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Consequentialism is the name of a family of ethical theories that judge the rightness of an action, or a policy, in terms of the value of its consequences. The most familiar form of this approach is utilitarianism according to which an action is right if and only if in a given situation it is the best or equal best among those available, where ‘best’ is defined as ‘that which produces the greatest amount of happiness, or preference satisfaction’ or welfare, for the greatest number of those involved. Any version of utilitarianism is a case of consequentialism not vice versa. The views, for example that the criterion of right action is pleasing God (and of bad action offending Him); or that what is right is whatever protects the planet (and bad, whatever harms it) are both consequentialist, but non-utilitarian theories. The main criticisms of consequentialism are 1) that it takes the end to justify the means and does not allow that some courses of action are right or wrong in and of themselves wholly or partly independent of their consequences, and 2) that is unworkable because we cannot know what all the consequences of an action may be and so cannot calculate its value; and 3) that the favoured standards of good consequences are erroneous, for we can meaningfully ask whether happiness, or preference satisfaction etc is good.

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    AGAINST CONSEQUENTIALISM GERMAIN GRISEZ THE AMERICAN JOURNAL OF JURISPRUDENCE VOLUME 23 (1978): 21-72 S AGAINST CONSEQUENTIALISM GERMAIN GRISEZ Consequentialist theories of moral and jurisprudential judgment presuppose that human goods are commensurable in a way which permits "greater good" and similar expressions to refer to some- thing antecedent to and determinative of moral and jurisprudential judgments. The thesis of this article is that "greater good" and similar expressions necessarily lack reference in the contexts in which consequentialist theories require that they have it. After clarifying what consequentialism is, the author points out difficulties which consequentialists themselves have noted and failed to resolve. He then argues that these difficulties are inevita- ble. Still, "greater good" and similar expressions do have legitimate uses. These are analyzed and distinguished from the uses of these expressions a consequentialist would require. Finally, consequen- tialism is attacked as a method of rationalization. I IN THIS ARTICLE, I ATTACK a general theory of moral—and jurispru- dential-judgment which I refer to as “consequentialism.” In this section, I clarify what consequentialism is, suggest why it is plausible, and outline the remainder of the article. Although I do not articulate and defend an alternative to consequentialism in the present article, a schematic review of alternative theories of moral judgment will help to clarify what consequentialism is. Some accounts of moral judgment—that is, of what most people call "moral judgment"-are noncognitivist. Such theories claim that linguistic expressions which usually are thought to articulate moral judgments never actually do express judgments or statements or any- thing cognitional at all. Instead, such expressions are said by noncog- nitivists to do important tasks such as expressing feelings, attitudes, wishes, commitments, or something else; inciting feelings, actions, expectations, or something else; or some combination of these and other properly noncognitional tasks. Consequentialism differs from all such theories, for it is cognitivist. A consequentialist maintains that linguistic expressions which are thought to express moral judgments at least sometimes do articulate moral cognitions. Like other cognitivists, consequentialists maintain that acts of a cognitional type bearing upon moral questions can be correct or mistaken-for example, that judgments about what is mor- ally right and wrong can be true or false. 21 THE AMERICAN JOURNAL OF JURISPRUDENCE Some cognitivist accounts of moral judgment claim that all the principles of moral knowledge are perceptions of particular and con- crete moral realities. On such accounts, primary moral cognition is nondiscursive and nonrational. One may be said to "intuit" moral quality, perhaps by using a "moral sense." Theories of conscience ac- cording to which one's conscience receives guidance in each unique case from some transcendent source and theories which treat con- science as a kind of immanent and infallible oracle belong in this category. 22 Consequentialism differs from all such theories, for it proposes a method of moral reasoning. The consequentialist holds that there are some general principles of morality from which moral judgments about particular cases can be drawn. Like others who consider moral reflection to be a rational process, consequentialists hold that there can be sound and unsound arguments for moral judgments. Some accounts of moral judgment both hold that there are general or universal moral principles which are not derived from moral per- ception and hold that these principles of morality-which shape mo- rality from within-are irreducible to any principles which are su- pramoral. For such accounts, moral rightness and duty do not depend upon anything transcendent to the moral domain itself, and moral uprightness is an end in itself. Kant's formalistic theory of moral law is the clearest example of such a theory. Some versions of stoicism and some natural law theories also belong here, as do those divine- command theories which ground the force of divine commands in di- vine holiness-which is thought of as a constitutive principle of mo- rality— rather than in mere divine power. Consequentialism differs from all such theories, for it proposes a method of deriving moral judgments from goods which ultimately are not entirely of the moral order. The consequentialist holds that moral uprightness should serve other personal and interpersonal human goods, and that moral rectitude and the doing of one's duty can be understood as a function of the fulfillment or flourishing or well-being or happiness of human individuals and communities. Like others who hold that there is a transmoral source of morality, consequentialists hold that there can be a sound or unsound method for seeking the grounds of moral judgments in the human goods which are regarded as the basic, transmoral principles of morality. Any theory which maintains that moral judgments can be reduced to transmoral goods involves a distinction between basic human goods, which are ends immanent (at least by participation) in persons and communities, and other goods which are means that can exist î- GERMAIN GRISEZ 23 apart from persons. No one attempts to ground morality in merely instrumental goods such as wealth. Certain consequentialists, such as Bentham, have maintained that pleasure is the sole basic human good, and they have tried to make morality depend upon this one principle. But consequentialism is not defined by so narrow a view of what the basic human good is. Consequentialists and others who think that morality depends upon human goods which are not exclu- sively moral can agree that such goods include knowledge of truth, esthetic experience, excellence in skilled performance, good fellow- ship, and perhaps many other goods which persons can seek without ulterior purpose and enjoy for their own sake. But not all who think moral judgments can be reduced to princi- ples of human good which are not exclusively moral accept the same theory. Nonconsequentialists can locate the distinction between moral right and wrong in the manner in which a person freely disposes himself or herself towards the basic human goods. On such a view, one can dispose oneself in an attitude of realistic and open respon- siveness towards all the basic human goods, or one can arbitrarily limit one's appreciation and respect for them.¹ In either case, one establishes a personal hierarchy of commitments to goods, and this hierarchy shapes an individual life-plan or self-constitution. 2 But an attitude of openness puts one's own projects and satisfactions in the service of wider human possibilities and a more perfect life in com- munity, while exclusive and arbitrary self-limitation reduces others to the status of instruments of self-fulfillment. Thus nonconsequentialist theories of moral judgment which reduce it to transmoral principles of personal good can use as a methodological key the diverse modes in which persons orient themselves towards these goods. 1. I have attempted to articulate an ethical theory along these lines in several previous works: "The First Principle of Practical Reason: A Commentary on the Summa theologiae, Question 94, Article 2,” Natural Law Forum, 10 (1965), pp. 168- 201; Contraception and the Natural Law (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Co., 1964), pp. 46-75; Abortion: The Myths, the Realities, and the Arguments (New York and Cleveland: Corpus Books, 1970), pp. 267-346; "Toward a Consistent Natural-Law Ethics of Killing," American Journal of Jurisprudence and Legal Philosophy, 15 (1970), pp. 64-96; with Russell Shaw, Beyond the New Morality: The Responsibilities of Freedom (Notre Dame and London: University of Notre Dame Press, 1974); "Suicide and Euthanasia," in Dennis J. Horan and David Mall, eds., Death, Dying, and Euthanasia (Washington, D.C.: University Publications of America, 1977), pp. 742-789. 2. Cf. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971), pp. 407-446, and the works Rawls cites on life plans, for ideas close to my notion of self-constitution. My view is nearest to those of Josiah Royce and Charles Fried. See the latter's Anatomy of Values (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univeristy Press, 1970), pp. 7-101. 24 THE AMERICAN JOURNAL OF JURISPRUDENCE Consequentialism differs from all such theories, for it proposes effi- ciency in promoting measurable good results-and/or in preventing measurable bad results-as the methodological key by which what is qualified in moral terms is related to the transmoral goods of persons. In a consequentialist theory, "the good is defined independently from the right, and then the right is defined as that which maximizes the good. "3 Although technically too restrictive-as we shall see-to embrace all consequentialism, the preceding statement does suggest consequentialism's central idea-conduciveness to measurable results as a criterion of morality. Consequentialism does not demand a sharp distinction between acts (or whatever else is taken to be the primary subject of moral evaluation) and consequences. Consequentialists, for example, can define right and wrong in terms of the good and the harm one will cause both in acting and through one's acts. Thus consequences im- mediately present in one's behavior can be considered along with those expected to follow from it, even remotely. A typical, simple consequentialist theory of moral judgment can be stated as follows. "Moral judgment is a comparative evaluation of al- ternative courses of action. Each alternative is appraised-if a sound method of moral judgment is used in terms of the results it can be expected to bring about. One tries to predict with reasonable prob- ability the measurable good and bad results, where 'good' and 'bad' are defined by the causing or protecting, the destroying or preventing of greater or lesser instances of basic human goods. The right act is the one which is expected to yield the greater good-that is, the greatest net good or, in case there is no desirable prospect, the least net evil." Not all consequentialists specify their position so simply and clearly. For example, some suggest that good consequences are not relevant to morality; they maintain that the right act is one which minimizes evil. Others hold that one can make a consequentialist judgment upon a possible course of action considered in isolation from any alternative; any act may be judged right if it does more good than harm. The arguments I propose against consequentialism are not affected by these variations. Hence, in what follows I use "greater good" and similar expressions to refer to any outcome of the comparative weighing of goods and/or evils which any consequen- tialist considers appropriate to ground moral judgment. Thus "greater good" is to be taken to include in its meaning "lesser evil," "propor- 3. Rawls, op. cit., p. 24.

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    Utilitarianism - January 1973

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    Natural Law, God, and Human Dignity

    Dr. George’s lecture will explore the various ways that natural law theories lend themselves to our understanding of human dignity, human rights, personhood, and the moral life. He will examine the relationship of natural law to alternative moral theories. This will include an explanation of how natural law relates to theories based variously on commands, rules, obligations, duties, and utility, among others. And, drawing upon the rich Catholic natural law tradition, Dr. George will explain how (or whether) natural law lends itself to virtue-based moral reasoning, accounting for whether law and virtue should be understood as complementary or adversarial.

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    According to consequentialists, the overall goodness of results is the most basic moral consideration. For instance, if actions are the primary focal point of moral evaluation, the consequences of th...

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    Access to the full content is only available to members of institutions that have purchased access. If you belong to such an institution, please log in or find out more about how to order. Share Cite Cite close Loading content We were unable to load the content Print Contents Article Summary content locked 1 Why called natural? Why called law? content locked 2 Critique of scepticism and dogmatism content locked 3 Cognitivism and natural law theories content locked 4 Derivation of positive law content locked 5 Inviolable human rights content locked Bibliography Thematic Natural law By Finnis, John DOI 10.4324/9780415249126-T012-1 DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-T012-1 Version: v1,  Published online: 1998 Retrieved April 27, 2023, from https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/natural-law/v-1 Article Summary When made within the discourse of ethics, political theory, or legal theory or philosophy of law, the claim that there is a natural law is an offer to explain and defend certain claims often made, in different terms, in the discourse of moral argument, politics or law. In pre-theoretical moral discourse, certain choices, actions or dispositions may be asserted to be ‘inhuman’, ‘unnaturally cruel’, ‘perverse’ or ‘morally unreasonable’. In pre-theoretical political discourse, certain proposals, policies or conduct may be described as violations of ‘human rights’. In international law and jurisprudence, certain actions may be described as ‘crimes against humanity’ and citizens may claim immunity from legal liability or obligations by appealing to a ‘higher law’. A natural law theory offers to explain why claims of this sort can be rationally warranted and true. It offers to do so by locating such claims in the context of a general theory of good and evil in human life so far as human life is shaped by deliberation and choice. Such a general theory can also be called a general theory of right and wrong in human choices and actions. It will contain both (1) normative propositions identifying types of choice, action or disposition as right or wrong, permissible, obligatory and so on, and (2) non-normative propositions about the objectivity and epistemological warrant of the normative propositions. Share Cite Cite close Loading content We were unable to load the content Print Citing this article: Finnis, John. Natural law, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-T012-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis, https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/natural-law/v-1. Copyright © 1998-2023 Routledge. Related Searches Topics Ethics Political philosophy Philosophy of law Related Articles Grotius, Hugo (1583–1645) By Ford, J.D. Inviolability By Kamm, Frances Law, philosophy of By Brown, Beverley; MacCormick, Neil Legal idealism By Attwooll, Elspeth Legal positivism By Jori, Mario Legal positivism, inclusive versus exclusive By Waluchow, Wilfrid

  • The Oxford Handbook of Consequentialism

    We ought to opt for the best-that is, we ought to choose the option that is best in terms of whatever ultimately matters. So, if maximizing happiness is what ultimately matters, then we ought to perform the option that results in the most happiness. And if, instead, abiding by the Golden Rule is what ultimately matters, then we ought to perform the option that best abides by this rule. However, even if we know what ultimately matters, this is not always sufficient for determining which option we ought to perform. There are other questions that we need to consider as well. Which events are options for us? How do we rank our options-in terms of their own goodness or in terms of the goodness of the best options that entail them? How exactly does that which ultimately matters determine which options we ought to perform? In Opting for the Best, Douglas W. Portmore focuses on these three questions, which he argues can best be answered by putting aside any specific determination of what ultimately matters. He argues that tackling these three questions is crucial to solving many of the puzzles concerning what we ought to do, including those involving supererogation, indeterminate outcomes, overdetermined outcomes, predictable future misbehavior, and good acts that entail bad acts, among others. Engaging with arguments in areas as wide-ranging as action theory and deontic logic, the solutions that Portmore offers systematize our thinking about some of the most complex issues in practical philosophy.

  • Morality by Degrees: Reasons without Demands

    In Morality by Degrees, Alastair Norcross articulates and defends a radical new approach to ethical theory. Consequentialist theories of the right connect the rightness and wrongness (and related notions) of actions with the intrinsic goodness and badness of states of affairs consequential on those actions. The most popular such theory is maximization, which is said to demand of agents that they maximize the good, that they do the best they can, at all times. Thus it may seem that consequentialist theories are overly demanding, and, relatedly, that they cannot accommodate the phenomenon of going above and beyond the demands of duty. However, a clear understanding of consequentialism leaves no room for a theory of the right, at least not at the fundamental level of the theory. A consequentialist theory, such as utilitarianism, is a theory of how to rank outcomes, and derivatively actions, which provides reasons for choosing some actions over others. It is thus a purely scalar theory, with no demands that certain actions be performed, and no fundamental classification of actions as right or wrong. However, such notions may have pragmatic benefits at the level of application, since many people find it easier to guide their conduct by simple commands, rather than to think in terms of reasons of varying strength to do one thing rather than another. A contextualist semantics for various terms, such as "right", "permissible", "harm", when combined with the scalar approach to consequentialism, allows for the expression of truth-apt propositions with sentences containing such terms.

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    For lots of people, what makes a decision right or wrong depends on the outcome of that decision: does it increase or decrease the amount of happiness in the world? This kind of thinking is typical of consequentialism: an ethical school of thought that says what makes an action good or bad is, you guessed it, the consequences. For a deeper dive, visit https://ethics.org.au/ethics-unboxed/ and subscribe to our free 5-week introduction to ethics course. // ABOUT THE ETHICS CENTRE The Ethics Centre is an independent not-for-profit that advocates for a more ethical society. A team of innovators, thought leaders and conveners of people and ideas, we deliver a range of services including original programs, consulting, leadership and an ethics helpline designed to bring ethics to the centre of everyday life. Across our work, we aim to diagnose, prevent and cure the sources of ethical failure, to increase ethical literacy through education and information, and develop tools to empower good decision making. The Centre’s programs are recognised for stimulating public awareness and understanding, creating a space for open, honest and often difficult conversations. This year marks the 30th anniversary of The Ethics Centre, and we’re committed to educating, engaging and informing for a better world for the 30 years to come. Watch more videos in our playlist: http://ow.ly/1G3b50yw5MR // SOCIAL MEDIA Follow us at the links below: Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ethicscentre Twitter: https://twitter.com/ethics_centre Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ethics_centre LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/the-ethics-centre // Copyright Notice © The Ethics Centre 2020. This video may be freely used by individuals for their own personal use and, to the extent not already permitted by relevant copyright law, by non-profit educational institutions for educational purposes. Permission is granted on the condition that attribution is given to The Ethics Centre, and a link is included to our website (www.ethics.org.au). Please contact The Ethics Centre (contactus@ethics.org.au) if you would like to use or license our materials in any other way.

  • Taking Utilitarianism Seriously

    Utilitarianism is the idea that ethics is ultimately about what makes people's lives go better. While utilitarian ideas remain highly influential in politics and culture, they are subject to many well-developed philosophical criticisms, such as the claim that utilitarianism requires too muchof us and the view that it does not respect individuals' rights. The theory is widely thought by philosophers to be the least plausible form of consequentialism, hampered by its excessive simplicity. In Taking Utilitarianism Seriously, Christopher Woodard argues that it is not defeated by thestandard objections. He presents a new and rich version of utilitarianism that can answer all six commons objections plausibly and, in doing so, launches a state-of-the-art defence of the utilitarian tradition, which has greater resources than its critics have often assumed. Far from beingexcessively simple, utilitarianism is able to account for much of the complexity and nuance of everyday ethical thought. And rather than being quickly dismissed, utilitarian approaches to moral and political philosophy are due for renewed development and discussion.