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Utilitarianism and Virtue

Author(s): John Kilcullen


Source: Ethics, Vol. 93, No. 3 (Apr., 1983), pp. 451-466
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
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Utilitarianism and Virtue*


John Kilcullen
A line of thought suggested by certain passages in Mill's writings' runs
as follows. Virtue should be regarded as an end in itself outranking even
happiness, because virtue so regarded guarantees certain modes of feeling
and conduct, and the benefits resulting from this guarantee make up
for what is lost in the odd cases in which virtue and happiness conflict.
Notice that benefits result from the guarantee, not only from the conduct
guaranteed. In this paper I will explore this theory in comparison with
certain other versions of utilitarianism. I will illustrate my argument by
reference to Mill, who, I believe, held substantially this theory; but exegesis
is not my present purpose.
I. THE UTILITY OF COMMITMENT
Virtue may guarantee fidelity to moral rules, or concern for ends, or
both; it may be impossible or inexpedient to reduce concern for an end
to rule. But for simplicity's sake I will set ends aside for the present and
consider virtue as a guarantee (not an absolute guarantee) of conformity
with rules. Other guarantees are possible, but for the present I will set
these aside also. By virtue, then, I mean in part a settled disposition of
character which causes a man or a woman to act according to certain
rules.
There are many possible codes of rules. For each rule, or variant of
a rule, there is another set of possible codes, consisting of all the other
possible codes with this rule or variant included. Every possible priority
rule or other device to resolve conflict between rules also gives rise to a
new set of possible codes. Among these many possibilities three kinds
are worth distinguishing: (1) codes which consist of some version of the
utility principle alone or with "summary"rules, without other ("secondary")
* I wrote a version of this paper while a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National
University. I am grateful for comments made on earlier versions by S. I. Benn, J. I. Kleinig,
G. W. Mortimore, and J. C. Smart, and by referees.
1. J. S. Mill, Utilitarianism, chap. 4, in J. S. Mill, CollectedWorks,ed. J. M. Robson et
al. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1963-), vol. 10, pp. 235, 239, and Logic, 6.12.7,
in CollectedWorks,vol. 8, p. 952. In this as in other points of ethics and political theory J. S.
Mill seems to have been influenced by Sir James Mackintosh; see his Miscellaneous Works
(London: Longman, 1846), vol. 1, pp. 194-95, 202-3, 246-47, 364-65, and vol. 3, p. 101.
Ethics 93 (April 1983): 451-466
?) 1983 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0014-1704/83/9303-0001$01.00
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rules;2 (2) those which include a set of secondary rules comprehensive


enough to decide every particular case arising in every department of
conduct; (3) those which include some secondary rules but not an absolutely
comprehensive set. The third category can be subdivided according to
the treatment of cases not covered by secondary rules: (3.1) they may all
be decided by direct application of the utility principle; or (3.2) some of
them may be decided by the utility principle, the rest being left unregulated
for the person concerned to act as he or she pleases; or (3.3) they may
all be left unregulated. For a world like ours the theory I am exploring
will probably favor 3.2 or 3.3.
An important feature of the present theory is the connection it makes
between rules and guarantees. One possibility is to have no guarantee;
the person will "adopt" or "acknowledge" or "subscribe to" some code,
perhaps the utility principle alone, but there will be no lasting cause
ensuring that it will be acted on throughout the future. Another possibility
is to have one single virtue, general benevolence we might call it, guaranteeing conformity with the utility principle. Another is to have a complex
of particular virtues, such as truthfulness and fidelity to undertakings,
guaranteeing conformity with a correspondingly complex code.
Now imagine a utilitarian assessing the possible combinations of
codes and guarantees to choose the one which from his or her point of
view is best, that is, the one which maximizes general happiness. The
following points would need to be considered. (a) Among the consequences
of commitment to a code are the acts and omissions the code requires.
They may be beneficial in most cases; but if the code includes secondary
rules, there may be cases in which the code forbids the act with the best
consequences or requires some other act instead, and then there will be
some loss. (b) There are the costs of establishing the guarantee-of
developing the virtue if one does not have it already, of preserving it,
of manifesting it (since to gain benefits under d below the guarantee
must be manifest). (c) Virtue may make some actions more satisfying to
the agent, thereby increasing their good consequences,3 and other actions
less satisfying. But in addition-and this is distinctive of the present
theory-there are consequences which follow not from the acts which
virtue guarantees, but from the fact that they are guaranteed. These are
of two kinds: (d) if other people know they can rely on someone to act
in certain ways, then they may omit costly acts of conflict or precaution,
2. By a secondary rule I mean any rule other than the utility principle and summary
rules. A summary rule is one which gives the same directions in each case it covers as the
utility principle would, or near enough for losses usually to be made up for by economies
of calculation; see J. Rawls, "Two Concepts of Rules," PhilosophicalReview 64 (1955): 332, pp. 19-24. Whenever I refer to the utility principle understand "or summary rules."
3. See R. M. Adams, "Motive Utilitarianism," Journal of Philosophy 73 (1976): 46781. The thesis of this article, in my terms, is that advantages under c may make up for
losses under a; since these are advantages to the agent, the "motive" theory is available to
egoists as much as to utilitarians.

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and they will be readier to cooperate with him and readier to act beneficially
in ways which might have seemed too risky if he had been less predictable,
and a sense of security, trust, and friendship are themselves good;4 (e)
someone who can rely on his own future feelings and conduct can trust
himself in things which lead into temptation, or require persistence. But
(f ) some of the consequences of reliability may be bad: one may trust
oneself too much, or others may, or they may take advantage of one's
predictability to do something harmful. Finally, (g) there are certain
advantages in leaving people free to act as they please unregulated by
moral principles, so for every code there is a cost arising from the loss
of some liberty.
Which combination of code and guarantee is best? Consider the
code consisting of the utility principle alone combined with no guarantee.
The costs under a and b of the above headings are nil, but so are the
advantages under other headings. Take d: if someone says he intends to
act according to the utility principle alone, even assuming that we can
believe that this intention is real, can we be sure it will be acted upon
throughout the future? Only if we believe it to be rooted in some lasting
disposition (we may already know him to be benevolent); but this is not
the combination with no guarantee. So consider, second, the combination
consisting of the utility principle alone guaranteed by general benevolence.
The cost under b is higher, but there are more advantages under d.
Someone committed to the utility principle is to some extent predictable;
he will not be selfish, and if his beliefs about his situation and the likely
effects of various actions are known it may be possible to predict what
he will do. But reliable information about his beliefs may be difficult to
get, since the utility principle may not in every case prescribe truthfulness
and may even prescribe some deceptive stratagem. Consider, third, a
code with secondary rules of truthtelling and keeping faith guaranteed
by the corresponding virtues. There will be costs under a as well as bf,
and g, but there will be increased advantages under c, d, and e. In comparison with this, other combinations including more secondary rules
would have the advantage of reducing communication costs (there would
be less need for information about beliefs and for undertakings), but
otherwise the advantages under d might not increase much while the
costs under a, b, and g would.
Which combination is best depends upon the person's circumstances,
or, I will say, on his or her "world"-that is, not the circumstances of
some particular act but the context of a whole life. Utilitarians will not
spend too much time in working out which combination of code and
guarantee is best for their respective worlds since returns on this activity
soon diminish rapidly. As I remarked earlier, for a world like ours I
4. See Mill, Logic, 6.11.6 (1843 ed.), CollectedWorks,vol. 8, p. 1154; J. S. Mill to G.
Grote, January 10, 1862, in CollectedWorks,vol. 15, p. 762; On Liberty,chap. 4, in Collected
Works,vol. 18, p. 277.

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expect they would conclude in favor of a code of type 3.2 or 3.3,5 guaranteed
by some particular virtues, notably truthfulness and fidelity to undertakings.
If this is the conclusion, then utilitarians will do the actions which create,
preserve, and manifest the appropriate virtues; they may have them in
some measure already from upbringing, since a similar line of argument
would justify the inculcation of virtue by a utilitarian parent or teacher.
I have imagined the utilitarian assessing not actions but possible
combinations of code and guarantee. This assessment can be translated
into terms of action; it is a decision whether to do the actions which
cause virtue. The consequences will include other actions some of which
might not satisfy the utility principle if assessed singly (see heading a
above). Commitment to a code is created and shown in other ways besides
acting in obedience to it, and some acts done in obedience to it do not
show commitment because they are not seen. So when the benefits of
the guarantee (mainly through effects upon confidence-heading
d) are
credited to the various acts from which they result, the appearance of
loss in some cases of obedience may not be removed; even when effects
on confidence are taken into account, some acts of obedience to the rules
which virtue guarantees may be reallyless good in their proper consequences
than other acts which could have been done instead, and therefore would
not satisfy the utility principle if assessed singly. Yet the acts which cause
virtue may satisfy the utility principle even when the losses from resultant
acts are taken into account. Developing virtue is in this respect like an
investment, in which present opportunities, and some future opportunities
also, are passed up for the sake of a better total outcome. Now I am
assuming that utilitarians can, without abandoning utilitarianism, approve
investments and roundabout methods; that they can assess the actions
making up an integrated course of action not singly but together, by the
total outcome, allowing gains from some to offset (real) losses on others;
that is, that they can withhold judgment from some acts, regarding them
only as causes or consequences of others, even though in some sense
they are independent particular acts.6 On this assumption the theory I
am exploring is utilitarian.
Notice that the argument does not depend on the suggestion that
a single virtuous act is useless or less useful unless it forms part of a
practice, or unless other such acts will be done; "threshold effects" are
not essentially involved.7 The argument is not that there should be a
5. Mill favored a code with a limited set of secondary rules; see Logic, 6.11.6 (1843
ed.), in CollectedWorks,vol. 8, pp. 1154-55.
6. See Adams, p. 473.
7. See D. Lyons, Forms and Limits of Utilitarianism(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965),
p. 72. Assuming that some actions may count only as consequences, the theory I am
exploring satisfies Mill's remark that "the right way of testing actions by their consequences
is to test them by the natural consequences of the particular action, and not by those which
would follow if everyone did the same" (J. S. Mill to John Venn, April 14, 1872, in Collected
Works,vol. 17, p. 1881). The "general consequences" test was a familiar idea by Mill's day

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practice, but that someone, perhaps a single individual, should be believed


to have a disposition. Once he or she has done and said enough to create
that belief, the beneficial effects may follow even if the situation never
again arises for the disposition to issue in action (as when the disposition
is a deterrent), and even if no one else develops the same disposition (as
when someone in a special position, such as a king, cultivates a disposition
especially appropriate to that position, such as respect for the liberties
of the subject).
II. VIRTUE OR HYPOCRISY?
The benefits which compensate for the occasional sacrifice of happiness
to virtue depend mainly upon other people's beliefs. Secret virtue would
seldom satisfy the argument. Is it in fact an argument for a Machiavellian
policy of seeming virtuous without being so? To seem to be committed
to a code of secondary rules but always actually to do the act with the
best consequences will be the best utilitarian policy, when it is possible.
In some circumstances it may be possible, and then the argument supports
hypocrisy. But if other people are shrewd judges of character, hypocrisy
may not be enough to produce the beliefs from which the main compensating advantages result. To win the trust of experienced people it
may be necessary to manifest a state of character which is: difficult to
counterfeit; enduring; not much affected by calculations of the advantage
of violating the code, or by the presence or absence of observers; and a
strong enough influence to overcome contrary motives, at least usually.
(Add these points to what "virtue" means in the present theory.) These
conditions exclude the possibility of seeming to be committed to the code
but actually doing the best act. If others are reasonably shrewd, to achieve
the good consequences of being believed to be committed it may be
necessary to be genuinely committed, so that one will actually obey the
code even in some cases in which a forbidden act would have better
results.
This should not be confused with the common act-utilitariantreatment
of confidence. An act-utilitarianwill follow a rule even when some forbidden
act would have better consequences if this is necessary to preserve or
foster other people's confidence in him, and if the benefits from their
confidence will offset the difference between the forbidden act and the
best act allowed by the rule; and then, of course, the forbidden act would
not really have better consequences -its consequences only seem better
(e.g., G. Berkeley, "Passive Obedience," in Worksed. A. A. Luce and T. E. Jessop [London:
Nelson, 1953], vol. 6, pp. 17-46; W. Paley, Works[London: Rivington, 1830], vol. 3, p. 53;
J. Austin, LecturesonJurisprudence[London: Murray, 1879], vol. 1, p. 111), and Mill himself
sometimes uses it (Utilitarianism,chap. 2, par. 19, in CollectedWorks,vol. 10, p. 220, "Whewell,"
in CollectedWorks,vol. 10, pp. 181-82). But on the present theory it is irrelevant unless
my action will cause everyone to do the same, or unless I am committed to a rule against
actions that would not meet this test; such a rule might have value as a guarantee that I
would not give myself secret privileges, but it would have heavy costs under heading a.

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when effects on confidence are overlooked. But if it is known or suspected


that someone will break a rule in secret, or even openly when the advantages
are great or the need for confidence small, then confidence in him must
already be weakened, even if he has never actually broken the rule. To
secure confidence it may be necessary to be genuinely committed by
some enduring character trait not much affected by secrecy or by calculations of advantage. The argument, then, is not that it might be
expedient to obey the rules when people are watching but that it might
be expedient to preserve or develop a state of character which guarantees
that we will obey the rules even when no one is watching. Veracity is
one of the first virtues likely to be justified by this line of argument, and
as soon as it is, a Machiavellian pretense of other virtues is ruled out.
But not altogether; self-deception and the subtler forms of hypocrisy
remain a risk. To be conscious of the reactions of fallible observers must
always be to some extent corrupting. If the only observer were God,
friendly but infallible, there would be an incentive to searching selfcriticism and genuine virtue. But even for religious people God is not
the only observer who counts: they are concerned with witness, example,
scandal; they make friends, allay fears, reassure the diffident, and engage
in many other activities which involve winning trust. Every morality, no
matter what its basis, encourages or allows such things. As long as it
matters to any extent and for any reason what other people think, or
what one's fallible self thinks, then hypocrisy and self-deception are a
danger: consider George Eliot's Bulstrode in Middlemarch.
Veracity guarantees the genuineness of other virtues. There are also
"secondary"or "auxiliary"virtues which protect the genuineness of virtue,
some of which have no convenient name. There is frankness: a disposition
to reveal one's true mind even without being directly questioned. Another
is a certain independence of the opinions of others: a determination to
satisfy oneself first, then those who share the same ideals, and then others.
Another is a disposition to self-criticism, so that the concern to satisfy
one's own judgment does not degenerate into self-deceiving narcissism.
Unfortunately the secondary virtues are also corruptible. Frankness may
be selective and consciously intended to win trust; selective self-criticism
may be a diversionary tactic of self-deception; an attitude of indifference
to the opinions of others may be assumed in the knowledge that it will
make a good impression. None of the defenses is impregnable, although
together they may reduce the risk. A shrewd judge of character will know
to look for the auxiliary virtues and will know that even a substantially
virtuous person may do a little faking.
To be completely genuine the commitment must be to virtue for its
own sake,8 and not for the sake of effects upon observers. Mill claims
8. Sir James Mackintosh noted the utility of auxiliary virtues ("useful habits which,
being securities to Virtue, become themselves virtues") and the need to cultivate virtue for
its own sake (Mackintosh, vol. 1, pp. 246-47, 195).

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that a utilitarian can and should recognize the utility of desiring virtue
disinterestedly as an end in itself. But the argument I am exploring,
borrowed from Mill, paradoxically recommends disinterested commitment
for its effects. This calls for a sharp distinction between justification and
motive: the utilitarian needs to be motivated by a desire for virtue as an
end in itself, while believing that this desire is justified by its consequences.
Even if this is psychologically possible, as I believe it is, the argument
will notjustify completely genuine virtue. The more one's associates know
about possible forms of deviousness, the more virtue will have to be
genuine to win their trust. It might be possible to find less knowing
associates, or to go in for things which do not need close contact or much
trust; the argument justifies genuine virtue only when it is worthwhile
to associate closely with shrewdjudges of character, and since they remain
fallible the justification even then remains incomplete. But those who
hold theories which purport to justify completely genuine virtue do not
themselves actually have it, because they too, for various reasons, care
what fallible observers think. There is not much difference between a
utilitarian who can never quite justify genuine virtue and a Stoic who
can never quite attain it.
ILL.VIRTUE AND OTHER GUARANTEES
Earlier I set aside concern for ends, and also other possible guarantees
besides virtue; it is time to take these into account and to put the argument
into a more general context. There is an obvious likeness between this
theory and Hobbes's, which recommends not virtue but some political
institution. My general term for what such theories are about is "guarantee,"
meaning some state of affairs from which it can be inferred that one will
probably not do certain things (for example, because it is out of one's
power, or difficult or costly); other examples are bonds, deposits, and
the penalties which sanction a contract-anything which ties one's hands
or closes off some options. Anyone who enters a legally enforceable
contract, for example, voluntarily subjects himself to penalties if he acts
in certain ways that might otherwise have served his purposes, and he
does so because he thinks that benefits likely from the guarantee will
make up in the end for the disadvantages of constraint. Setting up a
guarantee belongs to a wider class of actions, those which form part of
integrated courses of action.9 Now let us generalize Hobbes's argument.
Universal selfishness is not an essential premise and a political institution
need not be the conclusion. The war of every man against every man
could arise among fanatical idealists if they disagreed (or merely thought
some of them might think they might disagree) about their ideals or
about the implementation of a common ideal. Unfanatical idealists might
9. Other members of this class include "bridge-burning" strategies, which also include
acts inexpedient (or "irrational")considered singly. See T. C. Schelling, The Strategyof Conflict
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1960), pp. 17-19.

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come into mild conflict or be less willing to cooperate, and all conflict
and noncooperation results in evil or loss of good. So if any sort of
practical disagreement is (or might be thought to be) possible, it may
serve one's purposes (whatever they are) to offer some sort of guarantee.
Some guarantees, though not all, provide sanctions or incentives to
make some options less or more attractive to the calculating decision
maker. Sanctions may be political, popular, religious, or moral, to follow
Bentham's classification; they may attach to standing rules, or they may
be attached ad hoc to particular actions by means of such devices as
contracts, promises, and oaths. Hobbes's argument shows the utility of
political sanctions for standing rules, Hume's argument about promises
shows the utility of attaching the popular sanction to particular acts. The
usefulness of the religious sanction is presupposed by the practice of law
courts, in which jurors and witnesses take oaths; it has the advantage
over political and popular sanctions that it checks even secret violations
and violations by persons too powerful to fear the law or public opinion;
God is mighty and knows even secret acts and thoughts. The moral
sanction has similar advantages and acts also on people without religious
beliefs.
The moral sanction is perhaps not a sanction at all. What the term
suggests is that a person may be deterred from wrongdoing by thinking
of the pangs of guilt to follow, as he might stay away from the dentist
for fear of the pain. This seems unrealistic; he would feel guilty because
he believes that the act is wrong, and this belief influences him now apart
from anticipations of guilt. Similarly with the treatment of the pleasures
of doing right as an incentive: if a person takes pleasure in doing what
is right it is because he believes it to be right, and this belief may be
enough to explain the action. Sanctions and incentives are brought into
play by some other person, who can withhold them when it is expedient.
Moral condemnation by one's own conscience is not like this; it would
be strange to say, "I see I have done wrong, but is it expedient to inflict
moral sanctions on myself?"
Virtue, at all events, is not a sanction but a guarantee of another
sort. A sanction operates by entering into calculation: if I do this thing,
I will suffer penalties; is it worth it? Virtue preempts calculation. The
virtuous person may know quite well how the calculation goes (in fact,
I will argue later that virtue should not blind a person to consequences);
he may know, for example, that the pangs of guilt would not qua pain
outweigh the advantages of the act. But the decision does not depend
upon calculation; he does not seriously consider violating the rules which
virtue guarantees. The guarantee consists in being the sort of person
who coolly disregards the advantages of wrongdoing. Similarly with secondary ends:10 someone committed to such an end does not calculate
10. By a "secondary" end I mean anything other than the general happiness which
is sought not merely as a means. The "primary"end is the general happiness, concern for

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the pleasure or other results of achieving it, as if it were merely a means


to those benefits, but treats it as an end in itself. In comparison with
sanctions (including the moral sanction, if there is such a thing) virtue
has the advantage of being relatively independent in any particular case
of the state of one's feelings at the time. It is the empirical counterpart
of Kant's Good Will, a settled resolve to do what is right because it is
right independently of the incentives even of moral feeling:
... A person of confirmed virtue, or any other person whose purposes
are fixed, carries out his purposes without any thought of the pleasure
he has in contemplating them, or expects to derive from their fulfilment; and persists in acting on them, even though these pleasures
are much diminished by changes in his character or decay of his
passive sensibilities....

[I]t is because of the importance

to others

of being able to rely absolutely on one's feelings and conduct, and


to oneself of being able to rely on one's own, that the will to do
right ought to be cultivated into this habitual independence."
("Absolutely" is an exaggeration; every guarantee costs something, so
the optimal guarantee will be less than absolute.)
Sanctions and incentives, once they exist, fit the scheme of act-byact calculation,12 but virtue does not: its utility is as part of an integrated
course of action. In some cases the sacrifice of happiness to virtue (under
heading a) may be only apparent, since the pleasures of virtue and the
anticipated pains of the moral sanction (heading c) may be enough to
make the virtuous act best even if assessed singly. But if virtue is independent of pleasure and pain there may be cases in which this is not
true; and yet, because of advantages under d and e, there may be a
utilitarian justification for virtue, assuming that utilitarians may judge
an integrated course of action by its total outcome. If they may not, then
neither can they set up and maintain a system of sanctions and incentives:
once such a system exists, act-by-act calculation may justify conformity,
but to set it up needs acts which compete with other acts which must
generally be better, if acts setting up the system must be judged singly
and cannot be credited with the improved consequences of decisions
made under its influence. The same reasoning applies to guarantees of
any sort. So if utilitarians can approve the establishment of any sort of
which is guaranteed by the virtue of benevolence. On secondary ends seeJ. S. Mill, "Bentham,"
in CollectedWorks,vol. 10, pp. 95-96, 110-11, Utilitarianism,chap. 4, in CollectedWorks,vol.
10, p. 236, Logic, 6.12.7, in CollectedWorks,vol. 8, p. 952, and Autobiography,ed. J. Stillinger
(London: Oxford University Press, 1969), pp. 85-86. Virtue is a secondary end, as well
as a guarantee of obedience to rules and of concern for certain other ends; one of the
things a virtuous person aims at for its own sake is virtue-to be more perfect and to
persevere.
11. Mill, Utilitarianism,chap. 4, in CollectedWorks,vol. 10, pp. 238-39.
12. See R. E. Sartorius, Individual Conductand Social Norms (Encino, Calif.: Dickenson
Publishing Co., 1975), esp. pp. 62-68. This and other act-utilitarian treatments of sanctions
do not seem to consider thejustification of the acts needed to set up sanctioning institutions.

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sanctions or guarantees, they can approve the cultivation of virtue. Now


if virtue is a fixed purpose independent of pleasure and pain, we need
not accept the description utilitarians sometimes give of the conscientious
person who usefully shrinks from the pangs of guilt, recoils in horror,
refuses to look, feels guilty about breaking the rules even when rationally
convinced that an exception is justified-a poor anxious creature no selfrespecting man or woman would wish to be. Virtue is a calm state of
mind, a quiet purposiveness, a settled willingness to act on rules or toward
ends critically accepted, not troubled by even the clearest perception of
the advantages of an occasional deviation; in which there is nothing
irrational, assuming compensating advantages from the guarantee such
a disposition gives.
To return to the utilitarian assessment of possible combinations of
codes and guarantees. What I said earlier was oversimplified. The utilitarian
will consider, for some parts of the code or for all of it, guarantees other
than virtue; perhaps in some worlds the best combination will not include
virtue at all, though in our world I believe it will. I will use "moral
guarantee" to refer to the moral sanction or virtue or both, and "morality"
to refer to those rules and ends ("ideals")which are backed by the moral
guarantee, or to those together with the guarantee. Now it may be best
for guarantees to reinforce one another at some points-for example,
for those who administer the political sanction to be held to their task
by morality and public opinion, and for public opinion on their performance to appeal to morality. It might sometimes be best to guarantee
important rules in every way, so that violations are illegal, unpopular,
irreligious, and immoral. Some theologians and philosophers once labored
to attach the sanctions of morality and religion to every act of government
and to persuade governments to sanction all the rules of religion and
morality. But for this there is no utilitarian justification in our world, or,
I believe, in theirs: motorists who exceed the speed limit need not believe
they have done something immoral, though morality and other guarantees
may be needed to keep the traffic police and courts to their proper task.
If morality, public opinion and the law together guarantee certain basic
rules, then other rules can be left to be guaranteed by morality alone,
or by the law alone;13 and no rule need be guaranteed absolutely.
In a world like ours I would expect the best combination to include
certain virtues. Some will orient a person toward secondary ends the
pursuit of which cannot usefully be reduced to rule, or not completely;14
for example, frankness and generosity. Others will guarantee basic rules;
13. Notice that, on this account, that the act be morally wrong is not a necessary
condition for the imposition of other sanctions. Legal condemnation does not presuppose
moral condemnation.
14. On duties of imperfect obligation, see Mill, Utilitarianism, chap. 5, in Collected
Works, vol. 10, p. 247; and Immanuel Kant, The MetaphysicalPrinciples of Virtue, trans.
J. Ellington (New York: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1964), pp. 48-49.

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for example, veracity, fidelity to undertakings, justice. Other rules will


be left to law or public opinion. There will also be a measure of liberty.
The best code is not likely to include enough secondary rules to decide
every case. The remaining cases might be decided by direct application
of the utility principle, but at least in some cases it might be better to
leave people at liberty to do as they please. And it might be best if they
guarantee to leave one another at liberty. So I expect that the best code
for our world will include secondary rules protecting an area of liberty,
and in particular a moral rule against condemning an act as morally
wrong unless it violates some secondary rule of morality. 15 The argument
for such a rule is that, although in some cases something will be lost by
not using morality to exact the best possible act, these losses are more
than made up for by the results of guaranteeing a measure of liberty.
How much liberty this rule protects depends of course on the comprehensiveness of the code of secondary rules of morality; the utility of
liberty is a reason for keeping the code in check (see heading g, Sec. I
above).
IV. MORALITY AND EXPEDIENCY
I will say that an act is "morally wrong" if it deserves moral condemnation,
"morally permissible" if it does not, and "a moral duty" if its omission
would be morally wrong; these definitions seem close to ordinary usage,
but they can be taken as stipulations. I will also stipulate (departing from
ordinary usage) that something is "inexpedient" if another possible act
would contribute more to the general happiness, and "expedient"otherwise.
Now suppose that in a certain world the best combination of code and
guarantees includes (1) secondary rules which yield in some cases other
decisions than the utility principle would if applied directly; (2) a secondary
moral rule to the effect that only violation of a secondary moral rule
warrants moral condemnation; (3) a rule making moral considerations
practically conclusive, at least to the extent that what is morally wrong
is simply not to be done no matter what reasons there are for doing it.
Then there may be cases in which (a) it is a moral duty to do something
inexpedient, or (b) something expedient is wrong and not to be done,16
15. As I interpret it, Mill's principle of liberty forbids penalties except for violation
of some secondary rule-some "definite" or "assignable" duty, not some general duty to
do as much good as possible. Mill does not specify the code of duties, assuming the
substantial utility of the current code, but argues that "what are called" duties to self should
be excluded, leaving only duties to others. See my paper, "Mill on Duty and Liberty,"
AustralianJournal of Philosophy59 (1981): 290-300.
16. According to D. Lyons, Mill values and prefers the more beneficent above the less
beneficent act but does not hold that the latter must be wrong; see his "Mill's Theory of
Morality," No&s 10 (1976): 101-20, pp. 103-4. Similarly L. W. Sumner outlines a theory
according to which when good and right conflict we should prefer the best; in such a case
it will be justifiable, though not a duty, to do what is wrong; see his "The Good and the
Right," CanadianJournal of Philosophy5, suppl. (1979): 99-114, p. 112. On my account the

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or (c) it is permissible to do-and wrong for anyone to condemn morallysomething inexpedient, even without the excuse that duty requires it.
So a gap opens between expediency and morality. The science of
expediency (the "Art of Life," as Mill calls it) is architectonic, but moral
rules have overriding authority in the particular case. That is, in choosing
a code and its guarantees we are considering a question of expediencythe conclusion is not that we have a moral duty to guarantee a certain
code, but that it is expedient to do so; but if the best code includes 1-3
above, then conclusions a-c follow, and in the particular case expediency
gives way to morality. It is expedient that it should:"7 the argument for
1-3 is that what is lost in the odd case when morality requires or allows
the inexpedient is made up for by the benefits which result from guaranteeing some duties and some liberty. The judgment of expediency in
the particular case, even though it is overridden, remains true: as I
argued at the end of Section I, the act which morality requires may be
really less beneficial in its proper effects than some other act that could
be done instead. But to guarantee to obey moral rules which sometimes
require really inexpedient acts, and to guarantee moral liberty for some
such acts, may be expedient because of the guarantee's other effects.
Similar remarks apply to secondary ends. If the best combination of
code and guarantees includes virtues which guarantee not obedience to
rules but concern for ends, then some moral judgments will be expressed
in terms not of right and wrong but of goodness or praiseworthiness,18
or of the specific virtue involved (generosity, etc.). A morally permissible19
act is morally good (praiseworthy, generous, etc.) insofar as it furthers
an end supported by virtue. Just as secondary rules sometimes require
an inexpedient act, so an act may be morally good as furthering an end
other than the general happiness, with respect to which it may be inexpedient. So there is a gap not only between expediency and moral rightness
consideration that the act or omission would be morally wrong is practically conclusive
(that is, conclusive for practice): if the act with best consequences is morally wrong it is
not (morally) preferable and is not to be done; and the less beneficial act may be a moral
duty, omission of which is wrong.
17. Lyons asks ("Mill'sTheory of Morality,"p. 119): "If happiness is really Mill's ultimate
end, how better to express it but by refusing to subordinate it to any conflicting values?"
My answer is that the total happiness may be greater if we do not try to maximize the
production of happiness in each single act but obey certain rules and seek certain ends in
a principled way.
18. On positive moral worth and moral praise of actions beyond duty, see J. S. Mill,
Auguste Comteand Positivism, in CollectedWorks,vol. 10, pp. 337-39. On the relationships
between "right and wrong," "good and evil," notice that between the members of each pair
there is middle ground. Often "right" connotes duty ("I must do what is right . . ."); but
there are morally permissible acts (not wrong) which are not duties. Similarly a morally
permissible act may not be positively good or praiseworthy and yet not be evil.
19. By 3, the judgment that an act is wrong is practically conclusive: it is not to be
done no matter what reasons there are for it-even if it furthers some ideal end. It would
seem inappropriate to call a morally impermissible act good.

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but between expediency and moral goodness.20The "Artof Life"recognizes


the expediency of orientation to secondary ends, despite the fact that
this will sometimes lead to inexpedient acts.
But all of this depends on suppositions of fact. In some worlds the
best combination might not include secondary rules and ends and particular
virtues; it might consist of the utility principle alone, guaranteed by
universal benevolence. Then morality and expediency would coincide:
the morally permissible act, the morally good act, and the expedient act
would be identical.
V. INDIVIDUALITY, INTELLIGENCE, AND DISCRETION
The argument I have been pursuing assumes that acts which make up
an integrated course of action are to be judged not singly but by the
total outcome; and I believe that for some worlds it will justify a course
of action including some acts inexpedient in isolation (namely, some acts
which develop virtue and some virtuous acts), losses on these being offset
by the other consequences of virtue. If this is a version of rule-utilitarianism
there are some obvious differences from other versions.21 It does not
begin by postulating that particular cases are to be judged by secondary
rules, and it is not motivated by a desire to approximate conventional
morality; the use of secondary rules is a conclusion argued for on grounds
of utility. It does not require every particular case to be decided by
secondary rules; it may be expedient to leave some to be judged by the
utility principle direct, or to free choice. Several other differences are
summed up in the words of my heading.
First individuality: it is not necessary, on this theory, for everyone
to adopt the same code, or to adopt the code everyone would adopt if
they were rational and informed utilitarians or in some hypothetical
situation. Everyone should offer the guarantees appropriate to his or
her own actual and individual situation. The argument is that it is expedient
for A to guarantee to others that he will obey a certain code, because
then B and others will feel secure, refrain from conflict, cooperate, undertake beneficial projects of their own, and so forth, and the benefits
will outweigh what it costs for A to provide the guarantee. Nothing in
this implies that others should offer similar guarantees; the argument
20. On this point my theory differs from that which L. W. Sumner presents, which
treats goodness as equivalent to what I call expediency, conduciveness to the general
happiness; see Sumner, pp. 111-14.
21. On the points which follow, see D. Braybrooke's illuminating article, "The Choice
between Utilitarianisms,"AmericanPhilosophicalQuarterly4 (1967): 28-38; Braybrooke shows
how a single basic utilitarianism becomes act- or rule-utilitarianism when applied in different
worlds. Act-utilitarians might decide to individuate acts by criteria according to which what
I call an integrated course of actions counts as a single act, in an ad hoc attempt to save
the appearance of act-by-act assessment for all possible worlds. This would not show that
rule-utilitarianism is just act-utilitarianism after all but reduce both to the original undifferentiated utilitarianism. But to me the distinction seems worth preserving.

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would have to be reiterated for B, C, etc., successively, and it might not


be true of each of them that the benefits outweigh the cost of the guarantee.
If there are specialized roles, some rules and some virtues (or other
guarantees) may be more important for some than for others. If there
is a diversity of moral traditions then the cost for some people to offer
a certain guarantee (e.g., by some modification of character) may be
higher than for others. For some rules part of the benefit hoped for
from their adoption may be that others will adopt them too. Such rules
might be adopted by contract, but they need not be: they might be
adopted unilaterally by some who wished not to be objects of precaution,
in the hope that others would follow suit for the same reason. In general
the theory does not envisage unanimity.22 Mutual confidence requires
knowledge of what rules each person can be relied on to keep, not that
all keep the same rules, and confidence may be of value even if it is not
mutual.
Second, intelligence. The theory does not require blindness to the
undesirable consequences of the current code, or forbid revision. The
morality one was brought up on is the starting point, but as circumstances
change and consequences are reassessed the code should also change.
Virtue preempts calculation in the sense that particular decisions do not
depend upon calculation, but it need not prevent calculation. If it is
indeed true that the benefits resulting from the guarantee compensate
for what is lost in the odd case then the virtuous person will coolly
disregard the loss, but if it ceases to be true, or never was true, nothing
should prevent him from becoming aware of it. Now dispositions and
other guarantees cannot be simply turned off or redirected at will, and
anything that could be cannot serve as a guarantee. But in time, as
experience presses in, perhaps with effort, and not without some outward
signs of change, dispositions and other guarantees can be modified. Outward signs of change are important: we can rely on people whose dispositions we know may change provided we believe we would notice the
change in good time. Truthfulness and fidelity to undertakings are important also, as basic parts of a flexible character: if we believe that
someone will not deceive us about his moral code and will meet our
legitimate expectations or compensate us if he cannot, then we can rely
on him even though he regards his whole code as revisable, provided
we believe that he is not likely to revise the rules of truthfulness and

22. One of the reviewers for this journal draws attention to the advantages of committing
oneself to the rules to which one's neighbors are committed and remarks that I exaggerate
the utility of personal variation. I do not mean that variation itself has utility (though
perhaps it has), merely that in some situations the commitments of individuals who calculate
the utilities correctly will be various. Their calculations should take account of costs of
communication (see Sec. I above), which are reduced by consensus. A person's "actual and
individual situation" includes the commitments others have made or would make in response
to his.

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fidelity suddenly and drastically. Guarantees cannot and need not be


absolute and eternal.
Third, discretion. On this theory individuals may make exceptions
or on-the-spot revisions in especially hard cases which they could not
reasonably be thought to have foreseen in adopting the code. The code
will never be perfect, and unforeseen cases may arise in which the loss
from obedience to the code may be extreme. The possibilities are: to
revise the rule on the spot without prior notice; to obey it now but
announce a change for the future; and to make an exception for this
case.23 Virtue (fidelity to implicit undertakings) should guarantee that
the first and third possibilities are not chosen too readily, because of
effects on confidence; but in extreme cases the threatened damage may
be too serious to obey the rule now and change it later, and then virtue
should allow revision or exception without any residual feeling of guilt.
Predictability in unpredictable cases is not necessary or useful. The optimal
level of confidence is less than absolute; to guarantee never to make an
exception might lead to excessively harmful acts in some cases, and the
difficulty of foreseeing such cases would make people excessively reluctant
to commit themselves to generally useful rules.
Rule-utilitarian schemes sometimes postulate the adoption of rules
the universalization of which would have the best consequences, or the
rules which would be agreed upon by an intelligent community of utilitarians without moral preconceptions (except for commitment to the
utility principle), or the rules as much like the code of the ideal community
as the actual community could be persuaded to accept.24 The theory I
have been exploring differs from schemes like these, I believe for the
better. It envisages not merely the "formal adoption" or the "following"
of rules but the cultivation of a character which is an effectual commitment;
since the commitment has its roots in childhood impressions the rules
must have some continuity with the customary morality, but they need
not be identical with it; how it compares with the set of rules the uni23. According to Mill, the rules of justice are "more absolute" than any other rules,
but even to these there are exceptions; Mill, Utilitarianism,chap. 5, in CollectedWorks,vol.
10, pp. 255, 259. Compare his comment on Berkeley's "rule-utilitarianism": ". . . The writer
was misled by an exaggerated application of that cardinal doctrine of morality, the importance
of general rules. As it was acknowledged that the cases in which it is right to disobey the
laws or rebel against the Government are not the rule but the exception, Berkeley threw
them out altogether, for his moral rules admitted of no exceptions" (J. S. Mill, Dissertations
and Discussions [London: Parker, 1875], vol. 4, pp. 183-84). Notice that it is not "essential
... that the exception should be itself a general rule" (Mill, "Whewell," in CollectedWorks,
vol. 10, p. 183). True enough, when an exception is justified it will be justified in all
relevantly similar cases, but there may be no utilitarian justification for including a rule to
cover such cases in the code guaranteed by virtue; the guaranteed code need not purport
to cover every particular case.
24. See R. Brandt, "Toward a Credible Form of Utilitarianism," in Morality and the
Language of Conduct,ed. H. Castaneda and G. Nakhnikian (Detroit: Wayne State University
Press, 1963).

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verbalization of which would have the best consequences is irrelevant


except insofar as one's adoption of it will actually lead to its adoption by
others; the decision about rules is not made by or on behalf of the whole
community but by an individual, who may or may not expect that others
will make the same decision; the decision does not purport to be absolute
and final but is subject to revision and exception.
VI. CONCLUSION
If the line of thought explored in this paper is sound, there is an argument
in terms of its consequences for virtue: that is, for being the sort of man
or woman who can be relied on to act in certain ways even when one
can see advantages, even advantages to some ideal cause, in acting otherwise. This argument may be of some importance at a time when lying
and cheating are believed to be commonplace in business, education,
and government, and when in private life infidelity even for merely
selfish reasons is often taken lightly.
Although the argument is available to utilitarians and other consequentialists, it is not specifically consequentialist: it is available also to
those who deny (as I do myself) that every action is to be valued only
for its effects, as long as they acknowledge that some actions are to be
valued at least in part for their effects and that those may include actions
which develop and preserve useful dispositions.