Consequentialism

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Every advantage in the past is judged in the light of the final issue. --Demosthenes Demosthenes orator Louvre.jpg
Every advantage in the past is judged in the light of the final issue. —Demosthenes

Consequentialism is the class of normative ethical theories holding that the consequences of one's conduct are the ultimate basis for any judgment about the rightness or wrongness of that conduct. Thus, from a consequentialist standpoint, a morally right act (or omission from acting) is one that will produce a good outcome, or consequence.

Normative ethics is the study of ethical action. It is the branch of philosophical ethics that investigates the set of questions that arise when considering how one ought to act, morally speaking.

Contents

Consequentialism is primarily non-prescriptive, meaning the moral worth of an action is determined by its potential consequence, not by whether it follows a set of written edicts or laws. One example would entail lying under the threat of government punishment to save an innocent person's life, even though it is illegal to lie under oath.

Consequentialism is usually contrasted with deontological ethics (or deontology), in that deontology, in which rules and moral duty are central, derives the rightness or wrongness of one's conduct from the character of the behaviour itself rather than the outcomes of the conduct. It is also contrasted with virtue ethics, which focuses on the character of the agent rather than on the nature or consequences of the act (or omission) itself, and pragmatic ethics which treats morality like science: advancing socially over the course of many lifetimes, such that any moral criterion is subject to revision. Consequentialist theories differ in how they define moral goods.

In moral philosophy, deontological ethics or deontology is the normative ethical theory that the morality of an action should be based on whether that action itself is right or wrong under a series of rules, rather than based on the consequences of the action. It is sometimes described as duty-, obligation- or rule-based ethics. Deontological ethics is commonly contrasted to consequentialism, virtue ethics, and pragmatic ethics. In this terminology, action is more important than the consequences.

Virtue ethics normative ethical theories which emphasize virtues of mind and character

Virtue ethics are normative ethical theories which emphasize virtues of mind, character and sense of honesty. Virtue ethicists discuss the nature and definition of virtues and other related problems which focuses on the consequences of action. These include how virtues are acquired, how they are applied in various real life contexts, and whether they are rooted in a universal human nature or in a plurality of cultures.

Pragmatic ethics

Pragmatic ethics is a theory of normative philosophical ethics. Ethical pragmatists such as John Dewey believe that some societies have progressed morally in much the way they have attained progress in science. Scientists can pursue inquiry into the truth of a hypothesis and accept the hypothesis, in the sense that they act as though the hypothesis were true; nonetheless, they think that future generations can advance science, and thus future generations can refine or replace their accepted hypotheses. Similarly, ethical pragmatists think that norms, principles, and moral criteria are likely to be improved as a result of inquiry.

Some argue that consequentialist and deontological theories are not necessarily mutually exclusive. For example, T. M. Scanlon advances the idea that human rights, which are commonly considered a "deontological" concept, can only be justified with reference to the consequences of having those rights. [1] Similarly, Robert Nozick argued for a theory that is mostly consequentialist, but incorporates inviolable "side-constraints" which restrict the sort of actions agents are permitted to do. [1] Derek Parfit argued that in practice, when understood properly, rule consequentialism, Kantian deontology and contractualism would all end up prescribing the same. [2]

Thomas Michael "Tim" Scanlon, usually cited as T. M. Scanlon, is an American philosopher. At the time of his retirement in 2016, he was the Alford Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy, and Civil Polity in Harvard University's Department of Philosophy, where he had taught since 1984. He was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 2018.

Human rights Inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled

Human rights are moral principles or norms that describe certain standards of human behaviour and are regularly protected as natural and legal rights in municipal and international law. They are commonly understood as inalienable, fundamental rights "to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being" and which are "inherent in all human beings", regardless of their nation, location, language, religion, ethnic origin, or any other status. They are applicable everywhere and at every time in the sense of being universal, and they are egalitarian in the sense of being the same for everyone. They are regarded as requiring empathy and the rule of law and imposing an obligation on persons to respect the human rights of others, and it is generally considered that they should not be taken away except as a result of due process based on specific circumstances; for example, human rights may include freedom from unlawful imprisonment, torture, and execution.

Robert Nozick American political philosopher

Robert Nozick was an American philosopher. He held the Joseph Pellegrino University Professorship at Harvard University, and was president of the American Philosophical Association. He is best known for his books Philosophical Explanations (1981), which included his counterfactual theory of knowledge, and Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), a libertarian answer to John Rawls' A Theory of Justice (1971), in which Nozick also presented his own theory of utopia as one in which people can freely choose the rules of the society they enter into. His other work involved ethics, decision theory, philosophy of mind, metaphysics and epistemology. His final work before his death, Invariances (2001), introduced his theory of evolutionary cosmology, by which he argues invariances, and hence objectivity itself, emerged through evolution across possible worlds.

Philosophies

State consequentialism

It is the business of the benevolent man to seek to promote what is beneficial to the world and to eliminate what is harmful, and to provide a model for the world. What benefits he will carry out; what does not benefit men he will leave alone. [3]

Mozi, Mozi (5th century BC) Part I

State consequentialism, also known as mohist consequentialism, [4] is an ethical theory which evaluates the moral worth of an action based on how much it contributes to the welfare of a state. [4] According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy , Mohist consequentialism, dating back to the 5th century BCE, is the "world's earliest form of consequentialism, a remarkably sophisticated version based on a plurality of intrinsic goods taken as constitutive of human welfare". [5]

State consequentialism, also known as mohist consequentialism, is a consequentialist ethical theory which evaluates the moral worth of an action based on how it contributes to the basic goods of a state, through social order, material wealth, and population growth. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Mohist consequentialism, dating back to the 5th century BC, is the "world's earliest form of consequentialism, a remarkably sophisticated version based on a plurality of intrinsic goods taken as constitutive of human welfare". The term state consequentialism has also been applied to the political philosophy of the Confucian philosopher Xunzi.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) combines an online encyclopedia of philosophy with peer-reviewed publication of original papers in philosophy, freely accessible to Internet users. It is maintained by Stanford University. Each entry is written and maintained by an expert in the field, including professors from many academic institutions worldwide. Authors contributing to the encyclopedia give Stanford University the permission to publish the articles, but retain the copyright to those articles.

Unlike utilitarianism, which views utility as the sole moral good, "the basic goods in Mohist consequentialist thinking are... order, material wealth, and increase in population". [6] During Mozi's era, war and famines were common, and population growth was seen as a moral necessity for a harmonious society. The "material wealth" of Mohist consequentialism refers to basic needs like shelter and clothing, and the "order" of Mohist consequentialism refers to Mozi's stance against warfare and violence, which he viewed as pointless and a threat to social stability. [7] Stanford sinologist David Shepherd Nivison, in The Cambridge History of Ancient China , writes that the moral goods of Mohism "are interrelated: more basic wealth, then more reproduction; more people, then more production and wealth... if people have plenty, they would be good, filial, kind, and so on unproblematically". [6]

Mozi Chinese political philosopher and religious reformer of the Warring States period

Mozi, original name Mo Di, was a Chinese philosopher during the Hundred Schools of Thought period. A book named after him, the Mozi, contains material ascribed to him and his followers.

Maslows hierarchy of needs Theory in psychology

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation" in Psychological Review. Maslow subsequently extended the idea to include his observations of humans' innate curiosity. His theories parallel many other theories of human developmental psychology, some of which focus on describing the stages of growth in humans. He then decided to create a classification system which reflected the universal needs of society as its base and then proceeding to more acquired emotions. Maslow's hierarchy of needs is used to study how humans intrinsically partake in behavioral motivation. Maslow used the terms "physiological", "safety", "belonging and love", "social needs" or "esteem", and "self-actualization" to describe the pattern through which human motivations generally move. This means that in order for motivation to occur at the next level, each level must be satisfied within the individual themselves. Furthermore, this theory is a key foundation in understanding how drive and motivation are correlated when discussing human behavior. Each of these individual levels contains a certain amount of internal sensation that must be met in order for an individual to complete their hierarchy. The goal in Maslow's theory is to attain the fifth level or stage: self-actualization.

Stanford University Private research university in Stanford, California

Leland Stanford Junior University is a private research university in Stanford, California. Stanford is known for its academic achievements, wealth, and selectivity; it ranks as one of the world's top universities.

The Mohists believed that morality is based on "promoting the benefit of all under heaven and eliminating harm to all under heaven". In contrast to Jeremy Bentham's views, state consequentialism is not utilitarian because it is not hedonistic or individualistic. The importance of outcomes that are good for the community outweigh the importance of individual pleasure and pain. [8] The term state consequentialism has also been applied to the political philosophy of the Confucian philosopher Xunzi. [9]

On the other hand, the "Legalist" Han Fei "is motivated almost totally from the ruler's point of view". [10]

Utilitarianism

Jeremy Bentham, best known for his advocacy of utilitarianism Jeremy Bentham by Henry William Pickersgill detail.jpg
Jeremy Bentham, best known for his advocacy of utilitarianism

Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do. On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne. They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think...

Jeremy Bentham, The Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789) Ch I, p 1

In summary, Jeremy Bentham states that people are driven by their interests and their fears, but their interests take precedence over their fears, and their interests are carried out in accordance with how people view the consequences that might be involved with their interests. "Happiness" on this account is defined as the maximization of pleasure and the minimization of pain. It can be argued that the existence of phenomenal consciousness and "qualia" is required for the experience of pleasure or pain to have an ethical significance. [11] [12] Historically, hedonistic utilitarianism is the paradigmatic example of a consequentialist moral theory. This form of utilitarianism holds that what matters is the aggregate happiness; the happiness of everyone and not the happiness of any particular person. John Stuart Mill, in his exposition of hedonistic utilitarianism, proposed a hierarchy of pleasures, meaning that the pursuit of certain kinds of pleasure is more highly valued than the pursuit of other pleasures. [13] However, some contemporary utilitarians, such as Peter Singer, are concerned with maximizing the satisfaction of preferences, hence "preference utilitarianism". Other contemporary forms of utilitarianism mirror the forms of consequentialism outlined below.

Ethical egoism

Ethical egoism can be understood as a consequentialist theory according to which the consequences for the individual agent are taken to matter more than any other result. Thus, egoism will prescribe actions that may be beneficial, detrimental, or neutral to the welfare of others. Some, like Henry Sidgwick, argue that a certain degree of egoism promotes the general welfare of society for two reasons: because individuals know how to please themselves best, and because if everyone were an austere altruist then general welfare would inevitably decrease. [14]

Ethical altruism

Ethical altruism can be seen as a consequentialist ethic which prescribes that an individual take actions that have the best consequences for everyone except for himself. [15] This was advocated by Auguste Comte, who coined the term "altruism," and whose ethics can be summed up in the phrase "Live for others". [16]

Rule consequentialism

In general, consequentialist theories focus on actions. However, this need not be the case. Rule consequentialism is a theory that is sometimes seen as an attempt to reconcile deontology and consequentialism—and in some cases, this is stated as a criticism of rule consequentialism. [17] Like deontology, rule consequentialism holds that moral behavior involves following certain rules. However, rule consequentialism chooses rules based on the consequences that the selection of those rules has. Rule consequentialism exists in the forms of rule utilitarianism and rule egoism.

Various theorists are split as to whether the rules are the only determinant of moral behavior or not. For example, Robert Nozick held that a certain set of minimal rules, which he calls "side-constraints", are necessary to ensure appropriate actions. [1] There are also differences as to how absolute these moral rules are. Thus, while Nozick's side-constraints are absolute restrictions on behavior, Amartya Sen proposes a theory that recognizes the importance of certain rules, but these rules are not absolute. [1] That is, they may be violated if strict adherence to the rule would lead to much more undesirable consequences.

One of the most common objections to rule-consequentialism is that it is incoherent, because it is based on the consequentialist principle that what we should be concerned with is maximizing the good, but then it tells us not to act to maximize the good, but to follow rules (even in cases where we know that breaking the rule could produce better results).

Brad Hooker avoided this objection by not basing his form of rule-consequentialism on the ideal of maximizing the good. He writes:

…the best argument for rule-consequentialism is not that it derives from an overarching commitment to maximise the good. The best argument for rule-consequentialism is that it does a better job than its rivals of matching and tying together our moral convictions, as well as offering us help with our moral disagreements and uncertainties. [18]

Derek Parfit described Brad Hooker's book on rule-consequentialism Ideal Code, Real World as the "best statement and defence, so far, of one of the most important moral theories". [19]

Rule-consequentialism may offer a means to reconcile pure consequentialism with deontological, or rules-based ethics. [20]

Two-level consequentialism

The two-level approach involves engaging in critical reasoning and considering all the possible ramifications of one's actions before making an ethical decision, but reverting to generally reliable moral rules when one is not in a position to stand back and examine the dilemma as a whole. In practice, this equates to adhering to rule consequentialism when one can only reason on an intuitive level, and to act consequentialism when in a position to stand back and reason on a more critical level. [21] [ citation needed ]

This position can be described as a reconciliation between act consequentialism – in which the morality of an action is determined by that action's effects – and rule consequentialism – in which moral behavior is derived from following rules that lead to positive outcomes. [21] [ citation needed ]

The two-level approach to consequentialism is most often associated with R. M. Hare and Peter Singer. [22] [21] [ citation needed ]

Motive consequentialism

Another consequentialist version is motive consequentialism which looks at whether the state of affairs that results from the motive to choose an action is better or at least as good as each of the alternative state of affairs that would have resulted from alternative actions. This version gives relevance to the motive of an act and links it to its consequences. An act can therefore not be wrong if the decision to act was based on a right motive. A possible inference is, that one can not be blamed for mistaken judgments if the motivation was to do good. [23]

Negative consequentialism

Most consequentialist theories focus on promoting some sort of good consequences. However, negative utilitarianism lays out a consequentialist theory that focuses solely on minimizing bad consequences.

One major difference between these two approaches is the agent's responsibility. Positive consequentialism demands that we bring about good states of affairs, whereas negative consequentialism requires that we avoid bad ones. Stronger versions of negative consequentialism will require active intervention to prevent bad and ameliorate existing harm. In weaker versions, simple forbearance from acts tending to harm others is sufficient. An example of this is the Slippery Slope Argument, which encourages others to avoid a specified act on the grounds that it may ultimately lead to undesirable consequences. [24]

Often "negative" consequentialist theories assert that reducing suffering is more important than increasing pleasure. Karl Popper, for example, claimed "…from the moral point of view, pain cannot be outweighed by pleasure...". [25] (While Popper is not a consequentialist per se, this is taken as a classic statement of negative utilitarianism.) When considering a theory of justice, negative consequentialists may use a statewide or global-reaching principle: the reduction of suffering (for the disadvantaged) is more valuable than increased pleasure (for the affluent or luxurious).

Teleological ethics

Teleological ethics (Greek telos, "end"; logos, "science") is an ethical theory that holds that the ends or consequences of an act determine whether an act is good or evil. Teleological theories are often discussed in opposition to deontological ethical theories, which hold that acts themselves are inherently good or evil, regardless of the consequences of acts. [26] The saying, "the end justifies the means", [27] meaning that if a goal is morally important enough, any method of achieving it is acceptable. [28]

Teleological theories differ on the nature of the end that actions ought to promote. Eudaemonist theories (Greek eudaimonia, "happiness") hold that the goal of ethics consists in some function or activity appropriate to man as a human being, and thus tend to emphasize the cultivation of virtue or excellence in the agent as the end of all action. These could be the classical virtues—courage, temperance, justice, and wisdom—that promoted the Greek ideal of man as the "rational animal", or the theological virtues—faith, hope, and love—that distinguished the Christian ideal of man as a being created in the image of God.[ citation needed ]

John Stuart Mill, an influential liberal thinker of the 19th century and a teacher of utilitarianism JohnStuartMill.jpg
John Stuart Mill, an influential liberal thinker of the 19th century and a teacher of utilitarianism

Utilitarian-type theories hold that the end consists in an experience or feeling produced by the action. Hedonism, for example, teaches that this feeling is pleasure—either one's own, as in egoism (the 17th-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes), or everyone's, as in universalistic hedonism, or utilitarianism (the 19th-century English philosophers Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and Henry Sidgwick), with its formula of the "greatest pleasure of the greatest number". [29]

Other utilitarian-type views include the claims that the end of action is survival and growth, as in evolutionary ethics (the 19th-century English philosopher Herbert Spencer); the experience of power, as in despotism; satisfaction and adjustment, as in pragmatism (20th-century American philosophers Ralph Barton Perry and John Dewey); and freedom, as in existentialism (the 20th-century French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre).[ citation needed ]

The chief problem for eudaemonist theories is to show that leading a life of virtue will also be attended by happiness—by the winning of the goods regarded as the chief end of action. That Job should suffer and Socrates and Jesus die while the wicked prosper, then seems unjust. Eudaemonists generally reply that the universe is moral and that, in Socrates' words, "No evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death," or, in Jesus' words, "But he who endures to the end will be saved." (Matt 10:22).

Utilitarian theories, on the other hand, must answer the charge that ends do not justify the means. The problem arises in these theories because they tend to separate the achieved ends from the action by which these ends were produced. One implication of utilitarianism is that one's intention in performing an act may include all of its foreseen consequences. The goodness of the intention then reflects the balance of the good and evil of these consequences, with no limits imposed upon it by the nature of the act itself—even if it be, say, the breaking of a promise or the execution of an innocent man. Utilitarianism, in answering this charge, must show either that what is apparently immoral is not really so or that, if it really is so, then closer examination of the consequences will bring this fact to light. Ideal utilitarianism (G.E. Moore and Hastings Rashdall) tries to meet the difficulty by advocating a plurality of ends and including among them the attainment of virtue itself, which, as John Stuart Mill affirmed, "may be felt a good in itself, and desired as such with as great intensity as any other good".[ citation needed ]

Acts and omissions, and the "act and omissions doctrine"

Since pure consequentialism holds that an action is to be judged solely by its result, most consequentialist theories hold that a deliberate action is no different from a deliberate decision not to act. This contrasts with the "acts and omissions doctrine", which is upheld by some medical ethicists and some religions: it asserts there is a significant moral distinction between acts and deliberate non-actions which lead to the same outcome. This contrast is brought out in issues such as voluntary euthanasia.

Issues

Action guidance

One important characteristic of many normative moral theories such as consequentialism is the ability to produce practical moral judgements. At the very least, any moral theory needs to define the standpoint from which the goodness of the consequences are to be determined. What is primarily at stake here is the responsibility of the agent.[ citation needed ]

The ideal observer

One common tactic among consequentialists, particularly those committed to an altruistic (selfless) account of consequentialism, is to employ an ideal, neutral observer from which moral judgements can be made. John Rawls, a critic of utilitarianism, argues that utilitarianism, in common with other forms of consequentialism, relies on the perspective of such an ideal observer. [1] The particular characteristics of this ideal observer can vary from an omniscient observer, who would grasp all the consequences of any action, to an ideally informed observer, who knows as much as could reasonably be expected, but not necessarily all the circumstances or all the possible consequences. Consequentialist theories that adopt this paradigm hold that right action is the action that will bring about the best consequences from this ideal observer's perspective.[ citation needed ]

The real observer

In practice, it is very difficult, and at times arguably impossible, to adopt the point of view of an ideal observer. Individual moral agents do not know everything about their particular situations, and thus do not know all the possible consequences of their potential actions. For this reason, some theorists have argued that consequentialist theories can only require agents to choose the best action in line with what they know about the situation. [30] However, if this approach is naïvely adopted, then moral agents who, for example, recklessly fail to reflect on their situation, and act in a way that brings about terrible results, could be said to be acting in a morally justifiable way. Acting in a situation without first informing oneself of the circumstances of the situation can lead to even the most well-intended actions yielding miserable consequences. As a result, it could be argued that there is a moral imperative for an agent to inform himself as much as possible about a situation before judging the appropriate course of action. This imperative, of course, is derived from consequential thinking: a better-informed agent is able to bring about better consequences.[ citation needed ]

Consequences for whom

Surveyed consequences of whistleblowing Surveyed Consequences of Whistleblowing.png
Surveyed consequences of whistleblowing

Moral action always has consequences for certain people or things. Varieties of consequentialism can be differentiated by the beneficiary of the good consequences. That is, one might ask "Consequences for whom?"

Agent-focused or agent-neutral

A fundamental distinction can be drawn between theories which require that agents act for ends perhaps disconnected from their own interests and drives, and theories which permit that agents act for ends in which they have some personal interest or motivation. These are called "agent-neutral" and "agent-focused" theories respectively.

Agent-neutral consequentialism ignores the specific value a state of affairs has for any particular agent. Thus, in an agent-neutral theory, an actor's personal goals do not count any more than anyone else's goals in evaluating what action the actor should take. Agent-focused consequentialism, on the other hand, focuses on the particular needs of the moral agent. Thus, in an agent-focused account, such as one that Peter Railton outlines, the agent might be concerned with the general welfare, but the agent is more concerned with the immediate welfare of herself and her friends and family. [1]

These two approaches could be reconciled by acknowledging the tension between an agent's interests as an individual and as a member of various groups, and seeking to somehow optimize among all of these interests.[ citation needed ] For example, it may be meaningful to speak of an action as being good for someone as an individual, but bad for them as a citizen of their town.

Human-centered?

Many consequentialist theories may seem primarily concerned with human beings and their relationships with other human beings. However, some philosophers argue that we should not limit our ethical consideration to the interests of human beings alone. Jeremy Bentham, who is regarded as the founder of utilitarianism, argues that animals can experience pleasure and pain, thus demanding that 'non-human animals' should be a serious object of moral concern. [31] More recently, Peter Singer has argued that it is unreasonable that we do not give equal consideration to the interests of animals as to those of human beings when we choose the way we are to treat them. [32] Such equal consideration does not necessarily imply identical treatment of humans and non-humans, any more than it necessarily implies identical treatment of all humans.

Value of consequences

One way to divide various consequentialisms is by the types of consequences that are taken to matter most, that is, which consequences count as good states of affairs. According to utilitarianism, a good action is one that results in an increase in pleasure, and the best action is one that results in the most pleasure for the greatest number. Closely related is eudaimonic consequentialism, according to which a full, flourishing life, which may or may not be the same as enjoying a great deal of pleasure, is the ultimate aim. Similarly, one might adopt an aesthetic consequentialism, in which the ultimate aim is to produce beauty. However, one might fix on non-psychological goods as the relevant effect. Thus, one might pursue an increase in material equality or political liberty instead of something like the more ephemeral "pleasure". Other theories adopt a package of several goods, all to be promoted equally. As the consequentialist approach contains an inherent assumption that the outcomes of a moral decision can be quantified in terms of "goodness" or "badness", or at least put in order of increasing preference, it is an especially suited moral theory for a probabilistic and decision theoretical approach. [33] [34]

Virtue ethics

Consequentialism can also be contrasted with aretaic moral theories such as virtue ethics. Whereas consequentialist theories posit that consequences of action should be the primary focus of our thinking about ethics, virtue ethics insists that it is the character rather than the consequences of actions that should be the focal point. Some virtue ethicists hold that consequentialist theories totally disregard the development and importance of moral character. For example, Philippa Foot argues that consequences in themselves have no ethical content, unless it has been provided by a virtue such as benevolence. [1]

However, consequentialism and virtue ethics need not be entirely antagonistic. Iain King has developed an approach that reconciles the two schools. [35] [ page needed ][ better source needed ] Other consequentialists consider effects on the character of people involved in an action when assessing consequence. Similarly, a consequentialist theory may aim at the maximization of a particular virtue or set of virtues. Finally, following Foot's lead, one might adopt a sort of consequentialism that argues that virtuous activity ultimately produces the best consequences.[ citation needed ][ clarification needed ]

Max Weber Max Weber 1894.jpg
Max Weber

Ultimate end

The ultimate end is a concept in the moral philosophy of Max Weber, in which individuals act in a faithful, rather than rational, manner.[ citation needed ]

We must be clear about the fact that all ethically oriented conduct may be guided by one of two fundamentally differing and irreconcilably opposed maxims: conduct can be oriented to an "ethic of ultimate ends" or to an "ethic of responsibility." This is not to say that an ethic of ultimate ends is identical with irresponsibility, or that an ethic of responsibility is identical with unprincipled opportunism. Naturally, nobody says that. However, there is an abysmal contrast between conduct that follows the maxim of an ethic of ultimate ends—that, is in religious terms, "the Christian does rightly and leaves the results with the Lord"—and conduct that follows the maxim of an ethic of responsibility, in which case one has to give an account of the foreseeable results of one's action.

Max Weber, Politics as a Vocation, 1918

Etymology

The term "consequentialism" was G. E. M. Anscombe in her essay "Modern Moral Philosophy" in 1958, [36] to describe what she saw as the central error of certain moral theories, such as those propounded by Mill and Sidgwick. [37]

The phrase and concept of "The end justifies the means" are at least as old as the first century BC. Ovid wrote in his Heroides that Exitus acta probat "The result justifies the deed".

Criticisms

G. E. M. Anscombe objects to consequentialism on the grounds that it does not provide ethical guidance in what one ought to do because there is no distinction between consequences that are foreseen and those that are intended. [37] [ full citation needed ]

The future amplification of the effects of small decisions [38] is an important factor that makes it more difficult to predict the ethical value of consequences, [39] even though most would agree that only predictable consequences are charged with a moral responsibility. [40]

Bernard Williams has argued that consequentialism is alienating because it requires moral agents to put too much distance between themselves and their own projects and commitments. Williams argues that consequentialism requires moral agents to take a strictly impersonal view of all actions, since it is only the consequences, and not who produces them, that are said to matter. Williams argues that this demands too much of moral agents—since (he claims) consequentialism demands that they be willing to sacrifice any and all personal projects and commitments in any given circumstance in order to pursue the most beneficent course of action possible. He argues further that consequentialism fails to make sense of intuitions that it can matter whether or not someone is personally the author of a particular consequence. For example, that participating in a crime can matter, even if the crime would have been committed anyway, or would even have been worse, without the agent's participation. [41]

Some consequentialists—most notably Peter Railton—have attempted to develop a form of consequentialism that acknowledges and avoids the objections raised by Williams. Railton argues that Williams's criticisms can be avoided by adopting a form of consequentialism in which moral decisions are to be determined by the sort of life that they express. On his account, the agent should choose the sort of life that will, on the whole, produce the best overall effects. [1]

Notable consequentialists

A much longer list of utilitarian consequentialists may be found in the list of utilitarians.

See also

Related Research Articles

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Utilitarianism is a family of consequentialist ethical theories that promotes actions that maximize happiness and well-being for the majority of a population. Although different varieties of utilitarianism admit different characterizations, the basic idea behind all of them is to in some sense maximize utility, which is often defined in terms of well-being or related concepts. For instance, Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism, described utility as "that property in any object, whereby it tends to produce benefit, advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness...[or] to prevent the happening of mischief, pain, evil, or unhappiness to the party whose interest is considered." Utilitarianism is a version of consequentialism, which states that the consequences of any action are the only standard of right and wrong. Unlike other forms of consequentialism, such as egoism and altruism, utilitarianism considers the interests of all beings equally.

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The principle of double effect is also known as the rule of double effect; the doctrine of double effect, often abbreviated as DDE or PDE, double-effect reasoning; or simply double effect—is a set of ethical criteria which Christian philosophers, and some others, have advocated for evaluating the permissibility of acting when one's otherwise legitimate act may also cause an effect one would otherwise be obliged to avoid. The first known example of double-effect reasoning is Thomas Aquinas' treatment of homicidal self-defense, in his work Summa Theologica.

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Bernard Gert was a moral philosopher known primarily for his work in normative ethics, as well as in medical ethics, especially pertaining to psychology.

<i>Utilitarianism</i> (book) book

John Stuart Mill's book Utilitarianism is a classic exposition and defence of utilitarianism in ethics. The essay first appeared as a series of three articles published in Fraser's Magazine in 1861 ; the articles were collected and reprinted as a single book in 1863. Mill's aim in the book is to explain what utilitarianism is, to show why it is the best theory of ethics, and to defend it against a wide range of criticisms and misunderstandings. Though heavily criticized both in Mill's lifetime and in the years since, Utilitarianism did a great deal to popularize utilitarian ethics and has been considered "the most influential philosophical articulation of a liberal humanistic morality that was produced in the nineteenth century."

Rule utilitarianism is a form of utilitarianism that says an action is right as it conforms to a rule that leads to the greatest good, or that "the rightness or wrongness of a particular action is a function of the correctness of the rule of which it is an instance". Philosophers Richard Brandt and Brad Hooker are major proponents of such an approach.

Secular ethics is a branch of moral philosophy in which ethics is based solely on human faculties such as logic, empathy, reason or moral intuition, and not derived from supernatural revelation or guidance—the source of ethics in many religions. Secular ethics refers to any ethical system that does not draw on the supernatural, and includes humanism, secularism and freethinking. A classical example of literature on secular ethics is the Kural text, authored by the ancient Tamil Indian philosopher Valluvar who lived during the 1st century BCE.

Proportionalism is an ethical theory that lies between consequential theories and deontological theories. Consequential theories, like utilitarianism, say that an action is right or wrong, depending on the consequences it produces, but deontological theories, such as Immanuel Kant's categorical imperative, say that actions are either intrinsically right or intrinsically wrong. Proportionalist theories like rule utilitarianism, however, say that it is never right to go against a principle unless a proportionate reason would justify it.

Two-level utilitarianism is a utilitarian theory of ethics developed by R. M. Hare. According to the theory, a person's moral decisions should be based on a set of 'intuitive' moral rules, except in certain rare situations where it is more appropriate to engage in a 'critical' level of moral reasoning.

Consequentialist libertarianism refers to the libertarian position that is supportive of a free market and strong private property rights only on the grounds that they bring about favorable consequences, such as prosperity or efficiency.

Principlism is an applied ethics approach to the examination of moral dilemmas that is based upon the application of certain ethical principles. This approach to ethical decision-making has been adopted enthusiastically in many different professional fields, largely because it sidesteps complex debates in moral philosophy at the theoretical level. Rather than engaging in abstract debate about the best or most appropriate approach at the normative level, principlism is purported to offer a practical method of dealing with real-world ethical dilemmas.

Brad Hooker is a British-American philosopher who specialises in moral philosophy. He is a Professor at the University of Reading and is best known for his work defending rule consequentialism.

Ethics is the branch of philosophy that examines right and wrong moral behavior, moral concepts and moral language. Various ethical theories pose various answers to the question "What is the greatest good?" and elaborate a complete set of proper behaviors for individuals and groups. Ethical theories are closely related to forms of life in various social orders.

Negative consequentialism is a version of the ethical theory consequentialism, which is "one of the major theories of normative ethics." Like other versions of consequentialism, negative consequentialism holds that moral right and wrong depend only on the value of outcomes. That is, for negative and other versions of consequentialism, questions such as "what should I do?" and "what kind of person should I be?" are answered only based on consequences. Negative consequentialism differs from other versions of consequentialism by giving greater weight in moral deliberations to what is bad than what is good.

<i>How to Make Good Decisions and Be Right All the Time</i> book by Iain King

How to Make Good Decisions and Be Right All the Time is a 2008 book by Iain King. It sets out a history of moral philosophy and presents new ideas in ethics, which have been described as quasi-utilitarianism.

References

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Further reading