Can a Consequentialist Be a Good Friend?

Consequentialism is often held to be self-defeating due to its incompatibility with intimate relationships. This objection is especially vivid with respect to friendship, highly voluntary character of which is believed to be irreconcilable with impersonal, teleological and maximizing attitudes. There seems to be hardly any place for the least necessary of loves in die-hard consequentialist’s motivational structure. Another problem arises from the fact that both consequentialist and her friend might feel alienated from their relationship in the face of its immediate termination upon realization that it no longer provides maximal good.

In the first three sections of this essay I am trying to clarify the notion of friendship. Next, I sketch a problem modern ethical theories face in accommodating friendship and then turn to discussion devoted specifically to consequentialism. Frank Jackson’s and Peter Railton’s takes on this objection are presented in the fifth section. In the final section I put forth a way of looking at friendship which I believe best reconciles it with the demands of consequentialism. It revolves around the idea that friendships are constitutive to agent’s personal identity, thus limiting the scope of possible actions even before she engages into consequentialist deliberation. A much overlooked fact that we represent certain persons as our friends exclusively in virtue of common past experiences is underlined in order to dodge the charge of partiality.