Taking Utilitarianism Seriously

Taking Utilitarianism Seriously cover

This book defends utilitarianism from six common objections—that it employs an impoverished account of the good, that it permits abhorrent actions, that it is too demanding, that it neglects the separateness of persons, that it is inadequate as an approach to political philosophy, and that it fails to give a plausible account of good decision making and of virtue.

I argue that utilitarian approaches to ethics and political philosophy contain the resources to respond to these objections, and more generally to account for the complexity of our ethical judgements. The book revises my previous account of pattern-based reasons, and presents novel accounts of moral rights, rightness, justice, and virtue.

This book was published by Oxford University Press in September 2019. You can see the Contents here and the abstract for each chapter here.

Paul Hurley reviewed it for the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews:

‘I have learned a great deal through engaging with Woodard’s arguments in this book; it is an important new contribution to debates concerning utilitarianism, and consequentialism more generally. The book delivers a spirited and often ingenious defense of one particular strain of utilitarianism, a defense that is at once refreshingly candid about the significant difficulties that must be faced, and audacious in its proposals for overcoming them.’

Luke Semrau reviewed it for the Journal of Value Inquiry:

‘Woodard’s Taking Utilitarianism Seriously is an ambitious work, offering, among other things, a novel account of reasons and rightness, a theory of moral rights and a related theory of justice, and a defense of democracy. It’s also measured. Much of the discussion is exploratory, and conclusions are qualified and tentative. Naturally, those with an interest in utilitarianism will find the book worthwhile. But they are, perhaps, not the target audience. Woodard’s proposal may be better understood as aimed at those who have already dismissed utilitarianism. The book serves as an invitation to reconsider its prospects.’

Lizzy Ventham reviewed it for Utilitas:

‘When I was reading this book, some non-utilitarian friends saw the title and joked about how good the book would have to be actually to make the theory viable for serious consideration. The task, then, is an ambitious one. But despite the difficulty of the challenge, Woodard does a good job . . . [The book] gives the reader the details and the arguments that come with putting forth a new theory, but it also manages to do much more. It gives the reader a tour of some of the most interesting areas of contemporary ethics—with stops at over-demandingness objections, the nature of well-being, and the nature of practical reasoning.’

Reasons, Patterns, and Cooperation

My first book, Reasons, Patterns, and Cooperation, was published by Routledge in 2008. In it I developed an account of pattern-based reasons. I am fortunate that the book received some generous reviews.

Brad Hooker reviewed the book for the publishers:

‘The philosophical content in this manuscript is highly sophisticated, packed with conceptual subtlety and innovation, with new arguments on nearly every page . . .  Woodard is advancing a moral theory that is both novel and plausible, which is a striking achievement, given how many people are trying and failing to do this.’

Tim Mulgan reviewed it in Mind:

‘This is an excellent, sophisticated, thought-provoking book. It makes a real contribution to a central issue in teleological ethics. Anyone interested in teleological ethics will learn a great deal from this book.’

Rob Lawlor reviewed it in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews:

‘[The] focus on pattern-based reasons (and also on the pluralist approach) seems to me to be an important contribution to moral theory . . .  Reasons, Patterns, and Cooperation offers a new theory that could be a candidate for the title of most plausible version of consequentialism.’

Mitch Parsell reviewed it in the Australasian Journal of Philosophy:

‘This beautifully concise monograph is an invaluable resource for those interested in pattern-based reasons, cooperation and pluralistic approaches in ethics. The book contains a range of resources for categorizing and evaluating ethical positions, and some tremendously interesting extensions of traditional thought experiments to illustrate the centrality of structural claims to ethics. I highly recommend it.’