Consequentialism – Beliefs, Principles, Quotes & Leading Figures

Consequentialism is a moral philosophy that proposes the concept that the moral worth of an action is primarily determined by its outcomes or consequences.

This belief system views the ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ of actions as fundamentally based on the net goodness or harm they produce.

Consequentialism Meaning in Ethics

In the context of ethics, consequentialism stresses that the right action is the one that produces the best overall results or consequences.

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Here, moral worth doesn’t lie in the intentions behind the action, but rather in the actual outcomes of that action.

Where Did Consequentialism Originate From?

The roots of consequentialism can be traced back to ancient Greek philosophy, with hints in the teachings of Epicurus.

However, the modern formulation of consequentialism as a distinct philosophical theory is largely attributed to the work of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill in the 19th century.

Beliefs & Principles of Consequentialism

Consequentialists believe that moral actions are those that produce the best possible outcomes.

The determining factor for an action’s morality is the result it brings about, irrespective of the intention or means employed to achieve it.

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Leading Figures of Consequentialism

Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill are two key figures in the development of consequentialism.

Both were advocates of utilitarianism, a branch of consequentialism, emphasizing happiness or pleasure as the primary consequential metric for judging the moral worth of an action.

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Summary of Literature in Consequentialism

Consequentialism, as a branch of moral philosophy, has been explored extensively in literature.

Central to this discussion are the works of Bentham and Mill, as well as more contemporary philosophers such as Peter Singer.

The debate around consequentialism continues in both philosophical texts and practical discussions around ethics in various sectors.

Consequentialism vs Utilitarianism

While consequentialism is a broad ethical doctrine that states that the consequences of an action determine its moral value, utilitarianism is a specific form of consequentialism.

Utilitarianism posits that an action is moral if it maximizes overall happiness or pleasure, considering everyone’s interests equally.

Consequentialism vs Deontology

Deontology, unlike consequentialism, believes that morality of an action is based on whether that action itself is right or wrong under a series of rules, rather than based on the consequences of the action.

Deontologists argue that certain actions are intrinsically wrong or right, regardless of their outcomes.

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Types of Consequentialism

Apart from utilitarianism, other consequentialist theories include egoism, which holds an action as morally right if it maximizes good for the self, and altruism, which dictates an action to be morally right if it maximizes good for others.

Rule consequentialism is another type, suggesting that the morality of an action is judged based on the goodness of the outcome of a rule that everyone should follow.


Famous quotes highlighting consequentialist thinking include John Stuart Mill’s statement: “Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.”

Another quote by Jeremy Bentham encapsulates the essence of utilitarian consequentialism: “It is the greatest good to the greatest number of people which is the measure of right and wrong.”

Advantages and Disadvantages of Consequentialism

Consequentialism offers a flexible approach to morality, allowing for context-sensitive judgments.

It can handle a broad range of ethical scenarios as it focuses on outcomes rather than rigid rules.

However, consequentialism can justify seemingly immoral actions if they lead to beneficial outcomes, which is a significant point of criticism.

Additionally, it’s often challenging to predict all the potential consequences of an action accurately.

Non-Consequentialist Theory

Non-consequentialist theories, also known as deontological theories, believe in inherent moral rules.

They argue that certain actions are morally right or wrong in themselves, regardless of their consequences.

Key figures in this philosophical approach include Immanuel Kant and W.D. Ross.

Consequentialism vs Nonconsequentialism

While consequentialism considers the ends as the determinant of an action’s morality, nonconsequentialism (or deontology) holds the means or the nature of the action itself as the determining factor.

Nonconsequentialism argues for a set of inviolable moral duties, irrespective of the results they produce.

Example of Consequentialism in Healthcare

In healthcare, consequentialism can be seen in decisions related to triage.

Medical professionals may have to prioritize treating those patients whose recovery can benefit the most people, even if this means delaying treatment for someone else.

This approach values the consequence – maximizing overall health outcomes, over the principle of treating everyone equally.

Consequentialism Examples

Aside from healthcare, consequentialist thinking can be applied in various fields such as environmental policy, where decisions are often made to maximize overall welfare, even at the cost of some individual rights.

In criminal justice, consequentialism might justify severe punishments if they deter crime and benefit society as a whole.

Consequentialism Pronunciation

Consequentialism is pronounced as kon-see-kwen-shuh-liz-uhm.

Consequentialism and Utilitarianism

As earlier stated, utilitarianism is a form of consequentialism that measures the morality of an action based on its ability to increase overall happiness or pleasure.

It takes into account the happiness of all and treats every person’s happiness as equally important.

Consequentialism and Deontology

While consequentialism focuses on the results of an action to determine its moral worth, deontology emphasizes the inherent rightness or wrongness of the actions themselves.

Despite their differences, both theories aim to establish a framework for determining moral actions, contributing significantly to ethical debates.

John Stuart Mill Consequentialism

John Stuart Mill was a proponent of utilitarian consequentialism.

He argued that ethical actions are those that maximize overall happiness and that this principle should guide our moral decisions.

Jeremy Bentham Consequentialism

Jeremy Bentham, a leading figure in utilitarianism, emphasized the principle of ‘the greatest happiness for the greatest number.’

Bentham’s philosophy forms a cornerstone of consequentialist thinking, foregrounding the outcome or consequence of actions in moral evaluations.

Summary of Consequentialism

Consequentialism, with its focus on outcomes, offers a pragmatic approach to moral judgment.

It encourages us to consider the broad effects of our actions, steering our moral compass towards the overall welfare of society.

Despite its criticisms, its influence permeates a range of fields, from philosophy to healthcare, shaping our understanding of ethical conduct.

FAQs – Consequentialism

What is Consequentialism?

Consequentialism is a philosophical theory that proposes the moral rightness or wrongness of an action should be judged solely based on its consequences.

Under this view, the most ethical action is one that results in the greatest good for the greatest number of individuals.

Consequentialism pronunciation?

Consequentialism is pronounced as kon-see-kwen-shuh-liz-uhm.

How do philosophers define consequentialism?

Consequentialism can be defined as an ethical theory that determines the morality of an action based on its outcomes or consequences.

It posits that the right action is the one that leads to the best overall results.

What are the key principles of Consequentialism?

Consequentialism holds two fundamental principles: the Principle of Utility and the Principle of Impartiality.

The Principle of Utility emphasizes the importance of maximizing happiness or utility, while the Principle of Impartiality asserts that every person’s happiness or utility should be considered equally.

What are some types of Consequentialism?

There are several forms of Consequentialism including Utilitarianism, Egoism, and Altruism.

Utilitarianism, as proposed by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, argues that the morality of an action depends on the amount of happiness it brings about for the most number of people.

Egoism posits that the morality of an action should be judged by how much it benefits the individual performing the action.

Altruism, on the other hand, contends that an action’s morality should be judged by how much it benefits others.

How does Consequentialism differ from Deontological Ethics?

Consequentialism differs from Deontological ethics in the way they approach morality.

While Consequentialism bases morality on the outcome of an action, Deontological ethics assert that morality is rooted in the action itself.

This means that, for Deontologists, some actions are inherently wrong or right, regardless of their consequences.

What is the “ends justifies the means” concept in Consequentialism?

The phrase “the ends justify the means” is often associated with Consequentialism.

It implies that if an action leads to a desirable outcome, the action itself is justified, regardless of its nature.

However, this concept is frequently debated within Consequentialist thought, as it can theoretically justify actions that are typically seen as immoral, if they result in positive outcomes.

What is Rule Consequentialism?

Rule Consequentialism is a variant of Consequentialism which asserts that the morality of an action depends on whether it aligns with a set of rules which, if universally followed, would lead to the greatest good.

This helps to address certain criticisms of Consequentialism, such as the potential justification of normally immoral actions.

What is Act Consequentialism?

Act Consequentialism, unlike Rule Consequentialism, states that the morality of an action is determined solely by the consequences of that specific action, rather than by any pre-set rules.

This version of Consequentialism tends to be more flexible, but can lead to ethical dilemmas where it seems to justify immoral actions that lead to positive outcomes.

What are some criticisms of Consequentialism?

Critics of Consequentialism often argue that it fails to respect individual rights and justice, as it only considers the net positive or negative results.

They argue that it could potentially justify harmful actions towards a few individuals if these actions lead to a greater good for a larger number of people.

Additionally, critics also point out the difficulty in accurately predicting the consequences of actions.

Can Consequentialism coexist with other ethical theories?

Yes, Consequentialism can coexist with other ethical theories.

For instance, Rule Consequentialism often merges with Deontological principles by integrating rule-based considerations into its framework.

Also, Virtue Ethics, which emphasizes character, can be paired with Consequentialist considerations to argue that virtuous individuals will naturally act in ways that result in the best consequences.

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