Consequentialist or non-consequentialist. That is the question, and there is always a “cost” for doing, or not doing an ethical act. Under the consequential construct, decisions are made along the lines of sacrificing one life to save many other lives. Under consequential theories right and wrong actions are judged by consequences. Not unlike utilitarianism, the goal is essentially thought to be the greatest good for the greatest number of people. If the consequences can be justified in furtherance of one mean or another, then it may be okay if there is some form of moral or ethical sacrifice involved. The consequential theorist can live with that as long as the means are justified (Lecture 2015). Under non-consequential theory, right or wrong actions are judged based upon their intrinsic properties, and not the consequences or outcomes. This speaks more to the notion of libertarianism and the notion that people are free to do what they wish as long as they allow others to enjoy similar freedoms (Suzumura 2001). Not unlike the utilitarian model presented with the consequentialist argument above, non-consequentialist theories also deal with actions and rules (Uhlmann 2013).
The real difference however, is that moral principles are applied by individuals in accordance with the unique circumstance and consequences arising out of a particular situation. In the non-consequentialist realm, the rules determine whether certain acts or actions are right or wrong, in and of themselves, as opposed to the resulting consequences (Krasemann 2008). And thus, from a moral framework, as long as the actions in and of themselves are alright, or at least can be justified, the consequences or outcomes really do not carry that much weight or effect. After all, the primary aim is for man to do what he chooses, as long as he respects the rights of others to do the same. To some this may seem, selfish, but in effect, it is actually somewhat “selfless” as it presupposes that everyone else has the right to do what they themselves choose.
Let to our own devices however, it may make for better order and societal benefit, to embrace the consequentialist view, since it tends to lend a bit of consciousness to the decision making process—in essence, that invisible ‘policeman’ or ‘gatekeeper’ at one’s elbow, whispering in our ear to first consider the consequences of out actions.
- “Ethics W2 Lecture.” Venue, City, Date Conducted, Class Lecture.
Krasemann, Jacques P. and Thiroux, Keith W. Ethics: Theory and Practice, 10th Edition. Pearson Learning Solutions, 2008-12-08.
- Suzumura, K., Xu, Y. “Characterizations of Consequentialism and Non- consequentialism.” (2001) Journal of Economic Theory.
- Uhlmann, E., Zhu, L., Tannebaum, D. “When it takes a bad person to do the right thing.” (Feb. 2013) Cognition, Vol. 126(2): 326-334