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Consequentialism: An Explainer

Consequentialism: An Explainer

Consequentialism is an ethical theory that evaluates the morality of actions based on their outcomes or consequences. This approach prioritizes maximizing overall happiness, well-being, or any other desired outcome, regardless of the methods employed to achieve it.

It holds that the rightness or wrongness of an action depends solely on the goodness or badness of its results. 

In other words, the ends justify the means. 

Main Features 

  • Maximization of Good Consequentialist theories typically aim to maximize some measure of goodness or value, such as happiness, pleasure, or well-being. The morally right action is often considered to be the one that produces the greatest ‘goodness’ value.

  • Teleological Approach Consequentialism is teleological, meaning it looks at the purpose or end result of actions. The morality of an action is determined by its intended or actual outcome.

  • Utility Principle Many forms of consequentialism, like utilitarianism, rely on the principle that the right action is the one that maximizes overall utility for the greatest number of people.

  • Impartiality Consequentialism often emphasizes impartiality, meaning that all affected individuals' interests should be considered equally when assessing an action's morality. This can lead to decisions that prioritize the greater good over the interests of specific individuals or groups.

Types of Consequentialism

  • Ethical Egoism: This theory asserts that individuals should act in their own self-interest, maximizing their own happiness or well-being. So an action is morally right if it promotes the individual's self-interest, regardless of its impact on others. Ethical egoists believe that individuals have no moral obligations to others beyond what serves their own interests.

  • Utilitarianism: This theory proposes that the best action is the one that maximizes overall happiness or well-being for the greatest number of people. So the consequences of actions are evaluated in terms of the pleasure or happiness they produce for individuals affected by those actions. Utilitarianism is often associated with the idea of the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ and emphasizes impartiality.


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