chapter  1
21 Pages

Pragmatism, consequentialism, and teleology

When not engaged in philosophy we often use a contrast between being

principled and being pragmatic. We contrast principled people with prag-

matic people, for example. Sometimes this sort of talk creeps into philoso-

phy, too. We might contrast an objection ‘in principle’ to some law or policy

with an objection that is not so, which we might describe as ‘pragmatic’.

However, it is rare to find philosophical arguments which make any sub-

stantial use of this contrast. The contrast between being principled and

being pragmatic seems not to have found a role in philosophy. There might be good reasons for this. The contrast might not be clear

enough to be much use, for example. Or it could be reasonably clear but not

closely related to anything of philosophical interest. However, I doubt that

either of these claims is true. I think that we can draw the contrast reason-

ably clearly, and that so drawn it is closely related to issues of abiding phi-

losophical interest. In particular, I think it helpfully describes the attitudes

many of us have to some of the major ethical theories. For example, many

of us are attracted to Act Consequentialism and other forms of Act Teleology, I believe, because they are highly pragmatic theories; but many of us

are also uneasy at their apparently unprincipled nature. Similarly, many of

us are attracted to the principled nature of deontological views and of Rule

Consequentialism; but we are also uneasy at these views’ handling of

unusual cases in which the costs of being principled are particularly high. In

those cases these views often seem insufficiently pragmatic.