Consequentialism & Ethics

Consequentialism vs Deontology

We are used to oppose consequentialism deontology to Kantianism is the most typical representative. According to consequentialism, the morality of an act can not be measured only in terms of its consequences, while the same character is found on deontology, according to the principles which governed the decision to produce this act.

Consequentialism and Utilitarianism

Moreover, it is generally consequentialism as a distinguishing feature of utilitarianism, because utilitarianism as a goal “the greatest happiness of the greatest number,” it is clear that this or that action will be judged good or bad, not intrinsically, but as it will increase or decrease happiness. According to utilitarianism, it is not “the maxim of an action” that evaluates this action, as is the case with Kantianism, but the consequences of the action considered in relation to our goal, “the pursuit of happiness.”

Of course, the history of utilitarianism then distinguished between two versions of utilitarianism: utilitarianism of the act (or act utilitarianism) and rule-utilitarianism (rule utilitarianism in English). Indeed, some utilitarians have rightly pointed out that it was often impossible to calculate all the consequences of a particular act so it was often just following very general rules which experience showed that the consequences were generally positive for our welfare. RM Hare has even codified the relationship between act-utilitarianism and rule-utilitarianism utilitarianism by offering its two-level (two level utilitarianism): the rules are sufficient in most cases to assess the consequences of an act, but, if these rules are at fault, then they should prefer the more detailed discussion of specific consequences of a specific act, ie the rule-utilitarianism must give way to act-utilitarianism. For example, stealing is wrong in principle because the flight harms others, but stealing a suitcase nuclear Bin Laden is recommended.

Consequentialism and Practical Examples

Suppose then that I am morally rational (in the sense that I gave to this term in my previous article, “realism, rationalism and utilitarianism”). Suppose then that my neighbor, Mr. Duchamp, has a beautiful apple tree in his garden, apple tree that produces apples in commercial quantities, as I can reach the branches from the wall of my garden and that Mr. Duchamp had so many apples all he can pick them up. Can I pick some apples from Mr. Duchamp without asking permission? The answer is no because it is theft. Yet, Mr. Duchamp so many apples that do not even notice and that I will lay not his own consumption of apples, even taking a full basket. If I steal Mr. Duchamp, my act will not affect a lot of positive and negative, in any case, far more positive than negative for. According to consequentialism, I should therefore have no qualms about stealing. Utilitarianism Rule could of course lead me to argue that we all have a stake in the long term, to obey the rule which forbids theft because this rule has positive consequences for the whole of humanity itself if it prevents me from stealing Mr. Duchamp. But if no one realizes my flight, I could continue to hypocritically assert in public that I condemn theft while the practitioner only in the case of apple Duchamp. And, again, the rule-utilitarianism will not allow me to prove that our global interests are harmed if I steal Mr. Duchamp. Worse, consequentialism will have nothing to say about it either. However, in doing so, I commit an immoral act, and if, hypothetically, I am morally rational, I can not commit such an act.

Consequentialism, presented as classical utilitarianism, seems wrong in some situations from the ethical review.

One can then attempt to move the problem. Let us grant that utilitarianism goal I defend is approximately correct. I asked elsewhere (see article cited above) that this objective utilitarianism reduces to the following equation: target = happiness Wellness + freedom + rationality.

All this being said and recalled back to the apple of M. Duchamp. If I am morally rational, I will not steal Mr. Duchamp, even if that decision has no negative consequence in appearance, because in fact, such an act diminishes my moral rationality. Mr. Duchamp flying, I harm my moral rationality, therefore I must decrease my happiness as objective rationality is one of the three components necessary for the happiness goal. Of course, a thief can be happy if one has no qualms, no remorse and no conscience. But in this case, we deny what makes the specificity of human happiness. I sincerely believe that if we stick to a definition of happiness in subjective terms, in terms of well-being felt, my cat is better placed than me to be a happy creature. Being a man does not make sense if you stop to such a subjective definition of happiness. But if what constitutes human happiness itself or, more cautiously, the happiness of a being of superior intelligence includes not only their welfare, but also his freedom and rationality, then the night flight to that happiness. Theft decreases that kind of happiness, it has negative consequences for such happiness.

We can therefore keep consequentialism, but saying it does not truly feel part of a utilitarian purpose. Reported to the utilitarian purpose, consequentialism is admissible because it says that every immoral act has negative consequences for our rationality (morality). Any immoral act diminishes the rationality of those who commit it. Now, as rationality, cognitive and moral, is one of three essential ingredients to our happiness goal, an immoral act diminishes our happiness goal: an immoral act has negative consequences on our happiness goal.

If the above is correct, then the debate between consequentialism and deontology is ill-posed. “So act that the maxim of your action can always be at the same time erected into a universal law”: Kant’s categorical imperative is indeed consequentialist, once you understand the negative consequences that non-compliance results for our rationality.