Sociology Index


"The ends justify the means"
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.

The term consequentialism refers to moral theories which hold that the consequences of a particular action form the basis for any valid moral judgment about that action. A consequentialist believes a morally right action is one that produces a good outcome, or consequence. Hedonistic Utilitarianism is the paradigmatic example of a consequentialist moral theory.

Positive consequentialism demands that we bring about good states of affairs, whereas negative consequentialism may only require that we avoid bad ones.

Consequentialism defers from deontology. Rule consequentialism is a theory that is sometimes seen as an attempt to reconcile deontology and consequentialism. Rule consequentialism also exists in the forms of rule utilitarianism and rule egoism.

Consequentialists committed to an altruistic account of consequentialism employ an ideal, neutral observer from which moral judgements can be made. Consequentialist theories thus hold that right action is the action that will bring about the best consequences from this ideal observer's perspective.

The defining feature of consequentialist moral theories is the weight given to the consequences in evaluating the rightness and wrongness of actions. - Mackie, J. L. (1990). Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. London: Penguin.

Consequentialism and Non-Consequentialism: The Axiomatic Approach
Kotaro Suzumura, Hitotsubashi University - Institute of Economic Research; Osaka University
Yongsheng Xu, Georgia State University - Andrew Young School of Policy Studies
Andrew Young School of Policy Studies Research Paper Series No. 07-11
Abstract: Most, if not at all, practitioners of welfare economics and social choice theory are presumed to be welfaristic in their conviction. Recent years have witnessed a substantial upsurge of interest in the non-welfaristic bases, or even the non-consequentialist bases, of welfare economics and social choice theory. Capitalizing on the axiomatic approach which we explored in the recent past, we try to provide a coherent analysis of consequentialism vis-a-vis non-consequentialism. To begin with, we develop an abstract framework in which the primitive of our analysis is a preference ordering held by an evaluator over the pairs of culmination outcomes and opportunity sets from which those culmination outcomes are chosen. As a partial test to see how much relevance can be claimed of the axiomatized concepts of consequentialism and non-consequentialism, two simple applications of this abstract framework are worked out.

Kantian Consequentialism
Cummiskey, David, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Bates College
Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003 Print ISBN-13: 978-0-19-509453-4
Abstract: Kantians and Consequentialists alike have presumed that Kantian ethics is incompatible with all forms of consequentialism, and that it instead justifies a system of agent-centered restrictions, or deontological constraints, on the maximization of the good. Unlike all forms of utilitarian theories, Kant's ethical theory is supposed to justify basic human rights, respect for which constrains the maximization of the good. Kantian Consequentialism argues that Kant's basic rationalist, internalist approach to the justification of normative principles, his conception of morality as a system of categorical imperatives, his account of the nature of the goodwill and the motive of duty, and his principle of universalizability are all compatible with normative consequentialism. The result is a novel and compelling form of consequentialism that is based on, and that gives priority to, the unique and special value of rational nature itself.

Pragmatism and Consequentialism
Philip X. Wang, Columbia University - Law School
Abstract: Legal Pragmatism is the view that judges should decide cases in a way that is, all things considered, in the best interests of the community. It is a forward-looking theory that rejects inviolable constraints by past judicial decisions. A pragmatist judge believes that the future should not be the slave of the past. In this paper, I argue that pragmatism is an attractive view because it is an idealized form of consequentialism: pragmatism captures the most desirable features of consequentialism while avoiding consequentialism's most powerful objections. I will also argue that rule pragmatism, a version of pragmatism that is able to respect legal rules, just as rule consequentialism is able to respect moral rules, is a viable theory of adjudication that is consistent with traditional legal values and the rule of law.

A Particular Consequentialism: Why Moral Particularism and Consequentialism Need Not Conflict
Jonas Olsona and Frans Svenssona, Uppsala University, Utilitas (2003), 15:194-205 Cambridge University Press 2003.
Abstract: Moral particularism is commonly presented as an alternative to ‘principle- or rule-based’ approaches to ethics, such as consequentialism or Kantianism. This paper argues that particularists' aversions to consequentialism stem not from a structural feature of consequentialism per se, but from substantial and structural axiological views traditionally associated with consequentialism. Given a particular approach to (intrinsic) value, there need be no conflict between moral particularism and consequentialism. We consider and reject a number of challenges holding that there is after all such a conflict. We end by suggesting that our proposed position appears quite appealing since it preserves attractive elements from particularism as well as consequentialism.

Consequentialism and the Problem of Untethered Theory - Turner, Ronald
Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The Law and Society
Abstract: The paper will examine published calls for and proposals to outlaw employment arbitration and will ask whether and how such a prohibition would work to the advantage or detriment of workers. My take is that abolishing employment arbitration could deprive (too) many workers of their only realistic chance to present challenges to adverse employment actions to an adjudicator who is empowered to overrule and remedy an employer's discharge, discipline, refusal to promote, etc. Some abolitionists have argued that forbidding arbitration promotes the rule of law and the role of the courts in developing employment discrimination law and policy.

Freedom and Binding Consequentialism
David Braddon-Mitchell
Abstract: The paper proposes a new version of direct act consequentialism that will provide the same evaluations of the rightness of acts as indirect disposition, motive or character consequentialism, thus reconciling the coherence of direct consequentialism with the plausible results in cases of indirect consequentialism. This is achieved by seeing that adopting certain kinds of moral dispositions causally constrains our future acts, so that the maximizing acts ruled out by the disposition can no longer be chosen. Thus when we act we do the best we can, which is all that is required for rightness according to act consequentialism.

Consequentialism, Demandingness and Moral Obligation
Brian McElwee, University of St Andrews (10 Mar 2004)
First SPPA Seminar Day, University of Edinburgh
Perhaps the main objection to consequentialism is what has come to be known as the demandingness objection. In this paper I discuss how the consequentialist should respond to this objection, firstly by considering and rejecting two prima facie attractive responses, from Michael Slote and Bjorn Eriksson. In showing how these responses are unsatisfactory, I outline what I take to be the most plausible form of consequentialism, one which does not fall foul of the demandingness objection. This form of consequentialism denies the deeply unintuitive claim that we have a moral obligation to bring about the best consequences we can. The consequentialist must instead reject as fundamental the traditional deontological categories- 'right', 'wrong' and 'obligation'. Consequentialism should not be understood primarily as a theory of morality narrowly conceived as focusing on obligation, but instead as a theory of the goodness and choiceworthiness of actions and practices, and of what we have most reason to do.
Take the following claim:
Moral Consequentialism (MC): We have a moral obligation to bring about the best consequences we can. The right action is that which brings about the best consequences. All other actions are wrong.
Accepting Moral Consequentialism leads to some deeply counter-intuitive results. For example, someone who gives up most of his time and money for the good of others, strives copiously to bring about large amounts of good, but does less than the very most he can, has, according to Moral Consequentialism, failed in his obligations and is acting morally wrongly.
General Consequentialism (GC): The best thing we can do is bring about the best consequences we can. What we have most reason to do is bring about the best consequences we can.
Now such a consequentialism has, as yet, made no demands whatsoever, and so does not, or at least not obviously, demand too much. I argue that consequentialists should defend General Consequentialism, but reject Moral Consequentialism.
A consequentialism which demands the best available consequences is counter-intuitive because of the conceptual link between moral demands and blameworthiness. In response to the demandingness objection, Michael Slote proposes a position which he calls 'satisficing consequentialism', which identifies right action or permissible action as that which brings about good enough consequences.