From RationalWiki
(Redirected from Ends justify the means)
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Thinking hardly
or hardly thinking?

Icon philosophy.svg
Major trains of thought
The good, the bad,
and the brain fart
Come to think of it

Consequentialism or Teleologic ethics or "ends justify the means" is the philosophical view that the moral value of an act is to be judged on its consequences, rather than the act itself. Consequentialism is therefore opposed to deontological ethics. The most well known school of consequentialism is utilitarianism. Consequentialism is a broad term, encompassing many schools of thought and one is advised to familiarise oneself with each school to fully understand what consequentialism is. The term itself was coined by G.E.M. Anscombe (a celebrated student of Wittgenstein) and originally meant something slightly different as it was a distinction used to talk about cases of equal responsibility rather than whether the effects of one's action are justified.[1]

Forms of consequentialism[edit]

  • Rule consequentialism
  • Motive consequentialism
  • Negative consequentialism

Arguments for consequentialism[edit]

  • All moral reasons for acts are provided by facts that the acts are necessary enablers for preventing harm or promoting good.
  • The requirement of ethics to consider the interests of all creatures and not merely one's own is good reason for treating utilitarianism as presumptively the best ethical theory.[2]
  • Actions are transient things, soon gone forever. Hence, one might think, in the long run only the results remain, so the only thing that really matters about an action is its results.[3]
  • Rationality and objectivity are impartial; they do not favor one person over another. Hence, to be moral is to care about people equally or impartially, so far as one can, which means trying to benefit people as much as one can.[4]

Arguments against consequentialism[edit]

  • According to consequentialism, just as there is nothing special about me when it comes to the effects of my action, so there is nothing special about me and my duty when it comes to the duty to perform the action.[5]
  • You are normally morally permitted to favor yourself over strangers and often morally required to favor strangers over your children, which conflicts with common sense[6] (however, this argument seems to ignore ethical egoism).
  • If the greatest total can be created only by exploiting the miserable to make the happy even happier, then such consequentialism would seem to say that you should do it.[7] In the real world, however, this is seldom possible without the use of false dilemma.
  • The relative importance of ignorance. It can be difficult for someone applying consequentialist ethics to foresee what the consequences they seek to uphold are. Indeed, many philosophical systems hold that it is impossible to know with absolute certainty any consequences of any choices. Is it ethical to flip a coin that saves a life if it comes up heads, and costs a life if it comes up tails?