Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Anthony Skelton


This dissertation attempts to make contributions to normative ethics and to the history of philosophy. First, it contributes to the defense of consequentialist ethics against objections grounded upon the value of loving relationships. Secondly, it provides the first systematic account of John M. E. McTaggart’s (1866-1925) ethical theory and its relation to his philosophy of love.

According to (maximizing) consequentialist ethics, it is always morally wrong to knowingly do what will make the world worse-off than it could have been (i.e., had one chosen one of the other courses of action available to one at the time). Many consequentialists also recognize that love is one of the most important goods worth pursing for its own sake and so this implies a strong duty to promote love.

Recently, however, philosophers (such as Stocker, Cocking, Oakley, and Badhwar) have outlined what I call the “love-based objection.” It argues that consequentialism ought to be rejected on its own terms because a commitment to maximizing aggregate overall goodness precludes forming the kinds of commitments necessary for highly valuable loving relationships. Other philosophers (such as Railton and Mason), however, have argued that a particular kind of consequentialist theory (i.e., “sophisticated consequentialism”) that recognizes the intrinsic value of love and that restricts evaluations based on maximizing goodness to only the most fundamental realms of moral evaluation and guidance overcomes the love-based objection. While philosophers have indicated how to overcome the objection through sophisticated consequentialism, the task of constructing a plausible version of such a system is currently ongoing.

This dissertation argues that, more than fifty years before this contemporary debate started, McTaggart outlined a version of consequentialism called “Ideal Utilitarianism” that can (with some supplementation) overcome recent love-based objections in the way suggested by Railton and Mason. McTaggart’s work in moral philosophy, therefore, has a previously unrecognized relevance to contemporary issues in normative ethics and so his contributions ought to be considered alongside other, currently more prominent, ethicists of his day such as Hastings Rashdall and G. E. Moore.