Philosophy 224. Consequentialism, Natural Law Theory, Kantian Moral Theory. Consequentialism: The Basics.
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Consequentialism is the name given to a family of more specific normative ethical position all of which share the conviction that it is the consequences of actions which determine their moral worth.
All of these positions are committed to the following claims.
Right action is to be understood entirely in terms of the overall intrinsic value of the consequences of the action compared with the overall intrinsic value of the consequences associated with alternative actions an agent might perform instead.
An action is right if and only if its consequences would be at least as good as the consequences of any alternative action that the agent might instead perform.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) revolutionized philosophical ethics. Prior to Kant, people sought the origin of morality in the natural order, in the ends proper to human beings, or in feelings. In contrast, Kant seeks the conditions of the possibility of morality and locates them in the autonomy, the self-legislation, of the will.
When we think about moral obligation, he argued, what we need to account for is its categorical character, the fact that it commands us absolutely.