Essay on Consequentialism
Consequentialism is referred to as the moral theory that says that the consequences of the particular action are the basis for any judgment regarding the mentioned action. It implies that the action, which is right from the moral standpoint, produces a good result. Consequentialism is close by meaning, but still differs from deontology, which evaluates wrongness or rightness of the action regarding of the actually actions character and not its outcome, virtue ethics, that is totally focused upon the person or the agent that performs the action, and not the action or its consequences itself (Cumminskey, 1996).
The term was first introduced to broad public in 1958 by G.E.M. Anscombe in the essay “Modern Moral Philosophy”, in which the author tried to describe weak sides of definite moral theories. Consequentiolist theory addresses three basic questions- what kind of consequences are said to be good consequences, who benefits in the first row from the moral action and according to what standards discussed consequences are judged and by whom.
“The ends justify means” is one of the perspectives upon looking at consequentialism, but it is very controversial one, as means are said to be current state and ends are refers to how thighs should be.
There are several varieties of consequentialism- utilitarianism, ethical egoism and altruism, rule consequentialism and negative consequentialism.
Utilitarianism is defined as an ethical doctrine that says that the moral value of the particular action is totally stipulated by its impact to the general utility in maximizing pleasure (Scarre, 1996). Utility is this sense is said to be happiness and pleasure as opposite to pain and sadness. It can also be described as “the greatest good in the greatest amount”. But mentioning the quantity aspects in the definition, arises questions about what is enough, and therefore utilitarianism is often characterized as reductionistic and quantitative approach to ethics. The origins of the emergence of the idea of this ethical term trace back to Greek philosopher Epicurus times, but as the separate school of though it was founded by Jeremy Bentham. He viewed world values just from two standpoints- pain and pleasure, claiming that they are the only driving forces. And he defined good as something that brings happiness to the greatest number of people, but formulation appeared to be too complex and potentially conflicting, so the main idea became centered on the greatest happiness principle. There are several types of utilitarianism. The fist pair is act vs. rule utilitarianism. Act utilitarianism claims that before making the final decision regarding the definite action, the person should consider the possible consequences of it and behave in the way that will bring most happiness. Rule utilitarianism calls for looking at potential action rules. The difference of these two types is based upon the defining of the right object of consequentialist calculation: viewed generally to rules or specified to the particular case.
Motive utilitarianism is the mixture of act and rule types, developed by Robert Adams in 1976, which tries to analyze how human beings actually function psychologically in reality. The author took into consideration the fact that human beings are passionate and emotional, and react more openly on positive objectives rather then on negative bans. And this type of utilitarianism proposes to analyze first motives of the action and only then make the final decision.
Two-level utilitarianism proposes the use of the intuition and intuitive moral thinking, as it will maximize happiness. It is essential for the person not to confuse intuition with EGO, as the outcomes of the action will appear not to be as expected. Negative utilitarianism promotes the least amount of evil and prevention of suffering for the greatest number of people. Total utilitarianism is referred to as an action that evaluates the utility of the population on the basis of its members’ utility. Is very controversial, as according to it large amount of people with low but non-negative utility values are said to be better then less number of people that are living in comfort. On the contrast, average utilitarianism is the same, but it evaluates average utility of the same taken population sample (Rosen, 2003).
John Stuart Mills argued that utilitarianism is the only right moral theory by saying that intellectual, cultural and spiritual pleasures possess greater value then physical one. He said that spiritual pleasure is more valued then the physical one by the competent judge, the person, who experienced both the higher and the lower pleasure, according to Mill. In his essays, Mill claimed that utilitarianism demanded that political arrangements satisfied the principle of liberty, also called harm principle (Mill, 1901).
So, principle of utility claims that behaviors of an individual are right, when they promote pleasure and happiness. It is important to understand whose happiness and pleasure counts the most in the case. If it is the pleasure of the majority, the greatest amount of people, then how the person can do something that will be bad for him, as a result? How to calculate this right amount of people, for whom the action will be right and good? Therefore, let me take the concrete situation and discuss what will be right to do in it, according to the principle of utility. I have 100 dollars. I have a choice whether to buy the coat for myself or to purchase the new coffee-machine for the whole family (let it be 6 of us). Without a coat, I will be cold in autumn and therefore unhappy. Coat will make me happy and bring pleasure. And coffee-machine will bring pleasure to six people. According to the principle of utility, I better purchase the coffee-machine and bring pleasure for the greater number of people. But should I sacrifice my health for that kind of decision?
Of course, the situation described may have a lot of nuances and discussion, but in general, to my opinion, utilitarianism has many weak sides. First, it is not clear whether notions of pain and pleasure are measurable and objective enough. Second, it is not always possible to predict all outcomes of the person’s actions, as one particular action is always surrounded and influenced by action of another people and forces that cannot be controlled and predicted. And if the person is uncertain about the outcome, then there is no sense to rely upon the principle of utilitarianism. Third, this principle usually conflicts with the moral intuition. Forth, it provides no explanation why should people act for the benefit of others at the expense of private interests. If self-sacrifice is proposed as the only justification, then each person should take it into consideration before making the decision to act in the particular way. And the last critical evaluation implies that utilitarianism is biased against minorities and individuals, as it counts only what is good and what brings pleasure to the greater number of people. When the interests of individuals are taken into consideration, then the principle appears to be not that simple. So, on practice principle of utilitarianism is difficult to apply, but still it remains an important moral principle. Mill would definitely responded to the criticism with an assertion that happiness of greater amount of people on the Earth is more important then pleasure of one or two, but his response would not sound persuasive enough.
So, in the conclusion I would like to summarize basic ideas of the essay. Consequentialism is the moral theory supporting the idea that the consequences of the particular action are the basis for any judgment of it. Utilitarianism is an ethical doctrine claiming that moral value of action is influenced by its impact upon the utility in maximizing pleasure. And even though the principle of utility sounds attractive for the majority, it has many weak sides, which should also be counted in defining behaviors.