Consequentialism and its Demands: The Role of Institutions
Proponents of act-consequentialism hold that the right course of action is the one that produces the best results as judged from an impartial perspective. However, it is often claimed that this requirement is so demanding that it is unacceptable for anyone to follow it. We might call this the Overdemandingness Objection (OD) to consequentialism.
The project’s core idea is to direct attention to the ability of institutions to reduce moral demands on individuals. The motivating thought here is that something like a division of labour is justifiable: the demanding moral principles regulate institutions, whereas individuals "only" have the duty to set up and maintain these institutions. However, in order to get off the ground this "institutional approach" has to tackle several challenges.
First, Liam Murphy has argued that overdemandingess considerations will not give us what he calls dualism: the Rawlsian idea that different principles apply to institutions and to individuals. And, the thought is, we need dualism to substantiate the present response to OD. In response to this objection, the project argues that one can keep dualism as the answer to OD without going along with the stronger idea that it is OD itself that necessitates our endorsement of dualism.
Second, consequentialism appears to be a monist theory in Murphy’s sense: the same principle (of beneficence) applies to individuals as to institutions. Hence the dualist idea that is taken to underlie the present response to OD may not be justifiable in the case of consequentialism, whether or not OD can lead us to dualism. In response to this objection, the project argues that we should introduce a distinction between two kinds of division of labour. The first, a division of moral labour, is indeed one that consequentialism cannot appeal to since the division and the resulting dualism are grounded in a pluralism of values that consequentialism does not endorse. The second, an institutional division of labour, on the other hand, is something consequentialism can endorse.
Third, arguably, OD is most persuasive when we appeal to existing global problems. However, it might seem that the institutional approach is in trouble here since the relevant institutions, but not the demands on individuals are missing; hence, dualism cannot be appealed to in response to OD in this case. In response to this objection, the project argues that there are already several institutions that can be used for the purposes of fulfilling consequentialist requirements.