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Hooker's ideal code and the sacrifice problem

Lawlor, R. (2004) Hooker's ideal code and the sacrifice problem. Social Theory and Practice, 30 (4). ISSN 0037-802X

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A common way of arguing against consequentialism is by a reductio ad absurdum, highlighting the fact that, in certain situations, we would be able to maximize well-being by sacrificing or scapegoating an innocent individual. In McCloskey's example, for example, the sheriff of a town frames and executes an innocent man in order to appease an angry mob that is demanding justice. The objection states that the consequentialist is committed to the claim that this is what the sheriff ought to do. The critic then claims that it is not plausible that the correct moral theory could demand the sacrifice of innocent individuals in this way, and therefore consequentialism should be rejected.

For the sake of brevity, I will refer to this as the sacrifice problem. Although some consequentialists (most notably J.J.C. Smart) may be willing to embrace the apparent reductio, thereby denying there is a problem, most consequentialists have seen it as a problem, and have been keen to avoid it.

On the face of it, Brad Hooker's distribution-sensitive rule-consequentialism, defended in his Ideal Code, Real World, would seem to have the apparatus necessary to avoid the sacrifice problem. Life will go better if people don't steal from each other, and if they refrain from killing innocent people. Therefore, Hooker's rule-consequentialism will protect people from such behavior by conferring to them the necessary rights.

I will demonstrate, however, that Hooker's rule-consequentialism may still require the sacrifice of innocent people in certain situations, and therefore remains prone to the sacrifice problem.

Item Type: Article
Copyright, Publisher and Additional Information: Uploaded with permission from the publisher.
Institution: The University of Leeds
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts (Leeds) > School of Humanities (Leeds) > School of Philosophy (Leeds)
The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts (Leeds) > School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science (Leeds) > School of Philosophy (Leeds)
Depositing User: Leeds Philosophy Department
Date Deposited: 10 Oct 2007 14:40
Last Modified: 08 Feb 2013 17:06
Status: Published
Publisher: Department of Philosophy, Florida State University
Refereed: Yes
Related URLs:
URI: http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/3240

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