Consequentialism

… a core concept in Ethics, Rights, and Accountability and Atlas111M

Concept description

In the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (2015, reference below) describes consequentialism as “the view that normative properties depend only on consequences.”

See also: Normative Ethics; Deontological Ethics; and Virtue Ethics.

Sinnott-Armstrong writes:

“This general approach can be applied at different levels to different normative properties of different kinds of things, but the most prominent example is consequentialism about the moral rightness of acts, which holds that whether an act is morally right depends only on the consequences of that act or of something related to that act, such as the motive behind the act or a general rule requiring acts of the same kind.

“The paradigm case of consequentialism is utilitarianism, whose classic proponents were Jeremy Bentham (1789), John Stuart Mill (1861), and Henry Sidgwick (1907). … Classic utilitarians held hedonistic act consequentialism. Act consequentialism is the claim that an act is morally right if and only if that act maximizes the good, that is, if and only if the total amount of good for all minus the total amount of bad for all is greater than this net amount for any incompatible act available to the agent on that occasion. …

“However, classic utilitarianism is actually a complex combination of many distinct claims, including the following claims about the moral rightness of acts:

Consequentialism = whether an act is morally right depends only on consequences (as opposed to the circumstances or the intrinsic nature of the act or anything that happens before the act).

Actual Consequentialism = whether an act is morally right depends only on the actual consequences (as opposed to foreseen, foreseeable, intended, or likely consequences).

Direct Consequentialism = whether an act is morally right depends only on the consequences of that act itself (as opposed to the consequences of the agent’s motive, of a rule or practice that covers other acts of the same kind, and so on).

Evaluative Consequentialism = moral rightness depends only on the value of the consequences (as opposed to non-evaluative features of the consequences).

Hedonism = the value of the consequences depends only on the pleasures and pains in the consequences (as opposed to other supposed goods, such as freedom, knowledge, life, and so on).

Maximizing Consequentialism = moral rightness depends only on which consequences are best (as opposed to merely satisfactory or an improvement over the status quo).

Aggregative Consequentialism = which consequences are best is some function of the values of parts of those consequences (as opposed to rankings of whole worlds or sets of consequences).

Total Consequentialism = moral rightness depends only on the total net good in the consequences (as opposed to the average net good per person).

Universal Consequentialism = moral rightness depends on the consequences for all people or sentient beings (as opposed to only the individual agent, members of the individual’s society, present people, or any other limited group).

Equal Consideration = in determining moral rightness, benefits to one person matter just as much as similar benefits to any other person (= all who count count equally).

Agent-neutrality = whether some consequences are better than others does not depend on whether the consequences are evaluated from the perspective of the agent (as opposed to an observer).

“These claims could be clarified, supplemented, and subdivided further. What matters here is just that most pairs of these claims are logically independent, so a moral theorist could consistently accept some of them without accepting others. Yet classic utilitarians accepted them all. That fact makes classic utilitarianism a more complex theory than it might appear at first sight. …

“In actual usage, the term ’consequentialism‘ seems to be used as a family resemblance term to refer to any descendant of classic utilitarianism that remains close enough to its ancestor in the important respects. Of course, different philosophers see different respects as the important ones. Hence, there is no agreement on which theories count as consequentialist under this definition.”

Atlas topic, subject, and course

The Study of Ethics in Public Policy and Management (core topic) in Ethics, Rights, and Accountability and Atlas111M Ethics.

Source

Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (2015), Consequentialism, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), at https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/consequentialism/, accessed 12 March 2019.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 12 March 2019.

Image: Chanakya IAS Academy Blog, deontological ethics, at https://www.chanakyaiasacademy.com/blog/item/942-deontological-ethics, accessed 12 March 2019.