Rule Consequentialist Theory

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A Rule Consequentialist Theory is a consequentialist theory holds that moral behavior involves following certain rules based on the consequences that the selection of those rules have.



  • (Wikipedia, 2014) ⇒ Retrieved:2014-6-6.
    • 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. [1] 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" [2]

      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."

  1. Bernard Williams, "Utilitarianism" in his Morality, Cambridge University Press 1993
  2. Brad Hooker, Ideal Code, Real World Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 101.


  • Larissa MacFarquhar. (2011). “[ How To Be Good: An Oxford philosopher thinks he can distill all morality into a formula. Is he right?.” In: The New Yorker
    • QUOTE: ... Parfit’s main task, however, was to prove that Kantianism and rule consequentialism were not actually in conflict. To do this, he needed to perform surgery on Kant’s Formula of Universal Law, the formula that Kant had claimed to be the supreme principle of morality: “I ought never to act except in such a way that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law.” Many Kantians had given up on this formula (Kant had many others), concluding that it simply didn’t help to distinguish right from wrong. But Parfit went to work on it, hacking off a piece here, suturing on a piece there, until he had arrived at a version that seemed to him to combine the best elements of Kantianism and contractualism: “Everyone ought to follow the principles whose universal acceptance everyone could rationally will.” He argued that these principles would be the same ones that were espoused by rule consequentialism. Then, at last, he was in a position to propose his top-of-the-mountain formula, which he called the Triple Theory:

      An act is wrong just when such acts are disallowed by some principle that is optimific, uniquely universally willable, and not reasonably rejectable.

      The theory’s principles were consequentialist because they would lead to the best results (optimific); Kantian because they were universally willable; and contractualist because no person could reasonably reject them. ...