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Philosophy 360: Business Ethics. Chapter 3. Consequentialism:. Is part of a theory about what makes certain actions right or wrong. In a nutshell: Actions are right insofar as they produce the best overall consequences, and wrong otherwise. Often stated as “The ends justify the means”.

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consequentialism
Consequentialism:
  • Is part of a theory about what makes certain actions right or wrong.
  • In a nutshell: Actions are right insofar as they produce the best overall consequences, and wrong otherwise. Often stated as “The ends justify the means”.
  • This leaves open the question of what is ‘best’ or how to determine that.
what is good
Intrinsic value

These things have value in and of themselves

Examples: Happiness, Pleasure, (Knowledge?), (Virtue?)

Instrumental (Extrinsic) value

These things are valuable as a means to something else.

Examples: money, exercise, property, (liberty?), (justice?)

What is ‘good’?
utility
Utility
  • The Utilitarian will determine what course of action to take based on what provides the greatest Utility, or in other words, what provides the most intrinsic value.
  • Classical Utilitarianism (the sort advocated by Bentham, Mill, Smart) considers utility to be what produces the greatest total pleasure (pain being negative pleasure).
a model bentham s hedonic calculus
Intensity: How good is the good that will result from the action?

Duration: How long will the good last?

Certainty: How likely is the good to occur or not occur as the result of the action?

Propinquity: Is this good close at hand or a long way off?

Fecundity: Is this action likely to allow more good actions or fewer?

Purity: Will this action produce only good, or a mix of good and bad?

Extent: How many subjects are affected?

A Model: Bentham’s Hedonic Calculus:
other noteworthy features of utilitarian consequentialism
Other noteworthy features of Utilitarian Consequentialism
  • Overriding: Since all actions have some impact on pleasure and pain, Util. has something to say about all actions.
  • Impartial: Everyone counts for one. One person’s pleasure is no more or less valuable than anyone else’s equivalent pleasure.
  • Situational: There are no universal rules other than “maximize utility”.
a common objection dismissed
A common objection dismissed:

Objection: If there are 101 people, Util. says that 51 of them can do whatever they want to the other 50 as long as that makes them happy.

No it doesn’t. (1) the unhappiness caused by deprivation must be factored in and (2) there are actions open that produce more happiness.

some other common challenges
Some Other common challenges:
  • Time (it takes too long to do a utilitarian calculus)
    • Most decisions are easy and obvious. Many others are quickly enough made with brief thought, still others do allow time for extended thought. For those issues requiring time that is not available, we must hope our moral habits are good enough.
  • Inconsistency (utilitarianism is too situational)
    • One theory’s inconsistency is another theory’s flexibility. To some extent we want our moral theories to be able to consider actions taken in different circumstances in different ways.
  • Uncertainty (shouldn’t we know if an action is moral when we do it?)
    • It is true that some are better at anticipating consequences than others, however, nobody is excused from attempting to do so. People are often held responsible for outcomes they did not intend. The Util. says this is less a problem with utilitarianism than a problem with reality.
utilitarianism is too overriding demanding
Utilitarianism is too overriding/demanding
  • According to a strict interpretation of Util. you must give up any luxury possessions you have until the point of marginal utility (that is, give until just before it hurts). It may well be that morality demands this of us, but the extremity of this position gives many pause.
  • See “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” by Peter Singer
utilitarianism is too impartial
Utilitarianism is too impartial
  • Imagine a scenario in which a stranger is drowning, and so is your spouse. You only have time to reach one of them.
  • The solution to this dilemma seems obvious to most, but Util. provides no basis for the obvious answer.
  • Bernard Williams criticizes the Utilitarian in this situation for having “One thought too many”.
a problem with aggregating utility
Utilizing a method of maximizing total utility in a fully utilitarian society leads to what is called “The reprehensible conclusion” which advocates as many people as possible living at the bare minimum.

Utilizing a method of maximizing average utility in a fully utilitarian society leads to what is called “The dastardly conclusion” in which a number of people sacrifice themselves to improve the average.

A problem with aggregating utility