Journal of Philosophy

The Limits of Maximization: Actions, Decision Procedures, and Meta-Decision Procedures


Eric Wiland

University of Missouri-St.Louis


Abstract. A nagging problem for the consequentialist is the fact that a person who chooses the action-option that seems to her to maximize good consequences all too often does not produce consequences as good as she would have produced had she thought about her decision in some other fashion. In response, indirect consequentialists typically recommend that one take advantage of whatever benefits the employment of a nonconsequentialist decision procedure may provide. But I argue here that the consequentialist cannot straightforwardly appropriate the decision procedures of those averse to consequentialism. I show that indirect consequentialists treat decision procedures the very same way direct consequentialists treat actions, and thus all of the reasons why direct consequentialists fail to act as well as they can likewise plague the indirect consequentialists’ attempts to decide as well as they can. So despite the wishes of the indirect theorists, consequentialism turns out to be self-defeating after all. Back