[8.1.] Consequentialism vs. Deontology.
We have already looked at various broad theories of morality:
· moral skepticism
· one form of which is moral-cultural relativism
· moral realism
· one form of which is divine command theory
Starting today, we will consider another two theories… or rather, two families of theories:
consequentialism (df.): an action is moral or immoral based only its consequences (i.e., its effects); nothing else about the action is morally relevant. Two primary forms:
utilitarianism (df.): the right thing to do in any situation is to create as much happiness or well-being as possible for those who are affected by your actions, including but not limited to yourself and your loved ones.
classical utilitarianism emphasized happiness.
modern utilitarianism tends to emphasize well-being.
ethical egoism (df.): the right thing to do in any situation is to create as much happiness or well-being as possible for yourself – the effects of your actions on other people are morally irrelevant so long as they do not diminish your own happiness or well-being. (For more on this idea, see EMP ch.5.)
deontology (df.): there are some actions that you should perform and some you should not perform regardless of the consequences (from Greek “deon”, meaning duty or obligation). [We will discuss deontology at length when we study the ethical theory of Immanuel Kant.]
By far the most popular form of consequentialism is utilitarianism. We will spend the next several class sessions examining this theory and how it can be applied to various issues within ethics.
A stark illustration of the different answers that utilitarianism and deontology might give to the same moral question is found in Bernard Williams’ “Utilitarianism and Integrity” (see the story of Jim in Bernard Williams’ “Utilitarianism and Integrity,” RTD p.40 – I am not including this story here in the lecture notes. To be able to answer the “short answer” question about this material that appears on the Exam 2 study guide, you will need to consult the short chapter by Williams in RTD ).
Stopping point for Monday March 2. For next time, read all of RTD ch.34, “The Morality of Euthanasia” by James Rachels.
This page last updated 3/2/2015.
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