Consequentialism is a philosophical theory that views morality as an act of producing all correct types of far-reaching consequences. It states that for an action to be morally right, it should provide good outcomes. The purpose of this study is to explain the background of the consequentialism theories such as utilitarianism by researching the origin of the theories and the critical thinkers involved. The second purpose of the study is to discuss the main ideas, critical arguments, concepts, and the criticism of these theories.
Consequentialism theories emerged in the eighteenth century by the philosophers with the aim to assess an activity by focusing on experience instead of engaging to the lengthy lists of uncertain duties. Another objective of consequentialism is to maximize individual happiness by finding moral consequences and welfares of a person (Talbott, 2013). The key thinkers were John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham who supported the Utilitarianism theory originating from classical philosophy in the year 1861. However, consequentialist philosophers contrast on whether activities are tending to increase things that are ethically good, though increasing it lesser than an available alternative action, may be referred to as morally right (Sushentsova, 2017).
Exposition of the Philosophy
Concepts and the Main Ideas
John Mill and Jeremy Bentham discussed that for an act to have a value as right or wrong, it should be judged from the good or bad consequences it produces. There are five steps for determining if an action provides the best good outcomes. The first step is to determine whether there is something in value about the thing tested. The second step is to determine the essentiality of the situation. The third step is to identify the other options available. The fourth step is asking the essential value of the options available. Finally, the fifth step is picking the best thing that produces the best outcomes (Kelly, 2011). The primary standard of utilitarianism is the principle of utility, which states that the morally correct action is the action producing the best far-reaching consequences regarding the service of the affected groups. Utilitarianism claims that the reasonable value of an act is affected by its impact based on the utility to maximize joy.
People may adopt three types of consequentialism. The first type of consequentialism is act consequentialism, which evaluates personal acts. The second type is the rule consequentialism that analyzes the rules on how an individual behaves. The last category is the motive consequentialism assessing the motives of how an individual's action (Louise, 2016). Consequentialism sub-divisions are ethical egoism, ethical altruism, and utilitarianism.
Ethical egoism states that an act is useful when the concerns of the law are satisfactory to the person doing the action. Ethical altruism affirms that an act is helpful if the outcomes favor everyone excluding the agent (Chen, 2016). Utilitarianism argues that law is useful when the consequences of the bill include everyone and that it is the joy or well-being of emotional kinds, which is the valued thing.
John Mill states that utilitarianism is the only reasonable theory adding that deep, spiritual and cultural happiness impacts larger values than physical things. Mill thinking is that some types of joy are better than others types because the abilities of human beings are higher than the animal desire for food. John Mill also defines happiness as pleasure and lack of pain (Irene Tucker, 2014). He states that enjoyment can vary in value and amount and that joy is embedded in an individual's higher abilities must be weighted more deeply than lower joy. Additionally, John Mill states that an individual accomplishment of goals, for example, decent living must be calculated as one of the individual's happiness.
Bentham discusses two essential structures of the utilitarianism theory, which are the act utilitarianism and the rule utilitarianism. Rule utilitarianism states that a rule can be accepted only if the results of following the law are more satisfactory than unsatisfactory to everybody (Choo, 2017). However, act utilitarianism argues that if an individual has a choice, the individual should first consider the possible results of the likely acts to be taken and if the consequences of the chosen action will provide the best happiness. The utilitarianism theory is regarded as one of the most effective methods in the history of philosophy (Baujard, 2013).
There is an argument against consequentialism, though there is a possibility of not having enough reason to reject consequentialism. One of the evidence is that consequentialism may be regarded as wrong because it fails to care if happiness is shared equally among the people and some people may refer it as unfair if it is divided unequally (Zangwill, 2018). Replying to this objection, our natural sense of justice is not mainly concerned with the distribution of ultimate goods like well-being. Instead, the truth is involved with distributing products that bring more happiness to other individuals having less of the products instead of the assets going to individuals rich in these goods.
Another argument is that consequentialism theory is thought to be inhuman and immoral because if a person decides first to analyze the outcome of an action, the person is not honest. A person might respond to this objection by stating that if the deliberate moral act is the one producing the best outcomes, then universal social justice cannot be an authority on the intended appropriateness even if the opinion is clear.
Criticism of the Theory
Consequentialism is a hard system for applying in the real-life good decisions as people should first research on the outcomes of their actions before making an ethical decision, doing research on the consequences is unpractical and expensive, and the study involved slows the process of making decisions hence leading to a bad outcome (Wiggins, 2009).
Another criticism is that consequentialism can result to bad results in the society as it can be hard to forecast the ethical decisions that an individual makes hence leading to massive uncertainty on the way the people should behave. Some philosophers thinking is that consequentialism can result to a collapse of trustworthy in the community because of people fearing that biases towards their families can strongly affect good decisions that if the individuals using common moral rules founded on consequentialism.
Another criticism is that people are not omniscient and therefore, they cannot entirely make a prediction of the forthcoming results of action. Hence, judging a decision that was decided at a particular time with the poor state of ideas does not seem right. The moral approach of consequentialism is influenced by the idea to produce good outcomes. Nonetheless, the consequentialist method on its own fails to explain the question of the meaning of moral action.
The utilitarian theory is criticized for lack of provision of enough protection for personal rights, that a similar principle may measure not all, and that joy is more difficult than mirrored by the theory (Cekic, 2018).
The last criticism is that it is difficult to measure and compare the goodness of outcomes because individuals do not agree on the factor weighed when calculating good outcomes. Additionally, consequentialism ignores the fairness of the consequences as it suggests that the right act is the act that results in the biggest total of happiness. The theory ignores the method of sharing out the happiness by seeming to approve the actions making the majority of people happy and fewer individuals unhappy.
In concluding, consequentialism is a philosophical theory stating that for an action to be morally right, it should provide good outcomes. The key thinkers were John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham. Consequentialism sub-divisions are ethical egoism, ethical altruism, and utilitarianism (act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism). The consequentialism theories have various criticisms including difficulties in measuring the goodness of consequences and that it a hard system to apply in real life.
Baujard, A. (2013). Utilitarianism and Anti-Utilitarianism. SSRN Electronic Journal. doi: 10.2139/ssrn.2357441
Cekic, N. (2018). Mill, rule-utilitarianism and "incoherence objection". Theoria, Beograd, 61(2), 101-120. doi: 10.2298/theo1802101c
Chen, D. (2016). Egoism vs. Altruism: Does Intermediation Reduce Altruism?. SSRN Electronic Journal. doi: 10.2139/ssrn.2928173
Choo, D. (2017). Mill's Multilevel Utilitarianism - Beyond the Dichotomy of Act vs Rule Utilitarianism -. Korean Journal Of Philosophy, 131, 47-71. doi: 10.18694/kjp.2017.05.131.47
Irene Tucker. (2014). Picturing Utilitarianism: John Stuart Mill and the Invention of a Photographic Public. Criticism, 50(3), 411-446. doi: 10.1353/crt.0.0076
Kelly, P. (2011). Utilitarian Strategies in Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Utilitas, 2(02), 245-266. doi: 10.1017/s0953820800000686
Louise, J. (2016). Right Motive, Wrong Action: Direct Consequentialism and Evaluative Conflict. Ethical Theory And Moral Practice, 9(1), 65-85. doi: 10.1007/s10677-005-9000-8
Sushentsova, M. (2017). Utilitarianism of J. Bentham and J. S. Mill: from virtue to rationality. St Petersburg University Journal Of Economic Studies, 33(1), 17-35. doi: 10.21638/11701/spbu05.2017.102
Talbott, W. (2013). Consequentialism and Human Rights. Philosophy Compass, 8(11), 1030-1040. doi: 10.1111/phc3.12084
Wiggins, D. (2009). The Right and the Good and W. D. Ross's Criticism of Consequentialism. Utilitas, 10(03), 261-280. doi: 10.1017/s0953820800006208
Zangwill, N. (2018). Insane Consequentialism: A Pragmatic Objection to Direct Consequentialism. Utilitas, 30(3), 317-332. doi: 10.1017/s0953820817000267
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