March 26, 2010
Consequentialism is the idea that the outcome of an action determines the rightness of that action. The effects are completely separate from the act where the act is irrelevant in deciding if something is right. So for example, if I know that someone is going to kill 5 people and I kill that person before they can commit their terrible crime, then I have done something right since there is a net gain of 4 lives.
I believe that Consequentialism has a valid point. If the consequences are good, then ultimately isn’t that all that matters since the consequence is the bottom line? On the other hand, one could say that actions can only be good in and of themselves regardless of the consequences, like intrinsic good. But consider the following situation: if I bought a child an ice cream cone because I wanted to make that child happy, I would think I have done something good. But then the child turns out to be lactose intolerant and ends up in the hospital and in a lot of pain. So Consequencialism says that I have done something wrong by buying the child an ice cream cone. It is hard to see how I did something wrong since I intended to make the child happy and did not know I would cause him harm. But if I hadn’t bought the cone, then the child wouldn’t be in the hospital and the parents wouldn’t be spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars on medical bills. So yes, I did do something wrong.
According to Consequentialism, killing the person in the example that I provided earlier is right. Maybe it would be the right thing to do but it doesn’t make the act itself good. We know that killing someone in any case is wrong (like Common Sense Morality says). If I knew someone was going to kill 5 others, I have other options besides killing to prevent the 5 others from dying. For example I could report what I know to the police so they can take him into custody. That way no one gets hurt.
There is a wide debate about the...