Ethics Terms and Principles
In: Social Issues
Ethics Terms and PrinciplesTheories of Ethics
Consequentialism sees the rightness or wrongness of an action in terms of the consequences brought about by that action.
The most common form of consequentialism is utilitarianism. Utilitarianism holds that one should act so as to do the greatest good for the greatest number. The good as defined by J.S. Mill would be the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain. Utilitarians are concerned with the aggregate happiness of all beings capable of experiencing pleasure or pain including nonhuman animals. They consider the principle of utility to be the act, which produces the greatest balance of good over evil. Utilitarians consider both the happiness-producing and unhappiness-producing consequences of several alternative actions before deciding on one.
A nineteenth century philosopher Jeremy Bentham created a checklist called the hedonic calculus. Bentham designed what he termed the hedonic calculus to enable people to measure the overall happiness- or pleasure-producing consequences of actions in terms of their duration, intensity, certainty, propinquity, fecundity, purity, and extent. This tool would not work in today’s society because happiness or pleasure as we know it would be difficult to measure on a numeric scale.
There are two forms of utilitarians. Act utilitarians directly apply the principle of utility to each case as it arises. Rule utilitarians apply the principle of utility to general rules of action rather than to particular actions.
Act and rule utilitarianism contain numerous flaws. They cannot predict the future. They can use life experiences to attempt to predict outcomes but there is no certainty that these predictions will come true. Utilitarianism is not always concerned with justice, beneficence or autonomy for an individual. In some instances it will be necessary to sacrifice one person’s or a few persons’ interests in order to serve the interests of many people. The...