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Consequentialism | ETHICS

Introduction | Consequentialism | ETHICS 

  • Consequentialism is the class of normative ethics considering that the consequences of one’s conduct are the ultimate basis for any judgment about the rightness or wrongness of that conduct. It focuses on ends or goals or consequences.
  • Two examples of consequentialism are utilitarianism and hedonism.
  • Utilitarianism judges consequences by a “greatest good for the greatest number” standard.
  • Hedonism, on the other hand, says something is “good” if the consequence produces pleasure or avoids pain.
  • Consequentialism is sometimes criticized because it can be difficult, or even impossible, to know what the result of an action will be ahead of time. Indeed, no one can know the future with certainty.
  • Also, in certain situations, consequentialism can lead to decisions that are objectionable, even though the consequences are arguably good.

Principles Of Consequentialism

  • Consequentialism is based on two principles:
    • Whether an act is right or wrong depends only on the results of that act.
    • The better consequences an act produces, the better or more right that act is.
  • For example- To control the militancy in Kashmir during early 90s many actions were taken by the Army that violated the Human Rights. A senior army officer accepted the fact and said that we are sorry for the actions, but sometimes in order to prevent the larger evil, small evil has to be done. Integrity of the country was more important.

Ethical Altruism

  • Ethical altruism can be seen as a consequentialist ethic which prescribes that an individual take action that have the best consequences for everyone except for himself.
  • Example- Helping the homeless can be altruistic as long as it is not done for recognition or to make oneself feel better.

Ethical Egoism | Consequentialism | ETHICS 

  • Ethical egoism is 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.
  • Example- Business man selling his products for above price to benefit his family and their lifestyle.

Act, Rule, And Social Practice Utilitarianism

  • It is possible to rank acts on the basis of their (total or average) utility, to rank rules on the basis of their total or average utility, and to rank social practices generally on the basis of their (total or average) utility.  However, a moral theory is a theory about what one ought to do.
  • Three different kinds of Utilitarian moral theory as follows:
    • ACT UTILITARIANISM refers to a family of Utilitarian theories according to which a moral act is one that maximizes (total or average) utility.
    • SOCIAL PRACTICE UTILITARIANISM refers to a family of Utilitarian theories according to which a moral act is one that is prescribed by a social practice (e.g., a rule or system of rules, custom or system of customs, or institution of system of institutions) that, if generally followed or respected, would maximize (total or average) utility.
    • RULE UTILITARIANISM refers to a family of Utilitarian theories according to which a moral act is one that is prescribed by the rule (or set of rules) that, if generally applied, would maximize (total or average) utility.

Consequentialist Ethical Theories | Consequentialism | ETHICS 

  • A (PURELY) CONSEQUENTIALIST Ethical Theory is a general normative theory that bases the moral evaluation of acts, rules, institutions, etc. solely on the goodness of their consequences, where the standard of goodness employed is a standard of non-moral goodness.
  • A NON-CONSEQUENTIALIST Ethical Theory is a general normative theory that is not (purely) consequentialist.

Utilitarianism | Consequentialism | ETHICS 

  • A UTILITARIAN Ethical Theory is a (purely) consequentialist theory according to which the morality of an act depends solely on some relation (specified by the theory) that it has to the maximization of total or average utility (a measure of non-moral goodness).  Utilitarians can differ on the definition of utility, giving rise to three varieties of Utilitarian theories.
  • Like the individual hedonist, the hedonistic utilitarian claims that we can define the net hedonic value of a life =df the sum of all pleasures (which have positive hedonic value) and pains (which have negative hedonic value) contained in the life, where it is assumed that pleasures and pains can all be measured on a single scale.
    • HEDONISTIC UTILITARIANISM:  Utility is defined in terms of net hedonic value.  Utility of a life =df net hedonic value of the life(e.g., Bentham and Mill [but note that Mill distinguished higher from lower pleasures]).
    • PREFERENCE UTILITARIANISM:  Utility is defined in terms of the degree to which one’s actual (non-moral) preferences are satisfied, whatever those preferences may be (e.g., Harsanyi).  Utility of a life =df the degree to which it satisfies the preferences of the person whose life it is, whatever those preferences may be.
    • PLURALISTIC UTILITARIANISM:   Utility is defined in terms of whatever has intrinsic (non-moral) value, not just pleasure and pain–including, for example, knowledge, love, friendship, courage, health, beauty, states of consciousness other than pleasure and pain (e.g., Moore).  Utility of a life = the sum of all of these factors produced during the life, again measured on a single scale.

Advantages Of Consequentialism

  • Banishes mystery from the realm of ethics;
  • offers a clear practical method of resolving ethical dilemmas;
  • promotes altruism as a way of life, improving lives of others;
  • it offers a non complicated single system that is widely applicable (simple actionguiding principle for all ethical issues);
  • morality is made for humans (not rule-worship), enriching lives, & ameliorating suffering.

Disadvantages of consequentialism

  • Lacks any moral component;
  • can’t determine full range of consequences;
  • how much good outweighs evil: quantification problem;
  • outrageous & horrific acts could be justified;
  • taking responsibility for far-reaching problems;
  • unable to explain what is wrong with a wrong action;
  • obliging stranger who cooks himself in an oven;
  • people naturally choose a Kantian type principle over consequential systems;
  • psychologically false (pleasure machine experiment);
  • fails to acknowledge any individual rights that can’t be violated;
  • utilitarians are divided about the calculus;
  • people are subject to the greater good of statistics;
  • the need for an absolute standard;
  • utilitarian acts have no intrinsic value;
  • consequences of our actions may be unpredictable;
  • pain & pleasure are not exact opposites;
  • the “end” is an ambiguous term; how long is long?




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