Recommended reading on consequentialism

Utilitarianism, prioritarianism and other varieties of consequentialism.
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Arepo
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Recommended reading on consequentialism

Post by Arepo » Sat Nov 08, 2008 4:09 pm

I'd like to take suggestions on what essays and books utilitarians and consequentialists might want to read - not necessarily ones about moral philosophy. I'll edit any helpful suggestions into this post (including deletions, if people think I've added stupid entries), and try and divide them by categories.

If possible, please include a link to the text if it's online, a mini-explanation of what the significance of the piece is that makes it worth the time investment (it's not very utilitarian to spend your life repeatedly reading the same arguments, after all).

Keep in mind that Utilitarianism Resources and Utilitarian Philosophers already offer pretty comprehensive lists of online writings and writings by the best-known utilitarians. While some links are bound to overlap, we can fill in the gaps rather than duplicating the pages. Neither page lists its links by topic (except by philosopher), so it might be helpful to do that here. To kickstart:

Very short introductions to different kinds of utilitarianism

Classical utilitarianism (aka hedonistic utilitarianism)
Preference utilitarianism - an alternative to classical util

Act utilitarianism
Rule utilitarianism - an alternative to act util

Indirect utilitarianism - a cross between utilitarianism and 'conscience-based' ethics

Prioritarianism - a consequentialist alternative that stresses egalitarianism more than util does

Glossary of more short descriptions

More detailed introductions

Questions for broadly utilitarian theories - an excellent short summary of the problems different forms of utilitarianism are supposed to address (

Primer on the Elements and Forms of Utilitarianism - a more detailed intro to a smaller selection of rival ideas

Utilitarianism FAQ and Common Criticisms of Utilitarianism - both addressing some of the more common objections

An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, by Jeremy Bentham (available online) - in some sense the book that 'started' utilitarianism (can be quite heavy going, but you only really need to read the first four chapters to see most of Bentham's logic)

Utilitarian living

Practical Ethics by Peter Singer - a short and widely read book on topics such as abortion, euthanasia, animal welfare

Living High and Letting Die by Peter Unger - arguing that common moral reasoning (including but not exclusive to utilitarianism) requires the biggest sacrifices from us that we can persuade ourselves to make.

A Consequentialist Case for Rejecting the Right by Alastair Norcross and Frances Howard-Snyder - tempering (but not completely escaping) Unger's conclusion by arguing that utilitarianism is scalar; ie. there's no 'right and wrong', per se, only 'better and worse' (some of Norcross's papers are on his website, but not this one unfortunately). Publication details The Journal of Philosophical Research, Vol. 18; 1993, pp. 109-125.

What to maximise?

(PDF) Can there be a preference-based utilitarianism? by John Broome (who has numerous other papers online at his homepage)
"These were my only good shoes."
"You ought to have put on an old pair, if you wished to go a-diving," said Professor Graham, who had not studied moral philosophy in vain.

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Arepo
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Re: Recommended reading on consequentialism

Post by Arepo » Tue Feb 10, 2009 5:37 pm

A couple more arguments for specific flavours of utilitarianism I've found, though I've not had a chance to read beyond the abstracts yet:

Extreme and Restricted Utilitarianism by J.J.C. Smart - an argument for act utilitarianism in preference to rule

(PDF) How to be a Consequentialist about Everything by Toby Ord - an argument for global utilitarianism in preference to both act and rule
"These were my only good shoes."
"You ought to have put on an old pair, if you wished to go a-diving," said Professor Graham, who had not studied moral philosophy in vain.

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Brian Tomasik
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Re: Recommended reading on consequentialism

Post by Brian Tomasik » Tue May 05, 2009 9:28 pm

I've put together a collection of links that might be of interest to someone just beginning to learn about utilitarianism. Most of the material is pretty basic -- the kinds of things undergraduates learn in introductory courses in economics, statistics, etc.

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Re: Recommended reading on consequentialism

Post by RyanCarey » Sun Oct 18, 2009 4:06 am

There is a profound refutation of any role for intuition in ethics by Peter Singer here
You can read my personal blog here: CareyRyan.com

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Re: Recommended reading on consequentialism

Post by Jesper Östman » Mon Oct 26, 2009 5:41 am

Hedonistic Utilitarianism
http://www.amazon.com/Hedonistic-Utilit ... 218&sr=8-1
A defence of hedonistic utilitarianism by it's perhaps most well known contemporary champion. Among other things, Tännsjö provides replies to Rawls arguments against utilitarianism and feminist critiques.


Singer's article opens the debate on an important topic, but it is far from a conclusive case. See for instance Tersman, Folke: The reliability of moral intuitions: A challenge from neuroscience
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/r ... .alexandra

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: The repugnant conclusion.
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/repugnant-conclusion/
The authors provides an overview of the contemporary discussion about one of the most common arguments against hedonistic utilitarianism, the repugnant conclusion. Among other things, it is shown that similar problems generalize to many ethical theories.

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Re: Recommended reading on consequentialism

Post by Jesper Östman » Thu Feb 25, 2010 11:54 pm

This seems like good advice:
[For] an introduction to QALYS I'd recommend a book called Cost-effectiveness in health and medicine, and for expected utilty theory and practically applying it I'd recommend Jon Baron's Thinking and Deciding.
I'm thinking of following it, especially the latter book:
http://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Deciding ... 677&sr=8-1.

Anyone here knows if it is a good choice?

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Arepo
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Online utilitarian essay collections

Post by Arepo » Tue Jul 12, 2011 4:14 pm

Calling this 'recommended reading' is overly strong strong since I haven't read the vast majority of these. But I notice several utilitarian authors put several of their papers online, so for anyone feeling hyperdilligent/wondering if some specific issue has been addressed in professional literature, a list of links might be useful.

If anyone has read enough of any of them enough to describe what their focus/approach/other distinction from each other is, can you let me know? I'll edit in the description to the links below, to help people browse among them.

Alan Dawrst''s: http://www.utilitarian-essays.com/ (relatively short essays on application rather than theory, generally focusing on unusual high-risk/high-swing scenarios)

Alasdair Norcross's: http://spot.colorado.edu/~norcross/Norcrosscv.html (from the couple I've read, more theoretical, though still with a fair bit of real world application, developing the idea of scalar utilitarianism - the idea that we do better to think of making situations better and worse than choosing the right or the wrong action. Also, I find Norcross a very entertaining writer with a wonderfully acerbic sense of humour)

Jason Gaverick Matheny: http://jgmatheny.org/ (the author is a utilitarian, but I think most of his essays are non-specific to it - according to Wikipedia, his speciality is 'technology forecasting and risk assessment - particularly of global catastrophic risks and existential risks', though there's a lot on vegetarianism and animal welfare, too)

Torbjörn Tännsjö's: http://people.su.se/~tanns/index_en.htm (relatively few available essays, mostly relating to contemporary politics)

Dale Miller's: http://odu.academia.edu/DaleMiller/Papers

Fred Feldman's: http://people.umass.edu/ffeldman/index.html#papers
"These were my only good shoes."
"You ought to have put on an old pair, if you wished to go a-diving," said Professor Graham, who had not studied moral philosophy in vain.

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Simon Rosenqvist
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Re: Recommended reading on consequentialism

Post by Simon Rosenqvist » Fri Aug 03, 2012 3:27 pm

Utilitarianism and Co-operation
http://www.amazon.com/Utilitarianism-Co ... 0198246366
This is by far the best book on utilitarianism I have read. I recommend it to anyone who is interesting in the conflict between act- and rule utilitarianism, and consequentialism in general. The book points to failures of co-ordination of individuals in both act- and rule utilitarianism, and then outlines a new theory, co-operative utilitarianism, which is intended to solve these difficulties. Regan's own solution has not become very popular. For example, it is alleged to break a variant of the ought-implies-can-principle. But his study sets a clear standard for how discussions in the subject should be carried out.

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Brian Tomasik
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Re: Recommended reading on consequentialism

Post by Brian Tomasik » Sun Aug 05, 2012 6:54 am

Thanks, Simon! That sounds like a very interesting book.

By the way, welcome to Felicifia. :)

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Pablo Stafforini
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Re: Recommended reading on consequentialism

Post by Pablo Stafforini » Sat Aug 18, 2012 1:28 am

You'll find links to dozens of academic books on utilitarianism, available for free, here.

Francesca
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Re: Recommended reading on consequentialism

Post by Francesca » Thu Aug 23, 2012 11:55 am

Pablo, I cannot open the link page. Could you check it' s the right address? Thanks!

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Pablo Stafforini
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Re: Recommended reading on consequentialism

Post by Pablo Stafforini » Thu Aug 23, 2012 4:39 pm

Unfortunately, it seems that the website is down. Let's hope it's only temporary.

LJM1979
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Re: Recommended reading on consequentialism

Post by LJM1979 » Thu Jan 03, 2013 7:59 pm

I think this book is a very good introductory resource on utilitarianism:
http://www.amazon.com/Utilitarianism-Gu ... +perplexed
Even though you have to pay for it, I like having a physical book. If you read through this book, you'll have a good introduction to most of the issues discussed within the utilitarian community.

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Re: Recommended reading on consequentialism

Post by Arepo » Wed Jan 09, 2013 6:22 pm

Browsing that, I was recommended a similar-sounding title: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Understanding-U ... y_b_text_y

Has anyone read this one?
"These were my only good shoes."
"You ought to have put on an old pair, if you wished to go a-diving," said Professor Graham, who had not studied moral philosophy in vain.

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Re: Recommended reading on consequentialism

Post by LJM1979 » Thu Jan 10, 2013 2:04 am

Arepo wrote:Browsing that, I was recommended a similar-sounding title: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Understanding-U ... y_b_text_y

Has anyone read this one?
I have that book and it looks good. I've only skimmed parts of it though.

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RyanCarey
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Re: Recommended reading on consequentialism

Post by RyanCarey » Thu Jan 10, 2013 9:03 am

I read Understanding Utilitarianism by Tim Mulgan, and it was a better than average exposition.
You can read my personal blog here: CareyRyan.com

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Arepo
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Re: Recommended reading on consequentialism

Post by Arepo » Fri Jan 11, 2013 4:34 pm

Compared to accounts by actual utilitarians, or compared to all writings about utilitarianism? Cos there's quite an important difference in those benchmarks!
"These were my only good shoes."
"You ought to have put on an old pair, if you wished to go a-diving," said Professor Graham, who had not studied moral philosophy in vain.

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Re: Recommended reading on consequentialism

Post by RyanCarey » Sat Jan 12, 2013 8:49 am

Compared to short textbook-style writings about utilitarianism.
You can read my personal blog here: CareyRyan.com

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Re: Recommended reading on consequentialism

Post by jason » Wed Jul 03, 2013 12:45 am

RyanCarey wrote:There is a profound refutation of any role for intuition in ethics by Peter Singer here
This is article by Selim Berker is worth reading before making too much of that line of reasoning. http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~phildept/fi ... _Final.pdf

Sorry to respond several years late. :)

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