Consequentialism

Consequentialism is the class of normative ethical theories holding that the consequences of one's conduct are the ultimate basis for any judgment about the rightness or wrongness of that conduct. Thus, from a consequentialist standpoint, a morally right act (or omission from acting) is one that will produce a good outcome, or consequence.

Consequentialism is primarily non-prescriptive, meaning the moral worth of an action is determined by its potential consequence, not by whether it follows a set of written edicts or laws. One example would entail lying under the threat of government punishment to save an innocent person's life, even though it is illegal to lie under oath.

Consequentialism is usually contrasted with deontological ethics (or deontology), in that deontology, in which rules and moral duty are central, derives the rightness or wrongness of one's conduct from the character of the behaviour itself rather than the outcomes of the conduct. It is also contrasted with virtue ethics, which focuses on the character of the agent rather than on the nature or consequences of the act (or omission) itself, and pragmatic ethics which treats morality like science: advancing socially over the course of many lifetimes, such that any moral criterion is subject to revision. Consequentialist theories differ in how they define moral goods.

Some argue that consequentialist and deontological theories are not necessarily mutually exclusive. For example, T. M. Scanlon advances the idea that human rights, which are commonly considered a "deontological" concept, can only be justified with reference to the consequences of having those rights.[1] Similarly, Robert Nozick argues for a theory that is mostly consequentialist, but incorporates inviolable "side-constraints" which restrict the sort of actions agents are permitted to do.[1]

Demosthenes orator Louvre
Every advantage in the past is judged in the light of the final issue. —Demosthenes

Philosophies

State consequentialism

It is the business of the benevolent man to seek to promote what is beneficial to the world and to eliminate what is harmful, and to provide a model for the world. What benefits he will carry out; what does not benefit men he will leave alone.[2]

— Mozi, Mozi (5th century BC) Part I

Mohist consequentialism, also known as state consequentialism,[3] is an ethical theory which evaluates the moral worth of an action based on how much it contributes to the welfare of a state.[3] According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Mohist consequentialism, dating back to the 5th century BCE, is the "world's earliest form of consequentialism, a remarkably sophisticated version based on a plurality of intrinsic goods taken as constitutive of human welfare".[4]

Unlike utilitarianism, which views utility as the sole moral good, "the basic goods in Mohist consequentialist thinking are... order, material wealth, and increase in population".[5] During Mozi's era, war and famines were common, and population growth was seen as a moral necessity for a harmonious society. The "material wealth" of Mohist consequentialism refers to basic needs like shelter and clothing, and the "order" of Mohist consequentialism refers to Mozi's stance against warfare and violence, which he viewed as pointless and a threat to social stability.[6] Stanford sinologist David Shepherd Nivison, in The Cambridge History of Ancient China, writes that the moral goods of Mohism "are interrelated: more basic wealth, then more reproduction; more people, then more production and wealth... if people have plenty, they would be good, filial, kind, and so on unproblematically".[5]

The Mohists believed that morality is based on "promoting the benefit of all under heaven and eliminating harm to all under heaven". In contrast to Jeremy Bentham's views, state consequentialism is not utilitarian because it is not hedonistic or individualistic. The importance of outcomes that are good for the community outweigh the importance of individual pleasure and pain.[7] The term state consequentialism has also been applied to the political philosophy of the Confucian philosopher Xunzi.[8]

On the other hand, the "Legalist" Han Fei "is motivated almost totally from the ruler's point of view".[9]

Utilitarianism

Jeremy Bentham by Henry William Pickersgill detail
Jeremy Bentham, best known for his advocacy of utilitarianism

Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do. On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne. They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think...

— Jeremy Bentham, The Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789) Ch I, p 1

In summary, Jeremy Bentham states that people are driven by their interests and their fears, but their interests take precedence over their fears, and their interests are carried out in accordance with how people view the consequences that might be involved with their interests. "Happiness" on this account is defined as the maximization of pleasure and the minimization of pain. Historically, hedonistic utilitarianism is the paradigmatic example of a consequentialist moral theory. This form of utilitarianism holds that what matters is the aggregate happiness; the happiness of everyone and not the happiness of any particular person. John Stuart Mill, in his exposition of hedonistic utilitarianism, proposed a hierarchy of pleasures, meaning that the pursuit of certain kinds of pleasure is more highly valued than the pursuit of other pleasures.[10] However, some contemporary utilitarians, such as Peter Singer, are concerned with maximizing the satisfaction of preferences, hence "preference utilitarianism". Other contemporary forms of utilitarianism mirror the forms of consequentialism outlined below.

Ethical egoism

Ethical egoism can be understood as a consequentialist theory according to which 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. Some, like Henry Sidgwick, argue that a certain degree of egoism promotes the general welfare of society for two reasons: because individuals know how to please themselves best, and because if everyone were an austere altruist then general welfare would inevitably decrease.[11]

Ethical altruism

Ethical altruism can be seen as a consequentialist ethic which prescribes that an individual take actions that have the best consequences for everyone except for himself.[12] This was advocated by Auguste Comte, who coined the term "altruism," and whose ethics can be summed up in the phrase "Live for others".[13]

Rule consequentialism

In general, consequentialist theories focus on actions. However, this need not be the case. Rule consequentialism is a theory that is sometimes seen as an attempt to reconcile deontology and consequentialism—and in some cases, this is stated as a criticism of rule consequentialism.[14] Like deontology, rule consequentialism holds that moral behavior involves following certain rules. However, rule consequentialism chooses rules based on the consequences that the selection of those rules has. Rule consequentialism exists in the forms of rule utilitarianism and rule egoism.

Various theorists are split as to whether the rules are the only determinant of moral behavior or not. For example, Robert Nozick holds that a certain set of minimal rules, which he calls "side-constraints", are necessary to ensure appropriate actions.[1] There are also differences as to how absolute these moral rules are. Thus, while Nozick's side-constraints are absolute restrictions on behavior, Amartya Sen proposes a theory that recognizes the importance of certain rules, but these rules are not absolute.[1] That is, they may be violated if strict adherence to the rule would lead to much more undesirable consequences.

One of the most common objections to rule-consequentialism is that it is incoherent, because it is based on the consequentialist principle that what we should be concerned with is maximizing the good, but then it tells us not to act to maximize the good, but to follow rules (even in cases where we know that breaking the rule could produce better results).

Brad Hooker avoided this objection by not basing his form of rule-consequentialism on the ideal of maximizing the good. He writes:

…the best argument for rule-consequentialism is not that it derives from an overarching commitment to maximise the good. The best argument for rule-consequentialism is that it does a better job than its rivals of matching and tying together our moral convictions, as well as offering us help with our moral disagreements and uncertainties.[15]

Derek Parfit described Brad Hooker's book on rule-consequentialism Ideal Code, Real World as the "best statement and defence, so far, of one of the most important moral theories".[16]

Rule-consequentialism may offer a means to reconcile pure consequentialism with deontological, or rules-based ethics.[17]

Two-level consequentialism

The two-level approach involves engaging in critical reasoning and considering all the possible ramifications of one's actions before making an ethical decision, but reverting to generally reliable moral rules when one is not in a position to stand back and examine the dilemma as a whole. In practice, this equates to adhering to rule consequentialism when one can only reason on an intuitive level, and to act consequentialism when in a position to stand back and reason on a more critical level.[18]

This position can be described as a reconciliation between act consequentialism – in which the morality of an action is determined by that action's effects – and rule consequentialism – in which moral behavior is derived from following rules that lead to positive outcomes.[18]

The two-level approach to consequentialism is most often associated with R. M. Hare and Peter Singer[19].[18]

Motive consequentialism

Another consequentialist version is motive consequentialism which looks at whether the state of affairs that results from the motive to choose an action is better or at least as good as each of the alternative state of affairs that would have resulted from alternative actions. This version gives relevance to the motive of an act and links it to its consequences. An act can therefore not be wrong if the decision to act was based on a right motive. A possible inference is, that one can not be blamed for mistaken judgments if the motivation was to do good.[20]

Negative consequentialism

Most consequentialist theories focus on promoting some sort of good consequences. However, negative utilitarianism lays out a consequentialist theory that focuses solely on minimizing bad consequences.

One major difference between these two approaches is the agent's responsibility. Positive consequentialism demands that we bring about good states of affairs, whereas negative consequentialism requires that we avoid bad ones. Stronger versions of negative consequentialism will require active intervention to prevent bad and ameliorate existing harm. In weaker versions, simple forbearance from acts tending to harm others is sufficient. An example of this is the Slippery Slope Argument, which encourages others to avoid a specified act on the grounds that it may ultimately lead to undesirable consequences.[21]

Often "negative" consequentialist theories assert that reducing suffering is more important than increasing pleasure. Karl Popper, for example, claimed "…from the moral point of view, pain cannot be outweighed by pleasure...". (While Popper is not a consequentialist per se, this is taken as a classic statement of negative utilitarianism.) When considering a theory of justice, negative consequentialists may use a statewide or global-reaching principle: the reduction of suffering (for the disadvantaged) is more valuable than increased pleasure (for the affluent or luxurious).

Teleological ethics

Teleological ethics (Greek telos, "end"; logos, "science") is an ethical theory that holds that the ends or consequences of an act determine whether an act is good or evil. Teleological theories are often discussed in opposition to deontological ethical theories, which hold that acts themselves are inherently good or evil, regardless of the consequences of acts. The saying, "the end justifies the means",[22] meaning that if a goal is morally important enough, any method of achieving it is acceptable.[23]

Teleological theories differ on the nature of the end that actions ought to promote. Eudaemonist theories (Greek eudaimonia, "happiness") hold that the goal of ethics consists in some function or activity appropriate to man as a human being, and thus tend to emphasize the cultivation of virtue or excellence in the agent as the end of all action. These could be the classical virtues—courage, temperance, justice, and wisdom—that promoted the Greek ideal of man as the "rational animal", or the theological virtues—faith, hope, and love—that distinguished the Christian ideal of man as a being created in the image of God.

JohnStuartMill
John Stuart Mill, an influential liberal thinker of the 19th century and a teacher of utilitarianism

Utilitarian-type theories hold that the end consists in an experience or feeling produced by the action. Hedonism, for example, teaches that this feeling is pleasure—either one's own, as in egoism (the 17th-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes), or everyone's, as in universalistic hedonism, or utilitarianism (the 19th-century English philosophers Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and Henry Sidgwick), with its formula of the "greatest pleasure of the greatest number".

Other utilitarian-type views include the claims that the end of action is survival and growth, as in evolutionary ethics (the 19th-century English philosopher Herbert Spencer); the experience of power, as in despotism; satisfaction and adjustment, as in pragmatism (20th-century American philosophers Ralph Barton Perry and John Dewey); and freedom, as in existentialism (the 20th-century French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre).

The chief problem for eudaemonist theories is to show that leading a life of virtue will also be attended by happiness—by the winning of the goods regarded as the chief end of action. That Job should suffer and Socrates and Jesus die while the wicked prosper, then seems unjust. Eudaemonists generally reply that the universe is moral and that, in Socrates' words, "No evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death," or, in Jesus' words, "But he who endures to the end will be saved." (Matt 10:22).

Utilitarian theories, on the other hand, must answer the charge that ends do not justify the means. The problem arises in these theories because they tend to separate the achieved ends from the action by which these ends were produced. One implication of utilitarianism is that one's intention in performing an act may include all of its foreseen consequences. The goodness of the intention then reflects the balance of the good and evil of these consequences, with no limits imposed upon it by the nature of the act itself—even if it be, say, the breaking of a promise or the execution of an innocent man. Utilitarianism, in answering this charge, must show either that what is apparently immoral is not really so or that, if it really is so, then closer examination of the consequences will bring this fact to light. Ideal utilitarianism (G.E. Moore and Hastings Rashdall) tries to meet the difficulty by advocating a plurality of ends and including among them the attainment of virtue itself, which, as John Stuart Mill affirmed, "may be felt a good in itself, and desired as such with as great intensity as any other good".

Acts and omissions, and the "act and omissions doctrine"

Since pure consequentialism holds that an action is to be judged solely by its result, most consequentialist theories hold that a deliberate action is no different from a deliberate decision not to act. This contrasts with the "acts and omissions doctrine", which is upheld by some medical ethicists and some religions: it asserts there is a significant moral distinction between acts and deliberate non-actions which lead to the same outcome. This contrast is brought out in issues such as voluntary euthanasia.

Issues

Action guidance

One important characteristic of many normative moral theories such as consequentialism is the ability to produce practical moral judgements. At the very least, any moral theory needs to define the standpoint from which the goodness of the consequences are to be determined. What is primarily at stake here is the responsibility of the agent.

The ideal observer

One common tactic among consequentialists, particularly those committed to an altruistic (selfless) account of consequentialism, is to employ an ideal, neutral observer from which moral judgements can be made. John Rawls, a critic of utilitarianism, argues that utilitarianism, in common with other forms of consequentialism, relies on the perspective of such an ideal observer.[1] The particular characteristics of this ideal observer can vary from an omniscient observer, who would grasp all the consequences of any action, to an ideally informed observer, who knows as much as could reasonably be expected, but not necessarily all the circumstances or all the possible consequences. Consequentialist theories that adopt this paradigm hold that right action is the action that will bring about the best consequences from this ideal observer's perspective.

The real observer

In practice, it is very difficult, and at times arguably impossible, to adopt the point of view of an ideal observer. Individual moral agents do not know everything about their particular situations, and thus do not know all the possible consequences of their potential actions. For this reason, some theorists have argued that consequentialist theories can only require agents to choose the best action in line with what they know about the situation.[24] However, if this approach is naïvely adopted, then moral agents who, for example, recklessly fail to reflect on their situation, and act in a way that brings about terrible results, could be said to be acting in a morally justifiable way. Acting in a situation without first informing oneself of the circumstances of the situation can lead to even the most well-intended actions yielding miserable consequences. As a result, it could be argued that there is a moral imperative for an agent to inform himself as much as possible about a situation before judging the appropriate course of action. This imperative, of course, is derived from consequential thinking: a better-informed agent is able to bring about better consequences.

Consequences for whom

Surveyed Consequences of Whistleblowing
Surveyed consequences of whistleblowing

Moral action always has consequences for certain people or things. Varieties of consequentialism can be differentiated by the beneficiary of the good consequences. That is, one might ask "Consequences for whom?"

Agent-focused or agent-neutral

A fundamental distinction can be drawn between theories which require that agents act for ends perhaps disconnected from their own interests and drives, and theories which permit that agents act for ends in which they have some personal interest or motivation. These are called "agent-neutral" and "agent-focused" theories respectively.

Agent-neutral consequentialism ignores the specific value a state of affairs has for any particular agent. Thus, in an agent-neutral theory, an actor's personal goals do not count any more than anyone else's goals in evaluating what action the actor should take. Agent-focused consequentialism, on the other hand, focuses on the particular needs of the moral agent. Thus, in an agent-focused account, such as one that Peter Railton outlines, the agent might be concerned with the general welfare, but the agent is more concerned with the immediate welfare of herself and her friends and family.[1]

These two approaches could be reconciled by acknowledging the tension between an agent's interests as an individual and as a member of various groups, and seeking to somehow optimize among all of these interests. For example, it may be meaningful to speak of an action as being good for someone as an individual, but bad for them as a citizen of their town.

Human-centered?

Many consequentialist theories may seem primarily concerned with human beings and their relationships with other human beings. However, some philosophers argue that we should not limit our ethical consideration to the interests of human beings alone. Jeremy Bentham, who is regarded as the founder of utilitarianism, argues that animals can experience pleasure and pain, thus demanding that 'non-human animals' should be a serious object of moral concern.[25] More recently, Peter Singer has argued that it is unreasonable that we do not give equal consideration to the interests of animals as to those of human beings when we choose the way we are to treat them.[26] Such equal consideration does not necessarily imply identical treatment of humans and non-humans, any more than it necessarily implies identical treatment of all humans.

Value of consequences

One way to divide various consequentialisms is by the types of consequences that are taken to matter most, that is, which consequences count as good states of affairs. According to utilitarianism, a good action is one that results in an increase in pleasure, and the best action is one that results in the most pleasure for the greatest number. Closely related is eudaimonic consequentialism, according to which a full, flourishing life, which may or may not be the same as enjoying a great deal of pleasure, is the ultimate aim. Similarly, one might adopt an aesthetic consequentialism, in which the ultimate aim is to produce beauty. However, one might fix on non-psychological goods as the relevant effect. Thus, one might pursue an increase in material equality or political liberty instead of something like the more ephemeral "pleasure". Other theories adopt a package of several goods, all to be promoted equally.

Virtue ethics

Consequentialism can also be contrasted with aretaic moral theories such as virtue ethics. Whereas consequentialist theories posit that consequences of action should be the primary focus of our thinking about ethics, virtue ethics insists that it is the character rather than the consequences of actions that should be the focal point. Some virtue ethicists hold that consequentialist theories totally disregard the development and importance of moral character. For example, Philippa Foot argues that consequences in themselves have no ethical content, unless it has been provided by a virtue such as benevolence.[1]

However, consequentialism and virtue ethics need not be entirely antagonistic. Iain King has developed an approach that reconciles the two schools.[27] Other consequentialists consider effects on the character of people involved in an action when assessing consequence. Similarly, a consequentialist theory may aim at the maximization of a particular virtue or set of virtues. Finally, following Foot's lead, one might adopt a sort of consequentialism that argues that virtuous activity ultimately produces the best consequences.

Max Weber 1894
Max Weber

Ultimate end

The ultimate end is a concept in the moral philosophy of Max Weber, in which individuals act in a faithful, rather than rational, manner.

We must be clear about the fact that all ethically oriented conduct may be guided by one of two fundamentally differing and irreconcilably opposed maxims: conduct can be oriented to an "ethic of ultimate ends" or to an "ethic of responsibility." This is not to say that an ethic of ultimate ends is identical with irresponsibility, or that an ethic of responsibility is identical with unprincipled opportunism. Naturally, nobody says that. However, there is an abysmal contrast between conduct that follows the maxim of an ethic of ultimate ends—that, is in religious terms, "the Christian does rightly and leaves the results with the Lord"—and conduct that follows the maxim of an ethic of responsibility, in which case one has to give an account of the foreseeable results of one's action.

— Max Weber, Politics as a Vocation, 1918

Etymology

The term "consequentialism" was coined by G. E. M. Anscombe in her essay "Modern Moral Philosophy" in 1958, to describe what she saw as the central error of certain moral theories, such as those propounded by Mill and Sidgwick.[28]

The phrase and concept of "The end justifies the means" are at least as old as the first century BC. Ovid wrote in his Heroides that Exitus acta probat "The result justifies the deed".

Criticisms

G. E. M. Anscombe objects to consequentialism on the grounds that it does not provide ethical guidance in what one ought to do because there is no distinction between consequences that are foreseen and those that are intended.[28]

Bernard Williams has argued that consequentialism is alienating because it requires moral agents to put too much distance between themselves and their own projects and commitments. Williams argues that consequentialism requires moral agents to take a strictly impersonal view of all actions, since it is only the consequences, and not who produces them, that are said to matter. Williams argues that this demands too much of moral agents—since (he claims) consequentialism demands that they be willing to sacrifice any and all personal projects and commitments in any given circumstance in order to pursue the most beneficent course of action possible. He argues further that consequentialism fails to make sense of intuitions that it can matter whether or not someone is personally the author of a particular consequence. For example, that participating in a crime can matter, even if the crime would have been committed anyway, or would even have been worse, without the agent's participation.[29]

Some consequentialists—most notably Peter Railton—have attempted to develop a form of consequentialism that acknowledges and avoids the objections raised by Williams. Railton argues that Williams's criticisms can be avoided by adopting a form of consequentialism in which moral decisions are to be determined by the sort of life that they express. On his account, the agent should choose the sort of life that will, on the whole, produce the best overall effects.[1]

Notable consequentialists

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Scheffler, Samuel (Ed.) (1988). Consequentialism and Its Critics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-875073-4.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  2. ^ Di Mo; Xunzi; Di Mo Xunzi Fei Han; Professor Burton Watson (1967). Basic Writings of Mo Tzu, Hsün Tzu, and Han Fei Tzu. Columbia University Press. p. 110. ISBN 978-0-231-02515-7.
  3. ^ a b Ivanhoe, P.J.; Van Norden, Bryan William (2005). Readings in classical Chinese philosophy. Hackett Publishing. p. 60. ISBN 978-0-87220-780-6. "he advocated a form of state consequentialism, which sought to maximize three basic goods: the wealth, order, and population of the state
  4. ^ Fraser, Chris, "Mohism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edward N. Zalta.
  5. ^ a b Loewe, Michael; Shaughnessy, Edward L. (1999). The Cambridge History of Ancient China. Cambridge University Press. p. 761. ISBN 978-0-521-47030-8.
  6. ^ Van Norden, Bryan W. (2011). Introduction to Classical Chinese Philosophy. Hackett Publishing. p. 52. ISBN 978-1-60384-468-0.
  7. ^ Jay L. Garfield; William Edelglass (9 June 2011). The Oxford Handbook of World Philosophy. Oxford University Press. p. 62. ISBN 978-0-19-532899-8. The goods that serve as criteria of morality are collective or public, in contrast, for instance, to individual happiness or well-being.
  8. ^ Deen K. Chatterjee (6 October 2011). Encyclopedia of Global Justice. Springer. p. 1170. ISBN 978-1-4020-9159-9. in this sense, one can interpret Xunzi's political philosophy as a form of state utilitarianism or state consequentialism
  9. ^ Hansen, Chad (1994). "Fa (Standards: Laws) and Meaning Changes in Chinese Philosophy". Philosophy East and West. 44 (3): 435–488. JSTOR 1399736.
  10. ^ Mill, John Stuart (1998). Utilitarianism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-875163-2.
  11. ^ Sidgwick, Henry (1907). The Method of Ethics. NY: Dover (1981). ISBN 978-0-915145-28-7. Archived from the original on December 9, 2007.
  12. ^ Fisher, James; Dowdwen, Bradley. "Ethics". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  13. ^ Moran, Gabriel (2006). "Christian Religion and National Interests" (PDF).
  14. ^ Bernard Williams, "Utilitarianism" in his Morality, Cambridge University Press 1993
  15. ^ Brad Hooker, Ideal Code, Real World Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 101.
  16. ^ Hooker, Brad. Ideal Code, Real World. Oxford University Press, new edition 2002, back cover.
  17. ^ D'Souza, Jeevan. "On Measuring the Moral Value of Action" (PDF). Philos, China.
  18. ^ a b c Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter (2015). Zalta, Edward N., ed. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2015 ed.). Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University.
  19. ^ Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter (2015), Zalta, Edward N., ed., "Consequentialism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2015 ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, retrieved 2019-02-01
  20. ^ Adams, R. M. (1976). "Motive Utilitarianism". Journal of Philosophy. 73 (14): 467–81. doi:10.2307/2025783. JSTOR 2025783.
  21. ^ Haigh, Matthew; Wood, Jeffrey S.; Stewart, Andrew J. (2016-07-01). "Slippery slope arguments imply opposition to change". Memory & Cognition. 44 (5): 819–836. doi:10.3758/s13421-016-0596-9. ISSN 0090-502X. PMID 26886759.
  22. ^ Mizzoni, John (2009-08-31). Ethics: The Basics. John Wiley & Sons. p. 104. ISBN 9781405189941.
  23. ^ Cambridge Dictionary: the end justifies the means
  24. ^ Mackie, J. L. (1990) [1977]. Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. London: Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-013558-9.
  25. ^ Bentham, Jeremy (1996). An Introduction to the Principles of Moral Legislation. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-820516-6. Archived from the original on January 5, 2008.
  26. ^ Singer, Peter (2002). Helga Kuhse, ed., ed. Unsanctifying Human Life. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 978-0-631-22507-2.CS1 maint: Extra text: editors list (link)
  27. ^ King, Ian (2008). How to Make Good Decisions and Be Right All the Time: Solving the Riddle of Right and Wrong, London: Continuum.
  28. ^ a b Anscombe, G. E. M. (1958). "Modern Moral Philosophy". Philosophy. 33 (124): 1–19. doi:10.1017/S0031819100037943.
  29. ^ Smart, J.J.C. and Williams, Bernard. Utilitarianism: For and Against. Cambridge University Press, 1973, pp. 98 ff.

Further reading

External links

Appeal to consequences

Appeal to consequences, also known as argumentum ad consequentiam (Latin for "argument to the consequences"), is an argument that concludes a hypothesis (typically a belief) to be either true or false based on whether the premise leads to desirable or undesirable consequences. This is based on an appeal to emotion and is a type of informal fallacy, since the desirability of a premise's consequence does not make the premise true. Moreover, in categorizing consequences as either desirable or undesirable, such arguments inherently contain subjective points of view.

In logic, appeal to consequences refers only to arguments that assert a conclusion's truth value (true or false) without regard to the formal preservation of the truth from the premises; appeal to consequences does not refer to arguments that address a premise's consequential desirability (good or bad, or right or wrong) instead of its truth value. Therefore, an argument based on appeal to consequences is valid in long-term decision making (which discusses possibilities that do not exist yet in the present) and abstract ethics, and in fact such arguments are the cornerstones of many moral theories, particularly related to consequentialism. Appeal to consequences also should not be confused with argumentum ad baculum, which is the bringing up of artificial consequences (i.e. punishments) to argue that an action is wrong.

Bite the bullet

To "bite the bullet" is to endure a painful or otherwise unpleasant situation that is seen as unavoidable. The phrase was first recorded by Rudyard Kipling in his 1891 novel The Light that Failed.It was suggested by the movie Bite the Bullet that biting the bullet meant using a shell casing to cover an aching tooth, especially one that had been broken, and where a nerve is exposed. In the film, the slug was removed from the bullet, the cap was hit to expend that charge, and the casing was cut down to allow it to sit level with the other teeth.

It is often stated that it is derived historically from the practice of having a patient clench a bullet in his or her teeth as a way to cope with the extreme pain of a surgical procedure without anesthetic, though evidence for biting a bullet rather than a leather strap during surgery is sparse. It has been speculated to have evolved from the British empire expression "to bite the cartridge", which dates to the Indian Rebellion of 1857, but the phrase "chew a bullet", with a similar meaning, dates to at least 1796.

Brad Hooker

Brad Hooker (born 13 September 1957) is a British-American philosopher who specialises in moral philosophy. He is a Professor at the University of Reading and is best known for his work defending rule-consequentialism (often treated as being synonymous with rule utilitarianism).

His book Ideal Code, Real World received a number of favourable reviews from high-profile philosophers. Derek Parfit, for example, wrote: "This book seems to me the best statement and defence, so far, of one of the most important moral theories."

Consequentialist libertarianism

Consequentialist libertarianism (also known as libertarian consequentialism or consequentialist liberalism, in Europe) refers to the libertarian position that is supportive of a free market and strong private property rights only on the grounds that they bring about favorable consequences, such as prosperity or efficiency.

Demandingness objection

The demandingness objection is a common argument raised against utilitarianism and other consequentialist ethical theories. The consequentialist requirement that we maximize the good impartially seems to this objection to require us to perform acts that we would normally consider optional.

For example, if our resources maximize utility through charitable contributions rather than spending them on ourselves, we are, according to utilitarianism, morally required to do so. The objection holds that this clashes with our intuitions about morality, since we would normally consider such acts to be "supererogatory" (praiseworthy but not obligatory). It is argued that because consequentialism appears to demand more than common-sense morality, it ought to be revised or rejected.

Deontological ethics

In moral philosophy, deontological ethics or deontology (from Greek δέον, deon, "obligation, duty")

is the normative ethical theory that the morality of an action should be based on whether that action itself is right or wrong under a series of rules, rather than based on the consequences of the action.It is sometimes described as "duty-" or "obligation-" or "rule-" based ethics, because rules "bind one to one's duty". Deontological ethics is commonly contrasted to consequentialism, virtue ethics, and pragmatic ethics. In this terminology, action is more important than the consequences.

It is an ethical framework that depends on the predefined sets of rules and policies for the proper functioning of a system in the environment. The deontology is simply based on the checklist which includes certain rules to be followed while performing a particular task. According to this framework, the work is considered virtuous only if this checklist is completed.

This procedure is very simple to implement and understand. Minimum time is consumed to decide between right and wrong. However, its simplicity ignores the consequences of the decision taken under this approach.

The term deontological was first used to describe the current, specialised definition by C. D. Broad in his book, Five Types of Ethical Theory, which was published in 1930. Older usage of the term goes back to Jeremy Bentham, who coined it before 1816 as a synonym of Dicastic or Censorial Ethics (i.e. ethics based on judgement).

The more general sense of the word is retained in French, especially in the term code de déontologie (ethical code), in the context of professional ethics.

Depending on the system of deontological ethics under consideration, a moral obligation may arise from an external or internal source, such as a set of rules inherent to the universe (ethical naturalism), religious law, or a set of personal or cultural values (any of which may be in conflict with personal desires).

Ethical egoism

Ethical egoism is the normative ethical position that moral agents ought to do what is in their own self-interest. It differs from psychological egoism, which claims that people can only act in their self-interest. Ethical egoism also differs from rational egoism, which holds that it is rational to act in one's self-interest.

Ethical egoism holds, therefore, that actions whose consequences will benefit the doer can be considered ethical in this sense.

Ethical egoism contrasts with ethical altruism, which holds that moral agents have an obligation to help others. Egoism and altruism both contrast with ethical utilitarianism, which holds that a moral agent should treat one's self (also known as the subject) with no higher regard than one has for others (as egoism does, by elevating self-interests and "the self" to a status not granted to others). But it also holds that one should not (as altruism does) sacrifice one's own interests to help others' interests, so long as one's own interests (i.e. one's own desires or well-being) are substantially equivalent to the others' interests and well-being. Egoism, utilitarianism, and altruism are all forms of consequentialism, but egoism and altruism contrast with utilitarianism, in that egoism and altruism are both agent-focused forms of consequentialism (i.e. subject-focused or subjective). However, utilitarianism is held to be agent-neutral (i.e. objective and impartial): it does not treat the subject's (i.e. the self's, i.e. the moral "agent's") own interests as being more or less important than the interests, desires, or well-being of others.

Ethical egoism does not, however, require moral agents to harm the interests and well-being of others when making moral deliberation; e.g. what is in an agent's self-interest may be incidentally detrimental, beneficial, or neutral in its effect on others. Individualism allows for others' interest and well-being to be disregarded or not, as long as what is chosen is efficacious in satisfying the self-interest of the agent. Nor does ethical egoism necessarily entail that, in pursuing self-interest, one ought always to do what one wants to do; e.g. in the long term, the fulfillment of short-term desires may prove detrimental to the self. Fleeting pleasure, then, takes a back seat to protracted eudaimonia. In the words of James Rachels, "Ethical egoism ... endorses selfishness, but it doesn't endorse foolishness."Ethical egoism is often used as the philosophical basis for support of right-libertarianism and individualist anarchism. These are political positions based partly on a belief that individuals should not coercively prevent others from exercising freedom of action.

Ethics

Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct. The field of ethics, along with aesthetics, concerns matters of value, and thus comprises the branch of philosophy called axiology.Ethics seeks to resolve questions of human morality by defining concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime. As a field of intellectual inquiry, moral philosophy also is related to the fields of moral psychology, descriptive ethics, and value theory.

Three major areas of study within ethics recognized today are:

Meta-ethics, concerning the theoretical meaning and reference of moral propositions, and how their truth values (if any) can be determined

Normative ethics, concerning the practical means of determining a moral course of action

Applied ethics, concerning what a person is obligated (or permitted) to do in a specific situation or a particular domain of action

Hedonism

Hedonism is a school of thought that argues that the pursuit of pleasure and intrinsic goods are the primary or most important goals of human life. A hedonist strives to maximize net pleasure (pleasure minus pain). However upon finally gaining said pleasure, happiness may remain stationary.

Ethical hedonism is the idea that all people have the right to do everything in their power to achieve the greatest amount of pleasure possible to them. It is also the idea that every person's pleasure should far surpass their amount of pain. Ethical hedonism is said to have been started by Aristippus of Cyrene, a student of Socrates. He held the idea that pleasure is the highest good.

Mohism

Mohism or Moism (Chinese: 墨家; pinyin: Mòjiā; literally: 'School of Mo") was an ancient Chinese philosophy of logic, rational thought and science developed by the academic scholars who studied under the ancient Chinese philosopher Mozi (c. 470 BC – c. 391 BC) and embodied in an eponymous book: the Mozi. It evolved at about the same time as Confucianism, Taoism and Legalism, and was one of the four main philosophic schools from around 770–221 BC (during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods). During that time, Mohism was seen as a major rival to Confucianism. Although its influence endured, Mohism all but disappeared as an independent school of thought.

Moral absolutism

Moral absolutism is an ethical view that all actions are intrinsically right or wrong. Stealing, for instance, might be considered to be always immoral, even if done for the well-being of others (e.g., stealing food to feed a starving family), and even if it does in the end promote such a good. Moral absolutism stands in contrast to other categories of normative ethical theories such as consequentialism, which holds that the morality (in the wide sense) of an act depends on the consequences or the context of the act.

Moral absolutism is not the same as moral universalism. Universalism holds merely that what is right or wrong is independent of custom or opinion (as opposed to moral relativism), but not necessarily that what is right or wrong is independent of context or consequences (as in absolutism). Moral universalism is compatible with moral absolutism, but also positions such as consequentialism. Louis Pojman gives the following definitions to distinguish the two positions of moral absolutism and universalism:

Moral absolutism: There is at least one principle that ought never to be violated.

Moral objectivism: There is a fact of the matter as to whether any given action is morally permissible or impermissible: a fact of the matter that does not depend solely on social custom or individual acceptance.Ethical theories which place strong emphasis on rights and duty, such as the deontological ethics of Immanuel Kant, are often forms of moral absolutism, as are many religious moral codes.

Normative ethics

Normative ethics is the study of ethical action. It is the branch of philosophical ethics that investigates the set of questions that arise when considering how one ought to act, morally speaking.

Normative ethics is distinct from meta-ethics because it examines standards for the rightness and wrongness of actions, while meta-ethics studies the meaning of moral language and the metaphysics of moral facts; and it is distinct from applied ethics in that the former is more concerned with 'who ought one be' rather than the ethics of a specific issue (such as if, or when, abortion is acceptable).

Normative ethics is also distinct from descriptive ethics, as the latter is an empirical investigation of people’s moral beliefs. In this context normative ethics is sometimes called prescriptive, rather than descriptive ethics. However, on certain versions of the meta-ethical view called moral realism, moral facts are both descriptive and prescriptive at the same time.

Most traditional moral theories rest on principles that determine whether an action is right or wrong. Classical theories in this vein include utilitarianism, Kantianism, and some forms of contractarianism. These theories mainly offered the use of overarching moral principles to resolve difficult moral decisions.

School of Names

The Logicians or School of Names (Chinese: 名家; pinyin: Míngjiā) was a school of Chinese philosophy that grew out of Mohism during the Warring States period in 479–221 BCE. It is also sometimes called the School of Forms and Names (Chinese: 形名家; pinyin: Xíngmíngjiā; Wade–Giles: Hsing2-ming2-chia1). Deng Xi has been named its founder.

School of Naturalists

The School of Naturalists or the School of Yin-yang (陰陽家/阴阳家; Yīnyángjiā; Yin-yang-chia; "School of Yin-Yang") was a Warring States era philosophy that synthesized the concepts of yin-yang and the Five Elements.

State consequentialism

Mohist consequentialism, also known as state consequentialism, is a consequentialist ethical theory which evaluates the moral worth of an action based on how it contributes to the basic goods of a state, through social order, material wealth, and population growth. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Mohist consequentialism, dating back to the 5th century BC, is the "world's earliest form of consequentialism, a remarkably sophisticated version based on a plurality of intrinsic goods taken as constitutive of human welfare". The term state consequentialism has also been applied to the political philosophy of the Confucian philosopher Xunzi.

Although the scholars cited above have suggested that Mohist consequentialism is a type of state consequentialism, a recent study of Mohism argues that this interpretation is mistaken, since the Mohists hold that right and wrong are determined by what benefits all the people of the world, not by what benefits the state. The Mohists' concern is to benefit all people, considered as an aggregate or a community, not to benefit a particular political entity, such as the state.

Unintended consequences

In the social sciences, unintended consequences (sometimes unanticipated consequences or unforeseen consequences) are outcomes that are not the ones foreseen and intended by a purposeful action. The term was popularised in the twentieth century by American sociologist Robert K. Merton.Unintended consequences can be grouped into three types:

Unexpected benefit: A positive unexpected benefit (also referred to as luck, serendipity or a windfall).

Unexpected drawback: An unexpected detriment occurring in addition to the desired effect of the policy (e.g., while irrigation schemes provide people with water for agriculture, they can increase waterborne diseases that have devastating health effects, such as schistosomiasis).

Perverse result: A perverse effect contrary to what was originally intended (when an intended solution makes a problem worse). This is sometimes referred to as 'backfire'.

Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism is an ethical and philosophical theory that states that the best action is the one that maximizes utility, which is usually defined as that which produces the greatest well-being of the greatest number of people, and in some cases, sentient animals. Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism, described utility as the sum of all pleasure that results from an action, minus the suffering of anyone involved in the action. Utilitarianism is a version of consequentialism, which states that the consequences of any action are the only standard of right and wrong. Unlike other forms of consequentialism, such as egoism and altruism, utilitarianism considers the interests of all beings equally.

Proponents of utilitarianism have disagreed on a number of points, such as whether actions should be chosen based on their likely results (act utilitarianism) or whether agents should conform to rules that maximize utility (rule utilitarianism). There is also disagreement as to whether total (total utilitarianism), average (average utilitarianism) or minimum utility should be maximized.

Though the seeds of the theory can be found in the hedonists Aristippus and Epicurus, who viewed happiness as the only good, the tradition of utilitarianism properly began with Bentham, and has included John Stuart Mill, Henry Sidgwick, R. M. Hare, David Braybrooke, and Peter Singer. It has been applied to social welfare economics, the crisis of global poverty, the ethics of raising animals for food and the importance of avoiding existential risks to humanity.

Welfarism

In philosophical ethics, welfarism is a form of consequentialism. Like all forms of consequentialism, welfarism is based on the premise that actions, policies, and/or rules should be evaluated on the basis of their consequences. Welfarism is the view that the morally significant consequences are impacts on human (or animal) welfare. There are many different understandings of human welfare, but the term "welfarism" is usually associated with the economic conception of welfare. Economists usually think of individual welfare in terms of utility functions, a perspective in which social welfare can be conceived as an aggregation of individual utilities or utility functions.

Welfarist views have been especially influential in the law and economics movement. Steven Shavell and Louis Kaplow have argued in an influential book, Fairness versus Welfare that welfare should be the exclusive criteria by which legal analysts evaluate legal policy choices.

Yangism

Yangism (Chinese: 楊朱學派; pinyin: Yángzhūxuépài) was a philosophical school founded by Yang Zhu, existent during the Warring States period (475 BCE – 221 BCE), that believed that human actions are and should be based on self-interest. The school has been described by sinologists as an early form of psychological and ethical egoism. The main focus of the Yangists was on the concept of xing, or human nature, a term later incorporated by Mencius into Confucianism. No documents directly authored by the Yangists have been discovered yet, and all that is known of the school comes from the comments of rival philosophers, specifically in the Chinese texts Huainanzi, Lüshi Chunqiu, Mengzi, and possibly the Liezi and Zhuangzi. The philosopher Mencius claimed that Yangism once rivaled Confucianism and Mohism, although the veracity of this claim remains controversial among sinologists. Because Yangism had largely faded into obscurity by the time that Sima Qian compiled his Shiji, the school was not included as one of the Hundred Schools of Thought.

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