Actualism, Possibilism, and the Nature of Consequentialism

Actualism, Possibilism, and the Nature of Consequentialism


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Chapter description: The actualism/possibilism debate in ethics is about whether counterfactuals of freedom concerning what an agent would freely do if she were in certain circumstances even partly determine that agent’s obligations. This debate arose from an argument against the coherence of utilitarianism in the deontic logic literature. In this chapter, we first trace the historical origins of this debate and then examine actualism, possibilism, and securitism through the lens of consequentialism. After examining their respective benefits and drawbacks, we argue that, contrary to what has been assumed, actualism and securitism both succumb to the so-called nonratifiability problem. In making this argument, we develop this problem in detail and argue that it’s a much more serious problem than has been appreciated. We conclude by arguing that an alternative view, hybridism, is independently the most plausible position and best fits with the nature of consequentialism, partly in light of avoiding the nonratifiability problem.

Book description: ed. Douglas W. Portmore This handbook contains thirty-two previously unpublished contributions to consequentialist ethics by leading scholars, covering what’s happening in the field today as well as pointing to new directions for future research. Consequentialism is a rival to such moral theories as deontology, contractualism, and virtue ethics. But it’s more than just one rival among many, for every plausible moral theory must concede that the goodness of an act’s consequences is something that matters even if it’s not the only thing that matters. Thus, all plausible moral theories will accept both that the fact that an act would produce good consequences constitutes a moral reason to perform it and that the better that act’s consequences the greater the moral reason there is to perform it. Now, if this is correct, then much of the research concerning consequentialist ethics is important for ethics in general. For instance, one thing that consequentialist researchers have investigated is what sorts of consequences matter: the consequences that some act would have or the consequences that it could have—if, say, the agent were to follow up by performing some subsequent act. And it’s reasonable to suppose that the answer to such questions will be relevant for normative ethics regardless of whether the goodness of consequences is the only thing that matters (as consequentialists presume) or just one of many things that matter (as nonconsequentialists presume).



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Oxford University Press


consequentialism, morality, ethics, altruism, reasons

Actualism, Possibilism, and the Nature of Consequentialism