The ‘Actual’ in Actualism1
The work of Frank Jackson has been important to at least two central debates in consequentialist ethical theory: (1) between possibilism and actualism and (2) between objective consequentialism and expectabilism (or a variety of subjective consequentialism). Suppose that we define the right action as that action which maximizes the good. Some writers, such as Michael Slote, have argued that this straightforward criterion is underdetermined. Are we to maximize ‘actual’ good or ‘expected’ good? That is the debate between the objective consequentialist and the subjective consequentialist. There is also the issue of whether or not the agent who is deliberating considers what would be best given what will happen as opposed to what could or can happen. That is the debate between the actualist and the possibilist in determining relevant options for the moral agent to consider in deliberation. This chapter explores differing answers to both of these questions, and then explores one strategy for answering both — a strategy which has been very much influenced by the work of Frank Jackson. Though the author agrees with Jackson on actualism, it disagrees with him on expectabilism. It is argued that the definition of ‘right action’ is clear and not at all underdetermined — the right action just is the action that maximizes the good, the actual good. But what is often confusing is that the semantics of right is confused with an issue in the epistemology of right — that is the issue of determining how we are to go about doing the best that we can properly.
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