concerned about your ability to meet this requirement, you ought to plan as a rule of thumb to try to make at least one contribution to every class discussion. Regular attendance and alertness are not sufficient for satisfactory participation; students who attend regularly but who very seldom speak should expect an F on this portion of their grade.

Beyond your contributions to in-class discussion, a well-functioning seminar requires responsible classroom citizenship in other respects on the part of its constituents. Elements of poor citizenship that will be penalized include disruptive behavior (e.g., engaging in side-conversations with others, ringing cell phones) or visibly obvious detachment from the class (e.g., reading outside material such as work for other classes, sleeping). Also, as a rule of thumb, expect to have your class grade lowered by one-third for each class missed beyond one week of absence, and more than seven absences will result in a failing grade for the class. If a situation of prolonged absence is unavoidable, please make sure to contact me about it. Be aware that I will normally request proper documentation should such a circumstance arise.

I am wary of the use of laptops and tablets in the classroom. The reason for this is straightforward: the classroom is a place for community conversation, and for a variety of reasons, laptops and tablets can hinder conversation. Given the number of readings available electronically in this class, I will allow the use of laptops and tablets, but only for accessing the class readings.


What follows is the plan for the semester as I see it now. Reading assignments should be completed before we discuss them. Most weeks have two readings assigned; generally, expect to begin the second reading during our Wednesday meeting. Note that this schedule is tentative; we may deviate from it as the semester progresses and class discussion takes on a life of its own. If changes are required, they will be announced in class.

If you have specific physical, psychiatric, or learning disabilities and require accommodations, please provide the appropriate documentation to me from the Learning Enrichment and Disability Services office early in the semester so that your learning needs may be effectively met. Be aware that I cannot make special accommodations without direction from the LEDS office.

Direct act consequentialism

WEEK 1 (8/26-8/30):


Kagan (1989), “Chapter 1: Against Ordinary Morality”

WEEK 2 (9/2-9/6):

Kagan (1989), “Chapter 3: Doing Harm”

Kagan (1989), “Chapter 4: Intending Harm”

WEEK 3 (9/9-9/13):

Kagan (1989), “Chapter 7: The Appeal to Cost”

Kagan (1989), “Chapter 8: The Negative Argument”

WEEK 4 (9/16-9/20):

Kagan (1989), “Chapter 9: “The Positive Argument”

Rule consequentialism

WEEK 5 (9/23-9/27):

Howard-Snyder (1993), “Rule Consequentialism is a Rubber Duck”

Hooker (1994), “Is Rule-Consequentialism a Rubber Duck?”

FOCUSED PAPER 1 DUE (9/27, 11:15 AM)

WEEK 6 (9/30-10/4):

Hooker (1995), “Rule-Consequentialism, Incoherence, and Fairness”

Woodard (2008), “A New Argument against Rule Consequentialism”

Indirect consequentialism

WEEK 7 (10/7-10/11):

Railton (1984), “Alienation, Consequentialism, and the Demands of Morality”

Cocking & Oakley (1995), “Indirect Consequentialism, Friendship, and the Problem of Alienation”


WEEK 8 (10/21-10/25):

Mason (1998), “Can an Indirect Consequentialist Be a Real Friend?”

Driver (2005), “Consequentialism and Feminist Ethics”

FOCUSED PAPER 2 DUE (10/25, 11:15 AM)

Satisficing/progressive consequentialism

WEEK 9 (10/28-11/1):

Slote & Pettit (1984), “Satisficing Consequentialism”

Bradley (2006), “Against Satisficing Consequentialism”


WEEK 10 (11/4-11/8):

Jamieson & Elliot (2009), “Progressive Consequentialism”

Scalar consequentialism

WEEK 11 (11/11-11/15):

Howard-Snyder (1994), “The Heart of Consequentialism”

Norcross (2006), “The Scalar Approach to Utilitarianism”

FOCUSED PAPER 3 DUE (11/15, 11:15 AM)

WEEK 12 (11/18-11/22):

Lawlor (2009), “The Rejection of Scalar Consequentialism”

Lang (2013), “Should Utilitarianism Be Scalar?”



WEEK 13 (11/25-11/27):

Portmore (2007), “Consequentializing Moral Theories”

Peterson (2009), “A Royal Road to Consequentialism?”


WEEK 14 (12/2-12/6):

Sachs (2010), “Consequentialism’s Double-Edged Sword”

Brown (2011), “Consequentialise This”

Historical connections

WEEK 15 (12/9-12/11):

Sidgwick (1874), “Book IV, Chapter 1: The Meaning of Utilitarianism”

Sidgwick (1874), “Book IV, Chapter 3: Utilitarianism and Common Sense”