My kind of moral theory
Fantastic post - and I agree wholeheartedly with 99% of this! I would, however, love your take on the my intuitive justification for a more motive consequentialist approach, and why I think deontology and consequentialism are actually completely compatible beliefs if you start with consequentialism. Or maybe you aren't arguing against deontology so much as you're arguing for consequentialism? Anyways:
Motive consequentialism: It seems to me that there is a strong utilitarian argument for considering the intention behind actions if we consider consequences across time to be of equal importance. Showing intention to do bad is an indication that a person has a high probability to do more bad in the future, regardless of the present consequences of their actions (ie. a failed murder attempt resulting in the would-be-victim to accidentally meet the love of their life is consequentially a good thing). So attempted murder is bad, even though there are no bad outcomes.
Deontology: However it's impossible to determine intent definitively (with currently technology) so the best we can do as a society is to create rules that prevent actions that *typically* result in consequentially bad outcomes, like don't murder and don't steal. So rules make perfect sense, so long as they are created with consequentialist foundations (and I think most of the laws we have are). Then the only realistic way to operate throughout life is to judge people based on whether their actions follow these rules/principles. Every situation is, of course, case by case, so given the existence of a moral Oracle, we would not need rules at all as every action could be judged independently from a consequentialist point of view, but the fact is that no such thing exists. That's why courts exist, to create precedents for judging situations that are ambiguous given our current rules, ie. killing in self defense. So when it comes to practically judging the morality of an action, deontology makes the most sense.
So to me, the most sensible/practical view in normative ethics is deontology with rules created based on motive consequentialist foundations.
It just doesn’t seem to me that this targets the most plausible forms of deontology. Sure, do or allow distinctions might seem weird when the stakes are 5 whole lives, it makes more sense for smaller stakes. It seems worse to trip someone then to prevent them from being tripped. Both same outcome but the fact that it was done by someone does make it worse. Even if by a tiny amount or only in certain contexts. Same with just general deontic constraints. Sure, keeping a promise can’t nearly outweigh saving lives but perhaps it can have some force against it. After all, it’s clear that we’d rather they did both. If you can keep a promise to a loved one or betray it for a single utility to yourself, it doesn’t just seem like thats totally worth it, it seems obligatory in a way that chasing that 1 utility even in another context doesn’t.
Since that doesn't seem to be anything about it on the utilitarianism.net website either, I think it would be good to say something about how your debunking arguments work for virtue ethics as well as deontology. In this case, I think it's because utilitarianism can just swallow virtue ethics whole.
The main point is that utilitarianism focuses on completely different moral concepts than virtue ethics. It's not about right character, but about what's overall worth promoting or worthwhile. The general argument from good to ethicist goes that the other theories are too narrowly focused on actions and there's more broader focused on character, but in fact really utilitarianism is much broader than virtue ethics as you've explained If this category of thing, what's overall worthwhile, exists at all, then there's no real conflict with virtue ethics.
The real debate isn't about what the right actions/character is, but whether there's something higher that justifies which characters, dispositions, and actions are instrumentally right because they promote some outside good or not.
I'm pretty sure that's the actual difference between utilitarianism and virtue ethics, and it's super obvious. I don't get why most intro philosophy stuff misses this and says utilitarianism is a theory of right action like deontology but virtue ethics is broader.
On the virtue ethics view, some dispositions are just good in themselves. But to a utilitarian, this idea is just a straight up mistake, accidentally looking at things that are instrumental goods and thinking that they are fundamental. It doesn't even make sense because what does it mean for a disposition to be good in itself? You're not saying it should be promoted objectively or that the greatest expression of it is best. But that's because virtue ethics doesn't believe that this higher level of thing even exists.
So, the consequentialist has this easy way of taking in virtue ethics, right? They can just accept all the bits about practical wisdom, not getting too hung up on objective morality when deciding stuff, and focusing on growing virtues instead of using utilitarian calculations all the time. Consequentialists are cool with these ideas and treat them as fictional things that help them promote the overall objective good. It fits in pretty well with their own way of thinking.
But virtue ethicists aren't having it. They say the parts of virtue ethics that consequentialists treat as fictional are actually way more real and closer to how we think and live. Virtue ethicists want these ideas to guide our actions since they're more down-to-earth and relatable than those big, abstract moral principles. I think the virtue ethicist would probably draw some kind of appeal intuition or debunking argument here and say that there's just way less track record for the concept of what's overall worthwhile than for the concept of virtue. So we should treat that as the most real thing and the thing we derive our normative concepts from that, but then I'm not a virtue ethicist.
A pessimistic response: I have exactly the opposite methodological starting point as you. I feel extremely comfortable with the notions of "ought" or "right/wrong action," but I have no understanding of what it means for something to be "morally worthwhile." To the extent I can understand this concept, it is purely by attempting to reduce the notion to one about the strength of reasons that I ought to act in one way or another. [I would say the same about the idea of "the good."]
I suppose I would be somewhat relieved to find out that much debate in normative theory is based on philosophers talking at cross-purposes vis-a-vis "rightness" and "worthwhileness" (though It seems to me that plenty of consequentialist and utilitarian philosophers have felt very comfortable with making their theories into theories of right and wrong), but I don't know how debates in ethics should proceed if we're really starting at such different places.
I suspect some people feel that the options are either 100% utilitarian or something radically different. Your "utilitarian-ish" position falls outside this. They think something like, once you concede a slight bit of ground around the edges to deontology, view-point relativity, or value pluralism, you will quickly be forced to slip into a more standard common-sense morality. Why do people think this? I find that sort of thinking somewhat intuitive, but I don't see a good reason for it.
It does, thanks! Though I don't see immediately see why it matters at all what states of the world I or any other person hope for, independent of actions people take to bring them about. I guess I'll have to read your paper more carefully.