Agents, patients, and obligatory self-benefit

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Consequentialism is often criticized for rendering morality too pervasive. One somewhat neglected manifestation of this pervasiveness is the obligatory self-benefit objection. According to this objection, act-consequentialism has the counterintuitive result that certain self-benefitting actions (e.g., investing one’s money for maximal expected return) turn out, ceteris paribus, to be morally obligatory rather than morally optional. The purposes of this paper are twofold. First, I consider and reject four strategies with which consequentialists might answer the obligatory self-benefit objection. Despite the apparent consequentialist credentials of these answers, none of these strategies is adequate because each fails to justify agents failing to benefit themselves when benefiting themselves would be otherwise required by the imperative that overall good meet a certain threshold. Second, I argue that no plausible consequentialist response to this objection is forthcoming because consequentialism denies the central axiological fact propelling this objection, namely, that the self possesses a normative architecture relating the self as agent and self as patient. This architecture, I propose, justifies the option not to benefit oneself.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-184
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Moral Philosophy
Issue number2
Early online date22 Mar 2014
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Mar 2014


  • consequentialism
  • self-interest
  • selfhood
  • moral agency

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