Home › Forums › Discuss Freedom’s Progress: The History of Political Thought, Part II › Consequentialism & Utilitarianism
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January 10, 2015 at 10:15 pm #21521andrew.esselbachParticipant
I just finished listening to both history of political thought courses on my iPod, and I really enjoyed them. I probably would have absorbed and remembered more information if I had watched the videos instead of listening to the course while driving and working. One question that comes to mind is that I think you had mentioned Consequentialism & Utilitarianism, and I was wondering what the relationship between the two is, if there is one.
AndrewJanuary 16, 2015 at 6:54 am #21522gerard.caseyParticipant
I am glad that you found the courses enjoyable – thank you for the compliment!
Like many terms in philosophy and the social sciences generally, the terms ‘consequentialism’ and ‘utilitarianism’ are contested. (To make matters even more complex, philosophers distinguish between ‘act utilitarianism’ and ‘rule utilitarianism’) However, I think it fair to say that, in essence, they come to pretty much the same thing: ‘consequentialism’ emphasises that what matters morally are the consequences of one’s actions, while ‘utilitarianism’ emphasises that the purpose of human action is the maximisation of utility. I suspect that I may well have used the terms interchangeably.January 17, 2015 at 1:05 am #21523andrew.esselbachParticipant
Is it fair to say that the ends justify the means for consequentialists and utilitarians?
For consequentialism, is it the intent that matters, or the end result that matters? So if a person acts to achieve a good end and succeeds, the means would be considered moral. But if a person fails to achieve a good end, and the consequences were bad, are the means still justified, or would the actions be considered immoral because the end result was bad?
If I remember right, a deontological view would be that actions are judged in of themselves, regardless of intent or end result?
AndrewJanuary 22, 2015 at 5:01 pm #21524gerard.caseyParticipant
Some forms of utilitarianism (consequentialism) are more subtle than others. In Act Utilitarianism, the morality of each act is to be judged by balancing the utility (good) produced against the disutility (evil). If the good outweighs the evil, then the act is good; if evil outweighs good, then the act is evil. There are many well-known problems with this way of looking at things, not least, how to compare different outcomes, what standards of utility one employs (some crude Utilitarians use pleasure, but even that is not unproblematic), and how far one is to consider consequences which could, in theory, be infinite in extent and in time. Rule Utilitarianism attempts to circumvent some of these problems by focusing, not on individuals acts and their outcomes, but on types of acts and the types of outcome that, as a rule, those acts have. This goes some way towards solving some of the more egregious problems but not all the way.
Generally speaking, for utilitarians, intentions count for nothing, The outcome is all. For deontologists, on the other hand, it can sometimes appear that intent is everything and consequences count for nothing. While deontology captures some of our ethical intuitions, leaving consequences out in the cold has its own counter-intuitive appearance.
So, do the ends justify the means for consequentialists/utilitarians? In a word, yes.
All the best,
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