Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Rule consequentialism

In general, consequentialist theories focus on actions. However, this need not be the case. Rule consequentialism is a theory that is sometimes seen as an attempt to reconcile deontology and consequentialism—and in some cases, this is stated as a criticism of rule consequentialism. Like deontology, rule consequentialism holds that moral behavior involves following certain rules. However, rule consequentialism chooses rules based on the consequences that the selection of those rules have. Rule consequentialism exists in the forms of rule utilitarianism and rule egoism.

Various theorists are split as to whether the rules are the only determinant of moral behavior or not. For example, Robert Nozick holds that a certain set of minimal rules, which he calls "side-constraints", are necessary to ensure appropriate actions.There are also differences as to how absolute these moral rules are. Thus, while Nozick's side-constraints are absolute restrictions on behavior, Amartya Sen proposes a theory that recognizes the importance of certain rules, but these rules are not absolute. That is, they may be violated if strict adherence to the rule would lead to much more undesirable consequences.

One of the most common objections to rule-consequentialism is that it is incoherent, because it is based on the consequentialist principle that what we should be concerned with is maximizing the good, but then it tells us not to act to maximize the good, but to follow rules (even in cases where we know that breaking the rule could produce better results).

Brad Hooker avoided this objection by not basing his form of rule-consequentialism on the ideal of maximizing the good. He writes:

"…the best argument for rule-consequentialism is not that it derives from an overarching commitment to maximise the good. The best argument for rule-consequentialism is that it does a better job than its rivals of matching and tying together our moral convictions, as well as offering us help with our moral disagreements and uncertainties"

Derek Parfit described Brad Hooker's book on rule-consequentialism Ideal Code, Real World as the "best statement and defence, so far, of one of the most important moral theories."