From beginner-friendly introductions to classic books on consequentialism, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s worth noting that there is no single best book on consequentialism The best book for you will depend heavily on your preferred learning style and the amount of time/energy you’re willing to spend reading. For example, if you tend to find classic works of philosophy difficult to understand, you might want to start with a short, beginner-friendly introduction. If you prefer more depth, you can choose a more comprehensive introduction or pick up one of the classics.
It’s also worth noting that it is not a list of personal recommendations. Personal book recommendations tend to be highly subjective, idiosyncratic, and unreliable. This list is part of a collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists which aim to provide a central resource for philosophy book recommendations. These lists were created by searching through hundreds of university course syllabi, internet encyclopedia bibliographies, and community recommendations. Links to the syllabi and other sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a broader range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best philosophy books on consequentialism in no particular order.
Consequentialism – Julia Driver
Category: Short Introduction | Length: 192 pages | Published: 2012
Publisher description: Consequentialism is the view that the rightness or wrongness of actions depend solely on their consequences. It is one of the most influential, and controversial, of all ethical theories. In this book, Julia Driver introduces and critically assesses consequentialism in all its forms.
After a brief historical introduction to the problem, Driver examines utilitarianism, and the arguments of its most famous exponents, John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, and explains the fundamental questions underlying utilitarian theory: what value is to be specified and how it is to be maximized. Driver also discusses indirect forms of consequentialism, the important theories of motive consequentialism and virtue consequentialism, and explains why the distinction between subjective and objective consequentialism is so important….
Consequentialism and Its Critics – Samuel Scheffler
Category: Anthology | Length: 304 pages | Published: 1988
Publisher description: This volume presents papers discussing arguments on both sides of the consequentialist debate. The distinguished contributors include John Rawls, Bernard Williams, Thomas Nagel, Derek Parfit, among others.
The Oxford Handbook of Consequentialism – Douglas W. Portmore
Category: Handbook | Length: 668 pages | Published: 2020
Publisher description: Consequentialism is a major moral theory in contemporary philosophy: it is the view that the only thing that matters when making moral decisions is the outcome of those decisions. Consequentialists hold that to morally assess an act, we must first evaluate and rank the various ways that things could turn out depending on whether it or some alternative act is performed. Whether we should perform that act thus depends on how its outcome ranks relative to those of its alternatives. Consequentialism rivals deontology, contractualism, and virtue ethics, but, more importantly, it has influenced contemporary moral philosophy such that the consequentialist/non-consequentialist distinction is one of the most central in normative ethics. After all, every plausible moral theory must concede that the goodness of an act’s consequences is something that matters, even if it’s not the only thing that matters. Thus, all plausible moral theories will accept that both 1) an act’s producing good consequences constitutes a moral reason to perform it, and 2) the better its consequences, the more of a moral reason there is to perform it. In this way, much of consequentialist ethical theory is important for normative ethics in general. …
An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation – Jeremy Bentham
Category: Classic | Length: 157 pages | Published: 1789
Publisher description: An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation is a book by philosopher Jeremy Bentham “originally printed in 1780, and first published in 1789.” Bentham’s “most important theoretical work,” it is where Bentham develops his theory of utilitarianism and is the first major book on the topic.
Utilitarianism – John Stuart Mill
Category: Classic | Length: 64 pages
Publisher description: How do we decide what is “good” and what is “bad”? According to the ethical theory of Utilitarianism, to do good is to “always perform that act, of those available, that will bring the most happiness or the least unhappiness.” By far the most widely read introduction to this theory, John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism is one of the most important and controversial works of moral philosophy ever written. …
The Demands of Consequentialism – Tim Mulgan
Category: Contemporary | Length: 326 pages | Published: 2002
Publisher description: Tim Mulgan presents a penetrating examination of consequentialism: the theory that human behavior must be judged in terms of the goodness or badness of its consequences. The problem with consequentialism is that it seems unreasonably demanding, leaving us no room for our own aims and interests. In response, Mulgan offers his own, more practical version of consequentialism–one that will surely appeal to philosophers and laypersons alike.
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Contemporary Consequentialism – Princeton University
- Contemporary Consequentialism – University of Kansas
- Modern Consequentialism – University of Bayreuth
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Consequentialism
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Consequentialism
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A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations – Lennox Johnson
Category: Reference | Length: 145 pages | Published: 2019
Publisher’s Description: A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is a collection of the greatest thoughts from history’s greatest thinkers. Featuring classic quotations by Aristotle, Epicurus, David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Michel Foucault, and many more, A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is ideal for anyone looking to quickly understand the fundamental ideas that have shaped the modern world.