Satisficing Consequentialism aims to capture the intuitive idea that we're not morally obligated to do the best possible, we merely need to do "good enough" (though of course it remains better to do better!). Ben Bradley, in 'Against Satisficing Consequentialism', argues convincingly against forms of the view which introduce the baseline as some utility level n that we need to meet. Such views absurdly condone the act of gratuitously preventing boosts to utility over the baseline n. But I think there is a better form that satisficing consequentialism can take. Rather than employing a baseline utility level, a better way to "satisfice" is to introduce a level of maximum demanded effort below which one straightforwardly maximizes utility. That is:
(Effort-based Satisficing Consequentialism) An act is permissible iff it produces no less utility than any alternative action the agent could perform with up to X effort.
Different theories of this form may be reached by fleshing out the effort ceiling, X, in different ways. It might be context-sensitive, e.g. to ensure (1) that it's never permissible to do just a little good when a huge amount of good could be achieved by an only slightly more effortful action; (2) that vicious people can't get away with doing little just because it would take a lot more effort for them to show the slightest concern for others; or (3) that your current effort ceiling takes into account your past actions, etc. I'll remain neutral on all those options for now.
To preempt one possible misreading, I should stress that this theory doesn't require (or even necessarily permit) you to "try hard" to achieve moral ends. That would be fetishistic. If you can achieve better results with less effort, then you're required to do just that! It merely places a ceiling on how much effort morality can demand from you. Within that constraint, the requirement is still just to do as much good as possible.
Some other features of the view worth flagging:
* Unlike traditional (utility baselines) satisficing accounts, it never condones going out of your way to make thing worse. Such action is rendered impermissible by the fact that there are better outcomes that you could just as easily -- indeed, more easily -- bring about (i.e. by doing nothing).
* It respects the insight that the "demandingness" of maximizing consequentialism cannot consist in its imposing excessive material demands on us, since the material burden on us is less than the material burden that non-consequentialism imposes on the impoverished (to remain without adequate aid). Instead, if there is an issue of "demandingness" at all, it must concern the psychological difficulty of acting rightly.
* It builds on the idea that there's no metaphysical basis for a normatively significant doing/allowing distinction. The only morally plausible candidate in the vicinity, it seems to me, is effortful willing.
* It provides a natural account of supererogation as going beyond the effort ceiling to achieve even better results. (As others noted in class, traditional utility-baseline forms of satisficing consequentialism have trouble avoiding the absurd result that lazing back in your chair might qualify as "going above and beyond the call of duty", if you have inferior alternative options that nonetheless exceed the utility baseline.)
So, all in all, this strikes me as by far the most promising form of satisficing consequentialism. Can anyone think of any obvious objections? How would you best flesh out the details (of how X gets fixed for any given situation)?
P.S. My next post will look at why we might be led to a view in this vicinity, over (or as a supplement to) straightforward scalar consequentialism.
[Update: Cross-posted to PEA Soup.]