DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L013-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 21, 2024, from

Article Summary

Consequentialism assesses the rightness or wrongness of actions in terms of the value of their consequences. The most popular version is act-consequentialism, which states that, of all the actions open to the agent, the right one is that which produces the most good.

Act-consequentialism is at odds with ordinary moral thinking in three respects. First, it seems excessively onerous, because the requirement to make the world a better place would demand all our time and effort; second, it leaves no room for the special duties which we take ourselves to have to those close to us: family, friends and fellow citizens; and third, it might require us, on occasion, to do dreadful things in order to bring about a good result.

Consequentialists standardly try to bring their theory more into line with common thinking by amending the theory in one of two ways. Indirect act-consequentialism holds that we should not necessarily aim to do what is right. We may get closer to making the world the best possible place by behaviour which accords more with ordinary moral thought. Rule-consequentialism holds that an action is right if it is in accordance with a set of rules whose general acceptance would best promote the good. Such rules will bear a fairly close resemblance to the moral rules with which we now operate.

    Citing this article:
    McNaughton, David and Piers Rawling. Consequentialism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L013-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
    Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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