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Naive vs. sophisticated consequentialism

Parent Topic: Philosophy

Naive consequentialism is the view that, to comply with the requirements of consequentialism, an agent should at all times be motivated to perform the act that consequentialism requires. By contrast, sophisticated consequentialism holds that a consequentialist agent should adopt whichever set of motivations will, in fact, cause her to act in ways that consequentialism requires.


Sometimes the terms "sophisticated consequentialism" and "naive consequentialism" are used to describe the contrast between applications of consequentialism that do and do not, respectively, consider less direct, less immediate, or otherwise less visible consequences into account.[1]

As a concrete example, a naive conception of consequentialism may lead an agent to believe that breaking certain commonsense moral rules is right if it seems that the immediate effects on the world will be net-positive. Such rule-breaking typically has negative side-effects, however—for instance, it can lower the degree of trust in society, and for the rule-breaker’s group specifically. Hence, sophisticated consequentialists tend to oppose rule-breaking more than naive consequentialists.


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