Smart Consequentialism: Kantian Moral Theory and the (Qualified) Defense of Capitalism

38 Pages Posted: 22 Jun 2017

See all articles by Richard Epstein

Richard Epstein

New York University School of Law

Date Written: January 1, 2014


Moral philosophers have often grappled with defining rights and duties without looking to the overall consequences of certain rules. The leading defender of that position is Immanuel Kant, whose moral theory talks about how to universalize given norms without regard to their consequences. In this essay I claim that the Kantian standards are met at the macro level by the general system of welfare economics that relies on either Paretian or Kaldor-Hicks measures of social welfare that in turn support competitive, rather than monopolistic, institutions. I then argue that the same approach applies to conduct such as killing, lying, and breaking promises, which are all better understood in the same general framework used to establish and defend the characteristic features of both legal and moral obligations. Finally, this theory explains why obligations of beneficence are rightly regarded as imperfect.

Keywords: Benevolence, Capitalism, Consequentialism, Deontology Fraud, Kantianism Presumptions, Self-Defense, Kaldor-Hicks & Pareto Efficiency, Promise Keeping

Suggested Citation

Epstein, Richard, Smart Consequentialism: Kantian Moral Theory and the (Qualified) Defense of Capitalism (January 1, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

Richard Epstein (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

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