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‘Can’ and consequentialism: An account of options

Edward Lee Abrams, University of Massachusetts Amherst


I am confronted with choices every day. In many cases, I have to make a decision as to which of several options I will pick. Generally, it seems to me as though I am free with respect to this choice. In many cases, the choice is genuinely morally important. These thoughts call to mind two interesting philosophical problems. The first is the problem of freedom and determinism. How can we be free in a world that seems to be governed by physical laws that entail how our bodies, brains and environment will change over time? The second is the problem of how we understand the notion of an alternative action. The ethical theories that fascinate me the most are those according to which the moral status of an action is dependent not only on the nature of that action, but also on the natures of the actions that I could have performed instead. Which of the myriad of unperformed actions count as my options, and how are these options evaluated in the context of an ethical theory? My approach to addressing these problems is to offer a general account of 'can' that works as an account specifically of the 'can' of agent power. After reviewing the relatively diverse literature on power and 'can,' I present my view and argue that it solves many interesting puzzles and has advantages over the accounts I have criticized.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Abrams, Edward Lee, "‘Can’ and consequentialism: An account of options" (2008). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3336967.