Chapter 3: The Consequentialist Approach to Government
3. The consequentialist approach to government 3.1 UTILITARIANISM AS A STANDARD FOR JUDGING PUBLIC ACTION We begin by recalling that, whereas contractarians do not start with a concept of the good, given independently of the right, consequentialists start with a view of what is good or valuable and specify that the proper response to those values is to promote them. We recall also that utilitarianism is the theory of the good which is most standardly deployed to ﬁll out the consequentialist framework. Finally, we recognize that utilitarianism – whether in hedonistic, preference or welfare form1 is ‘ﬁrst and foremost, a standard for judging public action’. By this account, ‘the right action is that which maximizes utility (however construed) summed impersonally across all those affected by that action. … That is…the standard that public policy-makers are to use when making collective choices impinging on the community as a whole’ (Goodin 1993, p. 245). While the hedonistic pleasure–pain calculus advocated by Jeremy Bentham is today rarely, if ever, deployed, the essential point is that Bentham believed that only utilitarian arguments could justify political decisions (Dworkin 1978, p. 233). The same can be said of preference and welfare utilitarians. Whereas the former assert a public policy imperative to promote preference satisfaction, the latter ‘would suppress short-sighted preference satisfaction in favor of protecting people’s long-term welfare interests’ (Goodin 1993, p. 244). In effect, welfare utilitarians embrace the idea that it is possible, inter alia, to determine what people ‘need’, rather than what they ‘want’...
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