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The Demands of Consequentialism Paperback – December 22, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-0199286973 ISBN-10: 0199286973

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (December 22, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199286973
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199286973
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 0.8 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,164,472 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Tim Mulgan's fine book is a powerful and impressive attempt to find a version of consequentialism that deals adequately with the Demandingness Objection. It will surely become a standard work of reference on the subject, and deservedly so. I have learned a great deal from studying it."--Timothy Chappell, Mind

"Mulgan's discussion of these theories advances significantly beyond all previous discussions...The resulting theory constitutes a major innovation in contemporary moral theory. Many will think Mulgan's theory the best account yet of duties towards the needy. In any case, it is a strikingly impressive achievement...Until a clearly superior theory is developed, everyone interested in normative moral theory must read this book."--Brad Hooker, Philosophy

"The Demands of Consequentialism is a very interesting book, devoted to a no less fascinating problem. If you have ever found yourself wondering whether you should, for instance, spend money on the trip of your life, or instead send it to Oxfam, this book will be of real interest to you ...Mulgan's insightful book contains clear and fine-grained discussions of the various views he rejects."--European Journal of Philosophy

About the Author

Tim Mulgan is at University of St Andrews.

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By E. N. Anderson VINE VOICE on May 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent study of ethics. Mulgan considers whether ethical principles demand that we devote our lives entirely to doing the most possible good in the world; this he calls Simple Consequentialism. He concludes that such a life is too demanding, since it leaves no time for people to do their own "projects" and pursue their own "goals"; thus it is alienating and compromises personal integrity. He resolves this problem in a new and interesting way: by saying we should attend to satisfying human needs, and be thoroughly consequentialist in the Realm of Necessity, but we also have to act as social beings, and in that Realm of Reciprocity we have to be full human beings, with goals and projects--which we are therefore free to pursue. (I am oversimplifying a very complex and technically quite brilliant argument. Apologies to Dr. Mulgan.)
The book is clear and readable--a MOST welcome relief from so much modern philosophy (de-re-deconstruction, being-thereness as nonbeingness, neo-neo-Nietzsche, Heaven knows what). It will also inspire you to live a better life, unless you are already a saint. It is a really worthwhile read. (Parts are difficult, though, unless you are already somewhat literate in Oxford University ethical traditions--Mulgan sometimes forgets he isn't dialoguing in the commons room).
All that said, I disagree with the conclusions. A Simple Consequentialist could surely reply: First, the world is in such a mess that the Realm of Necessity is overwhelmingly important right now. Second, "goals, projects, integrity, alienation," etc., are terms rather redolent of psychobabble; do we sacrifice good solid food, clothing, shelter, peace and justice for abstractions that are very sketchily defined in this book?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Cory N. on January 23, 2013
Format: Paperback
Tim Mulgan's project in this work is to save consequentialism (i.e., assessing an act's morality based on its consequences) from the objection that it is simply too demanding. According to this ethical theory, every act should be aimed towards maximizing the good in the world. By writing this review, I am failing to live up to its demands, as are you while you read. We could instead be out raising awareness for Oxfam or some other worthy cause, or perhaps working a second job to earn more money to give away. Who could live up to such demands?

Mulgan starts out discussing common objections to consequentialism, mainly that it is too demanding. He proceeds to show how, in fact, competing theories (Rawlsian contractualism, Kantianism, even Nozick's libertarianism) can be interpreted to be just as demanding. Since every theory (except perhaps pure egoism) is prima facie too demanding, Mulgan then sets out to see if perhaps any modified forms of consequentialism are more reasonable. In the end, each falls short, but some offer key insights that Mulgan salvages for his own Combined Consequentialism in the end.

Mulgan, unlike "extremists" such as Peter Singer and Shelly Kagan, sees its demandingness as a real objection to consequentialism. No one could live solely for promoting the welfare of others at great cost to themselves. Indeed, Mulgan notes, Bernard Williams has argued that such strict consequentialism ignores psychological reality and is alienating in its ignorance of our needs as moral agents. I believe Williams is probably right about this, and yet to me that does not mean strict consequentialism is wrong, but perhaps merely unpalatable.

Mulgan's solution is to use the distinction between needs and goals/projects as a basis for a new two-tier consequentialism.
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The Demands of Consequentialism
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