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March 30, 2006Peer reviewReviewed

misc. discussion[edit]

Your account of consequentialism seems a little unusual. For starters, I don't think egoism is normally considered to be a kind of consquentialism. For example, in Consequentialism and its critics, the editor Samuel Scheffler starts off by saying that

Consequentialism in its purest and simplest form is a moral doctrine which says that the right act in any given situation is the one that will produce the best overall outcome, as judged from an impersonal standpoint which gives equal weight to the interests of everyone. Somewhat more precisely, we may think of a consequentialist theory of this kind as coming in two parts. First, it gives some principle for ranking overall states of affairs from an impersonal standpoint and then it says that the right act in any given situation is the one that will produce the highest ranked state of affairs that the agent is in a position to produce. (emphasis added).

There may be a few people who talk differently, but this certainly appears to be the standard conception of consequentialism (the less "pure" forms alluded to presumably being indirect forms of consequentialism, or views where the welfare of some individuals (but still individuals impersonally considered) are considered to be more important (as in, for example, the kind of consequentialism David Brink presents in "The Separateness of Persons, Distributive Norms, and Moral Theory").

I think the same problem arises in your blurring of the distinction between consequentialist theories and deontological, or, more generally and simply, non-consequentialist theories. It has in fact been argued, by David Cummiskey in Kantian consquentialism, that although Kant was firmly against consequentialism, Kantian moral theory, "properly understood, generates an extremely compelling consequentialist normative theory". However, I believe this is a very unusual position to take, and even if it makes sense, there is still a sensible class of positions to put up against consequentialist positions.

This class of positions is characterized by the idea that there are agent-relative or agent-centered reasons for action, whereas for consquentialism, as defined above, reasons for action are ultimately agent-neutral. Then egoism and deontology are seen as characteristically non-consequentialist.

These days it has become standard to distinguish between agent-centered restrictions and agent-centered prerogatives. I am tempted to agree, with Scheffler, that ultimately, agent-centered restrictions are difficult to defend. As you suggest against Kant, why should I not kill one innocent person if, by doing so, I can save the lives of many more innoncent persons in exactly the same objective circumstances? On the other hand, agent-centered prerogatives seem much easier to defend, on the familiar grounds that consequentialist theories are morally too demanding. Given the protean nature of indirect consequentialism, however, the field is very murky. --CalvinOstrum

I think it's common enough to regard EgoIsm as a variety of consequentialism. Just as data points, see this article and this one. This is how I've been taught the notion and how I taught it (as a T.A.) to Ohio State undergrads. But, granted, it does sound a little bit strange. I would add some sort of note, at the very least, that not everyone would consider EthicalEgoism a variety of consequentialism. -- Larry Sanger

Hmm, those two citations are of very poor quality. In looking at standard collections of recent higher-quality essays from the research literature, such as those contained in the aforementioned Consequentialism and its critics, or Philip Pettit's 1993 edited volume of 26 papers, it seems to me that all of them either implicitly or explicitly assume that consequentialism ultimately countenances only agent-neutral reasons. I think the issue of agent-neutral versus agent-relative reasons is the crucial issue here, in any case. I think WillWilkinson is right about this, and I think the community of moral philosophers essentially agree. Consequently, I would submit that the term "consequentialism" should only be used to refer to theories which say that ultimately only agent-neutral reasons are of import. Consequentialism should be the view that only consequences matter. Consequences, period, not consequences for me when I act, or you when you act. -- CalvinOstrum

I'm very suspicious of any claim to the effect that words, particularly jargon, ought to mean anything; either they do or they don't. If, as I think is clearly the case, there is some reasonably large portion of philosophers who use "consequentialism" to mean a broader concept than that meant by your sources, then the word is, as a matter of fact, whether you like it or not, ambiguous. And the article should reflect that fact. (While perhaps also acknowledging some popular distaste for one of the uses of the term.) Besides, some word is needed, after all, for the concept that actions are to be evaluated based on their consequences, whether for everyone or for the agent only. Utilitarianism and egoism have something in common that deontological theories don't have. That's why "consequentialism" is sometimes used in this broader way. -- Larry Sanger

Suit yourself. I don't expect much in an "encylopedia" run by Objectivists! -- CalvinOstrum

Just for the record, I don't regard myself as an Objectivist, and I will do my best not to let it be overrun by them.  :-) Not that I have any serious beefs with Objectivists. This wiki will become whatever its participants make it. -- Larry Sanger

You are at least a Fellow Traveller, as WillWilkinson seems also to be. -- CalvinOstrum

Maybe--but officially, I hold no views.  ;-) -- Larry Sanger

Well, I'd perhaps count myself a quasi-post-neo-Objectivist ;-). But that's neither here nor there. I certainly think that we can argue things on their merits. Now, it would be nice if there were a nice piece on the agent neutral/agent relative distinction (is there?). But that's certainly a different distinction from the consequentialist/non-consequentialist distinction. The article could certainly be clearer about what non-conseqeuntialist theories are after: that what matters in right action is one's motive, or the principle upon which one acts. I was brought up to use 'consequentialism' the way I did, and the way Larry was. I do think this is common parlance. As I mention, and as you show with the Scheffler quote, consequentialism is often used sloppily as short hand for Utilitarianism -- collectivist, agent-neutral consequentialism. But imprecise usage doesn't set the standard. -- WillWilkinson

I hate to drag this one back up, but I think this page still needs a lot of work. Surely what is (a) the defining feature of consequentialism, and (b) entirely absent on this page, is the fact that consequentialist theories take "The Good" to be prior to "The Right", whereas deontological theories take them in the reverse order. A consequentialist theory is one which weighs up the results of every possible action someone can take, and the right action is the one which makes for the "best" results, where best is the maximisation of some Good or goods. Obviously what those are is up for discussion, but I don't think it discounts agent-relative concerns, even thought its not been a common position to hold. Egoism, however, does seem to be one such theory in which the good is always relative to oneself.

I may correct the page sometime, but since I'm new it would be nice to have comments / criticisms of my previous paragraph, before I get abuse for messing it up! - Alex (23/11/04: 14:20)

In a certain sense, you are right about the priority of the Good and the Right, however, in practice, I think, most deontologist would be forced to have their idea of the Right conform to some notion of the Good. This is at work in Kant especially, but really for any deontological theory to have force, it must hook up with some preconceived notion of the Good. Thus, I would tend to resist the notion that consequentialist put more stress on the Good or some good -- for a deontologist the self-consistency or whatever of the laws is good in itself. The real difference (and it may only be a difference in approach) between the two lies precisely in what the names suggest: consequentialism gives moral priority to consequences -- whatever that might mean -- whereas deontology gives moral priority to the type of action, though in most actual theories, these lines do blur, and thus most deontologist put some stress on the consequences of our actions, and most consequentialist on the types of actions themselves.

To the earlier debate I would say that any consequentialist as to have a for-whom of the action, that is, a person or thing for whom the action is (fill in a notion of what counts as good here) -- the very notion of consequences is that there is an effect on someone or something. Agent-neutral consequentialism, like that favored by Scheffler and a good deal of others, thus, cannot count as the only form of consequentialism. There does seem to be a form of egoism that fulfills all the other prerequisites for "consequentialism", and so it probably should be counted as a "consequentialism". BTW, there are some decent reasons for a consequentialist theory to prioritize the result for a particular agent when judging the right action from that agent's point of view -- i.e. when it is concerned particularly with action-guiding. Here I'm thinking particularly of Peter Railton's article (I'll look up the reference later). - Ian, 20 Oct 2005

Defining Consequentialism[edit]

I am on the verge of removing the reference to Broome from this article -- I feel that his definition of consequentialism used here is good for general purposes but not within the standards of wikipedia (that is to say that it manages to pull together most, but not all, of what is generally called "consequentialism"). To put it another way: the language of "agent-neutrality" is not obviously used in every consequentialist theory and the concept of teleology seems, at best, poorly used (at least in this particular article -- consequentialism is teleological, but so too is classical deonotology -- c.f. Kant's Kritik der prakischen Vernunft). Thoughts?

--Ig0774 01:44, 30 January 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Er... changed the link because I made a stupid mistake...

Consequences for whom[edit]

I made some changes to this section to correct a few problems. First, I wanted to remove any appearance of a false dilemma between considering individual and group interests. Any form of consequentialism that completely ignores one or the other is going to self-destruct quite quickly. This is, in fact, a problem for "fitnessism", which gets way too much space for something that deserves, at most, a brief link. That's why I condensed that part of the entry. Also, I almost dropped the word "collectivist", because it's so obviously Randist, but it's not technically wrong or desperately misleading, so I left it alone.

--Alienus 20:45, 18 Feb 2005 (UTC)

Actually eliminated the word "collectivist" beause of the Rand-esque overtones (I'm not a particular fan of Rand... however, the correction 'group-centered' seems, perhaps, a little -- incexact. Of course, "collectivist" is not in itself necessarily wrong, but only if we understand it differently than a "Randist" would since, as I understand it, Randian "collectivism" involves the valuing of the group over all else, most specifically, the individual. This is a bit too strong for what most consequentialists (again, as I read them) intend. In general, would suggest that this article needs a fair amount of overhaul (which I'm trying to do) to clean-up and make the tone a little more comprehensible (reading through the various sections, the multiple authorship is readily evident.
--Ig0774 01:11, 30 January 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

more talk[edit]

This definition of consequentialism is shaky.

How about:

"Consequentialism is the doctrine that says that the right thing to do is whatever will produce the the most intrinsic good."

I was taught this by N. Sturgeon at Cornell, and I like it's robustness. For example, since it seems to be agreed that utilitarianism is a derivative of consequentialism, perhaps a utilitarian corrollary therefore could be:

"The only thing that is intrinsically good is happiness." Ergo, a utilitarian could define his doctrine as "The right to do is always to produce as much happiness as possible."

I believe that those are the definintions given by J.S. Mill and H. Sidgwick.

In the discussion of for whom conseqentialism should benefit, it should be noted that the philosophy of consequentialism does not give special weight to any individual in particular, including the first person.

There should also be a discussion of how consequentialism is not really a normative doctrine: nothing is absolutely right or wrong, it all depends on the consequences.

Since this is undated, its hard to know what version of this document you are referring to. However, the definition on the page, while not as easily memorized or quite as good at capturing the thinking behind consequentialism serves the very useful function of breaking it down into parts and thus making the implications of it somewhat more accessible to someone just checking up on it. Ultimately any moral theory is going to hold that right action "produces the most intrinsic good"; what makes consequentialism unique is that it aims at this.
As for the notion that consequentialism is not normative: what notion of normative are you relying on? I would hold that normativity is the designation of a particular (action/set of actions/lifestyle/etc) as the (appropriate/right/wrong/etc) (action/etc) for that particular situation. In short, something is normative if it is guides our action or our judgement of an action (even if these two are separate). Consequentialism, if it is to have any value whatsoever, must be normative in this sense; i.e. it must provide a guide to moral action and/or moral judgement. If not, it runs into the risk of being tautological: the best action is the action that turns out to be best and not particularly helpful. This, of course, would undermine the value that Mill, Sidgwick, Scheffler, etc. find in consequentialism.
-Ian 20 Oct 2005

the use of the Nicolo Machiavelli quotation, "the ends always justify the means", seems in contradiction with other wikipedia articles on related topics, see Nicolo Machiavelli and The ends justify the means, and List of famous misquotations for examples...this section should either be reworded, or the other articles should be... --Michael Lynn 23:17, 27 March 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]


I changed the description in the definition under teleology. It originally read "Consequentialism is teleological because it holds that rightness is determined by goodness." This statement is simply incorrect, this is not the definition of teleology. A teleological theory is one which is goal-oriented, one which focuses on ends over means. Teleology is by no means necessarily tied to notions of goodness and rightness, though they can easily intertwine. Teleology, of course, is a component of Consequentialism but the definition originally offered was misleading. The definition I supplied could use some tweaking, however. The Way 05:35, 31 August 2005 (UTC)

I edited the last clause, "final causes" because consequentialism is not precisely concerned with "final causes", at least as I understand that term. A "final cause" is not the end result of an action (which is what consequentialism is concerned with), but closer to the idea of "purpose". Cf. Aristotle Physics II.7, which identifies the final cause as "that for the sake of which".
I also edited the short bit on Hedonistic Utilitarianism (1) to make it specifically Hedonistic Utilitarian in character -- almost any consequentialist "holds that right actions stem from the goodness of consequences" -- this seems to me a defining characteristic of consequentialism and (2) I removed the phrase "irrespective of their identity" which is very awkward. Ig0774 01:42, 26 January 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Forms of consequentialism[edit]

The Definition of Consequentialism given in the first paragraph seems to be too restricting as to what qualifies as a consequentialist theory of morality. A consquentialist theory is primarily consered with weighing the consequences of an action or a certain set of possible actions (usually in a hedonist fashion) to determine one's moral obligation. However, the article as it stands specifies under the definition heading that "Consequentialism is agent-neutral." This is a specific variation of consquentialism known to most as utilitarianism. However, there are alternate formulations such as Altruism which places the need of everyone else in front of the needs of the self. Or alternatively, one could consider a Randian formulation such as Ethical Egoism which considers the need of the self in priority to the needs of others. This change should be made in the article to stipulate as to the broad scope of consequentialsm as a whole (not accounting for what group takes priority). Specific classications and formulations such as the aformentioned could follow in the article.

Removed the offending Broome reference (yeah, this article does need citations, but of a little more general sort than that). Aside from the whole "agent-neutral" thing, (which pretty clearly is not a general feature of consequentialism) the terminology "Teleology" is confusing, especially since it seems reducible (in the use here) to "the ends justify the means". I have not read the Broome piece, but according to this, "Other philosophers prefer a broader definition that does not require a moral theory to be agent-neutral in order to be consequentialist (Bennett 1989; Broome 1991, 5-6; and Skorupski 1995)" (emphasis added). I find it strange that Broome should have asserted that Consequentialism is agent-neutral and that it need not be.Ig0774 08:49, 11 February 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]
For clairification: how is altruism, as outlined above, different from agent-neutral consequentialism? As for ethical egoism, as I understand it, this is not quite identical to Randian (Objectivists) egoism, which is usually described as rational egoism. This is a specie of ethical egoism, but the only version of it (one could, for example, hold a "pure" egoism, which ignores the "it is irrational to harm others" claim). Am I wrong on this? Ig0774 03:42, 17 February 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

General comments on my edits[edit]

If you look at the history page, you will quickly realize that I have recently been making a great number of changes to this article. I certainly don't feel that my edits on this page are the final say on this matter, but I have been trying to upgrade this article from a very basic overview into something a little more comprehensive and rigorous. To this end, I have made some fairly drastic changes:

  1. The definition: the definition at the introduction to the page was good, however, the section on "Defining Consequentialism" was heavily biased to a very narrow POV on what "consequentialism" is. The definition of this subject is not without controversy (as a brief read of the above talk page will quickly show). I have tried to move to the broadest definition that is tenable, but I certainly welcome any criticism of my attempts thus far.
  2. The layout: I have attempted to bring a layout that is a little clearer and a little easier to navigate than the previous layout. One of the most serious consequences(!) of this is the virtual elimination of an text that was about specific moral theories (it has not, in fact, been removed from the page — it has simply been extensively edited to add citations to specific views, or moved into the as yet commented out section on Varities of Consequentialism).
  3. Consequentialism and other moral theories: This section, while a good start, was too focused on reconciling consequentialism with other moral theories (including blatantly false ideas of Kantian ethics, which is not the subject of this page, but is still the paradigmatic example of deontological ethics). In general, as I think my edits support, this section should not only detail how consequentialism can be reconciled with other moral theories, but how it might be plausibly differentiated from them (since there is quite a lot of literature that assumes that consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics have basic incompatible claims.

Given the difficult nature of defining consequentialism, I think it is more appropriate to try and give an overview of major theories that are ostensibly consequentialist and point to where some of these arguments might be found. Unfortunately, I do not have the time or the resources to hunt down every major view on consequentialism, and would apprecitate either pointers to arguments I have overlooked or (better yet) other editors to contribute to this endevour. More specifically, if anyone could point me to articles or books on consequentialist environmental ethics / ecocentrism I would really appreciate it. For the "varities of consequentialism" section, I envision a basic overview of ethical egoism, utilitarianism, act consequentialism, rule consequentialism, and virtue consequentialism (and any other major strands of consequentialism I might have missed). I realize this page isn't receiving as much attention as I would like, given the extent of my edits, but I would appreciate any edits that help to clairify or correct my incorrect ideas (including ideas about how this page should be organized or what should be included or excluded). Thank you for taking the time to read this and happy editing. Ig0774 03:07, 17 February 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Criticism Section[edit]

I'm a bit baffled by the following two paragraphs, and don't know entirely what to do with them. Comments interleaved.

Consequentialism has been criticized on several counts. According to G.E. Moore in Principia Ethica, consequentialism (or at least classical utilitariansim) commits "the naturalistic fallacy" by assuming that "the good" can be adequately defined by some "natural" property or set of natural properties. This, he claims, can be demonstrated because for any X a consequentialist might propose as being innately good we can always ask "But is X good?" Thus we must have a tacit understanding of moral goodness that is different from any possible natural property or set of such properties. If this is the case, then, Moore argued, most forms of consequentialism are incoherent, since this innate sense of moral goodness is all that can be appealed to.

Moore is not criticizing consequentialism as such in PE. In fact, Moore defends a form of consequentialism (cf. the discussion of goodness as a means in PE 15-17; the analysis of "right," "duty," "ought to do," "morally bound to do," "moral law," etc. in PE 89; the discussion of virtue in PE 107, etc.).

Chapter 3 of Principia Ethica criticizes hedonism, not consequentialism; Moore criticizes classical utilitarianism not because it is consequentialist but because it requires hedonism as a theory of value (which he argues to be indefensible), and criticizes egoism as incoherent (because Moore rejects agent-centered notions of intrinsic value as internally contradictory). So, at the very most, Moore's criticism has to be presented as a criticism of particular forms of consequentialism (utilitarianism and egoism), based on the particular kind of consequences they pick out as the sole intrinsic goods, not a criticism of consequentialism as such.

The paragraph also misstates Moore's complains against classical utilitarianism. Moore accuses Mill of defending hedonism by recourse to the naturalistic fallacy (cf. PE 39-44), but he does not think that all forms of utilitarianism commit the naturalistic fallacy. He claims that Sidgwick defended a version of utilitarianism that does not commit the naturalistic fallacy, and spends much of the rest of the chapter discussing Sidgwick's intuitionistic (as opposed to Mill's naturalistic) defense of hedonism. (Cf. PE 45 et seq.)

Along the same lines, Peter Railton argued that consequentialism is alienating because it requires too much of moral agents. According to Railton, the logical result of most forms of consequentialism would be a requirement that we always try to do the best possible thing: to do less would be to not do the moral thing. However, this might require us to go far out of our way, leaving no time to pursue our particular ambitions. Consequently, he argues that consequentialism needs to be reformulated to be an appropriate moral theory.

As I understand things, Peter Railton is himself a consequentialist (specifically, he holds a rather unique form of indirect consequentialism; he thinks that the primary object of ethical choice is the kind of life that you live, so the consequentialist has to aim at living the kind of life that will on the whole produce the best consequences). Railton wrote an article explicitly criticizing and responding to Bernard Williams charges that all forms of consequentialism are "alienating." Maybe it is Williams rather than Railton that you had in mind here?

Radgeek 05:01, 10 March 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Those are all good points so let me explain a bit. Moore's particular criticism is aimed at hedonism, this much is undeniable. Nevertheless, the "fallacy" he identifies has a broader reach than just the problem of pleasure. Moore defines good as "a simple, indefinable quality" [1], thus any theory which attempts to explicate the contents of "good", i.e. what makes something good, falls foul of Moore's notion. One of the limitations of the article thus far is that it gives the impression of only considering theories which give content to the notion of good (cf. Consequentialism#What_kinds_of_consequences). I will try to remedy this. The phrase "classical utilitarianism" should be omitted. This is an oversight on my part. I will endeavor to correct these errors (unless someone beats me to it), but I still nevertheless think that Moore's reformulation of consequentialism does critique many other prevailing forms of consequentialism. This does point to another weakness of the article: it basically skips over debates among consequentialists. This, unlike the other two problems will take a lot more editing to correct.

As for Railton, it is true that the alienation argument comes from Bernard Williams, who would definitely be a good candidate for inclusion in the criticism section. However, Railton, although a consequentialist himself, adopts Williams critique in his own version of consequentialism, redefining the terms of consequentialism (Railton's consequentialism is concerned with good lives as opposed to good acts at the expense of a certain degree of action-guidance).

This raises a bit of dilemma for this page as a whole: the way it is structured is not really reflective of the way that moral theorizing is conducted (something that's been bugging me for a while). After all, "consequentialism" is really a grouping of a diverse range of theories with a similar formal characteristic, namely a focus on the results of action. Theoretical ethical literature on the whole tends to be aimed more at particular instantiations of a moral theory, which is perhaps why, despite numerous attempts to prove its unsuitability as a moral theory (by e.g. Gass, Williams, Foot, and Scheffler — to pick an arbitrary list), it has not yet disappered. Instead, consequentialists have either reformulated consequentialism in response to such attacks or pointed out how these criticisms ultimately fail because their particular form of consequentialism already can deal with the proposed situation. R.M. Hare's How to Argue with an Anti-Utilitarian even argues that many, if not all, proposed problems with utilitarianism are false dilemmas. Instead of reflecting this argument-critique-response structure, this article is admittedly a bit more of a laundry list of consequentialisms, making the criticisms seem as though they are not really part of the process. This suggests that the structure of the page itself needs to be rethought.

For the immediate future, however, it shouldn't be too hard to correct the more blatant flaws you raise. Ig0774 06:12, 10 March 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Thanks for the response and clarification. You're certainly right that Moore's consequentialism is explicitly formed, in part, through criticism of existing forms, chiefly the hedonistic ones. (Hastings Rashdall's "ideal utilitarianism" has a similar dialectical position.) It's also true that Moore's criticism is much wider than just hedonism (he criticizes, as fallacious, any theory that analyzes goodness as synonymous with some other property or complex of other properties; and rejects, on the basis of intuition, any theory that claims that any other property or complex of properties is the sole good). And it's also worth noting that many consequentialists after Moore and Rashdall have been dubious whether their views even count as a form of consequentialism, or whether they are just trying to smuggle in deontological views under consequentialist language. (I think the charge is unjust, even silly, but I'm not a consequentialist anyway, so I don't have a dog in that fight.) My main concern here is (1) that Moore be recognized as a consequentialist and (2) that the subtlety of his criticism towards utilitarians et al. not be missed; he doesn't claim that all forms of utilitarianism (for example) rest on the naturalistic fallacy, and indeed credits Sidgwick with having been the first ethical writer to discover the essentials of the philosophical methods that he advocates.
You're also right that Railton takes substantial parts of Williams' critique into account in forming his own version of consequentialism, and that his discussion of choosing lives rather than acts, rules, etc. is very much motivated by Williams's criticism (on the other hand, he also doesn't treat Williams's criticisms as completely decisive; he actually suggests that some degree of "alienation" from projects is an essential and valuable part of principled ethical theory). But this would almost surely be better discussed under the heading of different forms of indirect consequentialism, rather than under the heading of criticism of consequentialism. Of course, Williams's claims of alienation do certainly belong in the criticism section, so I think that the paragraph in question could and should be rewritten as a summary of Williams. Radgeek 17:55, 10 March 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

You might consider providing an example in your "Negative Consequentialism" section (e.g. Popper, the card-carrying negative utilitarian). Also, in the "are consequentialism and deontology so different" section, I think the point you refer to in Scanlon is explored more rigorously by L.W. Sumner in "The Moral Foundation of Rights". --Figureground

The negative consequentialism thing will eventually be sourced — I just haven't had the time to get around to it. The Scanlon article is not cited as being the premiere example of this type of thought (I believe Scanlon himself has an entire book on the subject as well), but (1) because of the extensive citations from the Scheffler collection (admittedly because it is sitting on my desk... and (2) because of the relative brevity of the article (its a bit easier to read and digest a short article than an entire book). But, hey, if you want to add references in for either of these, please go ahead — they would both be appreciated additions. iggytalk 00:52, 16 May 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

No mention of the Gita??[edit]

This article completely ignores the Gita, a hindu scripture, which is perhaps the earliest known argument between consequentailism versus deontology SV 16:17, 19 March 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Sorry that this response is so late — I haven't really been paying careful attention to the talk page. The Gita is an interesting text, and could be, in some ways relevant to the discussion of consequentialism and deontology. However, let me offer some reasons why I don't think it needs to be included on this page:
  • First and foremost, this article is about a particular ethical theory as it is found in (mostly) English writings. There is no claim made that this article exhausts the importance of consequences for all concepts of moral behavior. "Consequentialism" is a limited and quite specific term.
  • Second, while the refrain of Krishna description of karma-yoga is to act without concern for the results, parts of Krishna argument (such as it is) are "consequentialist" in character: karma-yoga in particular brings about dharma (in the sense of cosmic order). Arjuna's concern for the character of the fruit of his action is, in fact, adharmic, that is, leading away from cosmic order.
  • Thirdly, Arjuna's own concern, while articulated as concern that no good can come from the destruction of his kinsmen, seems primarily motivated out of affection for his relatives rather than concern about the future consequences. The point about no good arising from the destruction seems to be one of no good that can equal out the loss that will be suffered.
  • Fourthly, following the various yogas outlined by Krishna seems to obviate the need for deliberation about action, a point which has been of great concern to the Western tradition since at least the time of Aristotle.
In short, the lack of reference to the Gita is not a systematic bias against non-Western writings: I simply do not think that its contents will illuminate a discussion of consequentialism in an encyclopedia. Moreover, I think including references to it will do violence to the text by over-simplifying the nature of karma, yoga, and dharma. Ig0774 01:58, 5 April 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

The Good article nomination for Consequentialism has failed, for the following reason:

There is much that is good here, but some one-sentence paragraphs look bad, and also section headings need to be given normal capitalisation - see WP:MOS. Worldtraveller 12:46, 23 May 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

"Hey, What Happened To My Cherished Conglomerated Review on The Rejection Of Consequentialism?"[edit]

Apologies to the random IP address that inserted that eyesore into the Consequentialism entry, but come on. That is so far from being up to Wikipedia's standards--read, NO ORIGINAL RESEARCH (including half-baked essays from your Ethics 300 class)--that its deletion doesn't even merit a point-by-point explanation. Let's just say that it starts with "I believe that consequentialism is an inadequate account of morality" and goes downhill from there.

I'm not going to start warring with you over it, so if you post it again I'll leave it to somebody else to delete, but as far as I'm concerned, it's vandalism. Figureground 04:07, 20 October 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Francis Hutcheson inconsistency[edit]

Shouldn't Francis Hutcheson be mentioned here? The Scottish Enlightenment article claims he invented the consequentialist principle and links to this very article. But no mention of Hutcheson here. The article claims a 1958 origin of the term Consequentialism, yet cites Notable consequentialists from the 1700's.

I will add Francis Hutchison to Notable consequentialists at least.

Consequentialism and G.E.M. Anscombe[edit]

Removed from page - but valuable material - perhaps someone could add it in appropriately. Anarchia 03:02, 17 August 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

The term 'consequentialism' as used by Anscombe stands for something which she,in 'Modern Moral Philosophy' described as marking Sidgewick and 'every English academic philosopher since him'.'Consequentialism' in this article is not the name of an ethical theory,but of a belief shared by people whose ethical theories are supposed to differ widely. This is the belief that there is no kind of action so disgraceful but it might be justified as a means to some end.Her example is killing the innocent. She regarded Sodgewick's notion- that we are as responsible for the unintended as for the intended consequences of our actions- as the explanation for the common feature in these philosophies,but her central objection to them is that they regard evil actions as justified when done for a good purpose.

This term has been taken as the name for a philosophy,or group of philosophies, according to which the consequences of an action are the sole ground for judging its rightness or wrongness.This might be said to be what the word now means,but it should be noticed that Anscombe's account of what she calls 'consequentialism' is different from any of those given above.Some philosophers who would not call themselves consequentialists are consequentialists in Anscombe's sense of the word.They do not think that the overall consequences of an action are the sole ground for judging its rightness or otherwise,but they do not think that there is any kind of deed that should never be done for the sake of its consequences.

Anscombe herself noticed that people had changed the meaning of the word, and remarked on this in conversation at home.(She was my mother) 15:16, 16 August 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Nihilism and moral relativism[edit]

Sorry, I meant to actually include a comment referring people to the talk page for my rationale about deleting those two sections. Anyway, just as a basic matter of content, both of these sections seemed aimed at something quite different from the topic of this page and are aimed more at something like theories of value — strictly speaking consequentialism is not a theory of moral value, but a theory about the sort of facts that are relevant to determining the moral value of something. It is possible, if a little bizarre, to imagine a nihilistic consequentialist, someone who believes that the results of an act are the only facts by which we can judge the goodness of the act, but who also holds that the results are neither good nor bad. Aside from that, both sections read as though they had simply been copied and pasted from somewhere else with no real thought as to how it integrated into the rest of the article. 22:36, 22 August 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Why is there no mention of Lenin and other Bolshevists?[edit]

Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and others actively used “the ends justify the means” principle to justify the Red Terror and later crimes like the Great Purge. It was a cornerstone of all their ideology. Lenin and Trotsky wrote about it.
No mention in the article about Niccolò Machiavelli either...

Andrew (talk) 13:19, 26 November 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Consequentialism takes the end as justifying the means?[edit]

I quote from page 22 of the book "Capitalism and Freedom" by Milton Friedman, who is often characterized as consequentialist libertarian.

A common objection to totalitarian societies is that they regard the end as justifying the means. Taken literally, this objection is clearly illogical. If the end does not justify the means, what does? But this easy answer does not dispose of the objection; it simply shows that the objection is not well put. To deny that the end justifies the means is indirectly to assert that the end is itself the use of the proper means. Desirable or not, any end that can be attained only by the use of bad means must give way to the more basic end of the use of acceptable means.

I agree with Friedman, and therefore think that the sentence in the current article, "In other words, the ends justify the means." is something that is not well put, misleading and inaccurate.

If one is an utilitarian consequentialist, one will consider all the consequences of the means on the society. And if one is an egoist consequentialist, one will consider all the consequences of the means on himself.

I think the sentence "In other words, the ends justify the means." should be deleted.Cosfly (talk) 11:56, 12 December 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Removing {{Fact}} Tags[edit]

I have removed the {{fact}} tags from the first section of the article, as the use here seems to constitute a misunderstanding of what the {{fact}} tag is for. According to the Wikipedia citation guide: "Not every statement in an article needs a citation, but if in doubt, provide one." The sentences in question are the sentences at the head of the article, which is the summary of the subject that the article is about. The source for the statements is the article itself, with the understanding that if a particular statement is questionable or contentious a citation will be given for it in the main body of the article. Admittedly, the sentences in the summary section are far from perfect, but it would be better to look at how the wording in them might be changed and improved rather than simply blindly demanding citations.

Image copyright problem with Image:BernardWilliams.jpg[edit]

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This is an automated notice by FairuseBot. For assistance on the image use policy, see Wikipedia:Media copyright questions. --10:52, 15 May 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]

'Ends justify the means' discussion in the Definition section[edit]

I find the quote from Basgen & Blunden on the term 'The Ends justifies the Means' to be biased and inappropriate in the 'Definition' section. To define consequentialism simply as the maxim "the ends justify the means" is arguably oversimplifying the matter, but I would not object to that being mentioned as one of the possible definitions. The etymology of the phrase itself, however, is not relevant to a discussion on consequentialism as a philosophy (unless the contributor is alleging that the philosophy of consequentialism itself arose from accusations by Protestants against Jesuits... and to that end, I'm sure there were plenty of groups who objected to their rivals' actions before there even was a Protestantism). The discussion as to the actions of totalitarian socialists is even less relevant, and highly biased.

If anything, the portion in question belongs in the Criticism section, not the definition, and unless someone raises an objection, I'm inclined to move it there. Prothonotar (talk) 04:38, 24 May 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I was looking for the article on the history of the expression, "The ends justify the means" and was redirected to this article. I really think the expression itself deserves its own article. Steve Dufour (talk) 01:21, 15 September 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]
“Ends justify means” is at best a shorthand, and inaccurate, characterisation of consequentialism. Perhaps it could be mentioned in the definition section, but with some such qualification. The quote that is currently in that section about totalitarianism, etc. is 100% POV and IMHO should be deleted, or mentioned as criticism (with balance) in a criticism section. David Olivier (talk) 06:53, 15 September 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I've removed the offending text. I agree with Prothonotar above that the quotation is inappropriate. Not only does "the ends justify the means" not equate to consequentialism without some sort of argument to that affect (and there are certainly certain varieties of consequentialism that are more resistant to such claims). Furthermore, whatever the etymology of the phrase (and, arguably, similar ways of thinking predate Plato), etc., the fact is that the quoted text (rather long for this article) makes no explicit mention of consequentialism as such. It is therefore dubious that the section in question makes any claims relevant to the text. (This could be the case regardless of whether or not the charge is that utilitarianism necessarily implies that the ends always justifies the means; it is perfectly plausible to imagine a type of consequentialism -- indeed, I think hedonistic utilitarianism is one such example -- where the ends do not justify the means, since such a type of consequentialism aims only at a particular class of means. The criticism in the quote given, aiming at Stalinism in particular and totalitarianism in general thus seems off the mark. Feel free to revert with sufficient justification. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 01:52, 18 March 2009 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Why the hell am i redirected to this page when I look up "the ends justify the means" when its not even in the article. This is why i hate wikipedia —Preceding unsigned comment added by Thprfssnl (talkcontribs) 09:08, 1 June 2009 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Information about famous quotes and proverbial aphorisms such as this can often be found by searching Wikiquote instead. See Wikiquote:Means and ends, e.g. ~ Ningauble (talk) 12:50, 15 July 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Then the redirect should be to Wikiquote, not to this article which fails to even include any variant on that phrase. Examining the history of one redirect that leads to this article, a merge was proposed back in 2007, but instead of including any material from the latest version of "The ends justify the means", that article was replaced by a redirect -- which was an unsatisfactory result. I guess in this case, someone thought the ends did justify the means, & information about a famous quotation was removed because the statement was felt to be technically incorrect, ethically speaking. -- llywrch (talk) 18:59, 17 July 2011 (UTC)Reply[reply]
The phrase "the ends justify the means" is back in the definition again! It should not be equated with consequentialism because the connotation of "the ends justify the means" includes an inappropriate definition of "the ends". For example, one may attempt to justify NSA mass spying programs by saying "the ends justify the means", thinking that "the ends" refers to "preventing acts of terrorism". But the "means" (mass spying) also has its own consequences (more fear of being watched, loss of business to U.S. companies after the truth got out, usage of spying powers for purposes that have nothing to do with terrorism, etc.) When using "the ends justify the means", one pretends that consequences of "the means" are not part of "the ends", which is simply wrong, and I think that's why "the ends justify the means" has a connotation of moral repugnancy. Consequentialism, more maturely, ackowledges the consequences of the means themselves. - David Piepgrass (talk) 01:43, 14 January 2014 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Not a problem, it is qualified as a saying, so a rigorous definition is not applicable. It means a whole lot of different things to different people, mostly Righteousness and Justice though. (talk) 07:27, 26 February 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I merged the articles in a way that implies that consequentialism is a form of teleological ethics (cut-and-paste into a subsection of "varieties"). The talk page indicates that there's debate about whether consequentialism is a kind of teleological ethics, whether teleological ethics is a kind of consequentialism, or whether they are synonyms. Given that I cannot answer that question based on reliable sources, I'm leaving that to the expert article editors. --Alvestrand (talk) 18:50, 21 June 2009 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Hello Alvestrand, allthough there is some discussion in the ethical field as to where to place consequentionalism two things are universally accepted:
1) It is not deontological because it is not interested in HOW an actor acts, but merely in its consequences.
2) Therefore it is a form of teleological ethics, but not virtue ethics.
The discussion is if it is utalitarianism or something new. Personally I say utalitarianism, however I am unclear if I can back this up completely with sources. I would enjoy your view on this source:

Consequentionalism - The view that the value of an action derives entirely from the value of its consequences. This contrasts both with the view that the value of an action may derive from the value of an action may derive from the kind of character whose action it is (courageous, just, temperate, etc.) and with the view that its value may be intrinsic, belonging to it simply as an act of truth-telling, promise-keeping, etc. The former is the option explored in virtue ethics, and the latter in deontological ethics. COnsequentialism needs to identify some kinds of consequence whose value is not derivative from actions, but resides, for example, in states of pleasure or happiness, thought of as ends towards which actions are means. Opposition to this way of looking at ethics may begin with wondering whether self-standing states of this kind exist, given that generally we take satisfaction and pleasure in acting, and it is not possible to separate the pleasure as an end from the action as a mere means. Critics also point out the way in which much ethical life is 'backward looking'(seeing whether an action is a case of breaking a promise, abusing a role, betraying a trust, etc.) rather that exclusively 'forward looking' as consequentionalism requires. See also pleasure, utilitarianism, utility. ~Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, 2008. p74. p75.

Let me know what you think.
--Faust, formerly Arjen (talk) 00:24, 2 July 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I just noticed that there is no more teleological ethics page. I think we should redo this because consequentionalism is definately not the same as all teleology. Aristotelianism for instance uses as its telos the reason for which humans were created. Consequentionalism only holds that the 'good' for x should be that to strive towards (like utalitairiansim for instance). It is a 'modern' name for a spin-off of something very old. Who will help me work through this puzzle?
--Faust (talk) 09:57, 4 July 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Translation "Verantwortungsethik" (german)[edit]

The german Version of this article is called "Verantwortungsethik". It describes a specific theory by Max Weber which is related to the concept of consequentialism, but it's clearly not the same. A plain translation would be "rationalist ethics", or "ethics of responsibility"

mention of Mary Midgley"[edit]

The first to write about "Consequentialism and common sense" פשוט pashute ♫ (talk) 11:05, 24 June 2012 (UTC)Reply[reply]


  • "Every advantage in the past is judged in the light of the final issue." —Demosthenes c.333 BCE (Olynthiacs; Philippics (1930) as translated by James Herbert Vince, p. 11)
  • "Whatever shall be to the advantage of all, may that prevail!" —Demosthenes c.333 BCE (Speech against Philip II of Macedon, in Olynthiacs; Philippics (1930) as translated by James Herbert Vince, p. 99)

How say you, Is this Consequentialism ? (talk) 03:05, 10 February 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Thanks for these wonderful quotes. Demosthenes got to the heart of the matter in general, and the issues discussed above in earlier talks specifically. "The end justifies the means" is a legitimate assertion so long as all those affected by the means participate in identifying which ends are significant and accepting both those means and ends as legitimate, necessary, and proper. Most objections result from ignoring these conditions. If these conditions of democratic participation prevailed, I think everyone (maybe not Anscombe) would gladly support consequentialism as well as instrumentalism--a closely-related view of the interdependence of means and ends. That is precisely the form of consequentialism Amartya Sen argued for in Development as Freedom.TBR-qed (talk) 15:21, 18 March 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply] (talk · contribs · WHOIS) I belatedly responded to your 10 February post. Perhaps you did not see my response. I would love to hear your thoughts on it.TBR-qed (talk) 19:54, 28 March 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]

add John Dewey as notable consequentialist[edit]

I have added John Dewey after posting on the John Dewey page (section 4) his definition of pragmatism which makes explicit its conformity with consequentialism. I wonder why Demosthenes is not in the list, after reading the quotes 96.28.43,27 posted here recently. If such a list is indeed useful, it might clarify one's justification for inclusion by posting a quote after each name.TBR-qed (talk) 13:50, 7 April 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Nonsensical phrase at end of intro on "ends justify means"[edit]

The intro terminates on "meaning that if a goal is morally important enough, any method of achieving it is acceptable". This is just plain wrong because "any method" covers all sufficient means while the imperative of a goal can strictly justify only necessary means. In general, side-effects of distinct practicable methods sufficient to an identical goal, may determine a preferability between the methods that's independent from the imperativeness of the goal. Of course an article about a doctrine or family of doctrines can legitimately make absurd assertions if they reflect the doctrine(s), but this shorthand does appear misleading and unrepresentative when reading the details of the article. In summary, "one can't make an omelette without breaking eggs" would make a better common saying capsule than "the ends justify the means". (talk) 08:43, 23 May 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]

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Demosthenes wasn't really a philosopher or an important consequentialist, as far as I can tell. Can I replace the picture? Two ideas I have for appropriate people are Epicurus (if we want to stick with the Greek theme) and John Stuart Mill. Maybe these two are more associated with utilitarianism specifically, but I think that's the most common form of consequentialism. I'm also interested to hear if any people have other ideas. GranChi (talk) 02:41, 2 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Merge "Issues" and "Criticisms"[edit]

Pacerier (talk) 10:40, 5 March 2016 (UTC): ❝Reply[reply]

I see some of the criticisms have been listed under "Issues".
These two sections should be merged into a single section "Issues and criticisms" or similarly named.

Some new improvements[edit]

1. Added a proper reference to Karl Popper's "Open Society and Its Enemies"

2. Decision theoretical approach and operationalization of utility mentioned.

3. Chaos theory (unpredictability of consequences of small actions) and its significance in social science setting mentioned in "Criticism" section, as well as the related J. Lenman's article "Consequentialism and Cluelessness".

Isojarv1 (talk) 08:21, 31 March 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Should the page merge with teleological ethics be reverted?[edit]

Looking back at the page history, I noticed that consequentialism was merged with Teleological ethics all the way back in 2009. However, I'm pretty confused about why this was done, since the term "teleological ethics" encompasses both consequentialism and virtue ethics (eudaimonism). A quick read of the cited source here makes it pretty clear that "teleological ethics" refers to any ethical theory that defines morally right actions in terms of what a good state of affairs looks like, which includes both theories that focus on the consequences of an action (consequentialism) and theories that focus on the moral character of a person which can be instantiated in an action (virtue ethics). Since this is said very explicitly in the cited source, and since virtue ethics is definitely not a form of consequentialism, I think that the only right way of handling this would be to once again split teleological ethics into a separate page. Thoughts? --Drevolt (talk) 01:08, 6 August 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Based on the strength of the support for this division in various sources, I think I'm going to split boldly. --Drevolt (talk) 03:56, 6 August 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I have reverted this split. Partly because a split proposal should be given more than 2 hours to reach consensus, partly because of some potential plagiarism issues. Teleological ethics as it stood before I reverted, was a very close paraphrasing of Teleological ethics at I haven't chased down where this form of words appeared in this article, but suspect it was quite recent. Lithopsian (talk) 19:24, 6 August 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
So the astonishing similarity to the Brittanica article is not recent at all. It dates to this edit in 2007 by a single-edit account, which appears to have been a direct dump of the Brittanica article into WP. Subsequent massaging of some phrases and re-ordering of sentences has obscured the infringement a little, but it would be hard to claim that the form of words here is not plagiarised from Brittanica. I'm not sure what to do about such old cases. You might consider a total rewrite of the section, which seems likely to be necessary however this pans out. Lithopsian (talk) 19:44, 6 August 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I've escalated since this is above my pay grade. The section is tagged out for now, probably best to leave it alone until someone acts on that. Lithopsian (talk) 20:17, 6 August 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Total rewrite seems to be the right way to approach this. Thanks for catching the similarities, not sure how I missed that. --Drevolt (talk) 23:30, 6 August 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Hi @Lithopsian: Just wanted to discuss your revert a bit since I wasn't clear on the reasons behind it. As noted, I was splitting boldly as the guidelines for splitting articles seem to recommend in a case like this. The original merge in 2009 seems to have been pretty poorly advised and didn't have a very good consensus. Since one of the main sources cited on this page (the "" one) explicitly says that "teleological ethics" is a broader category which includes consequentialism but is distinct from consequentialism, it seemed like a re-split was warranted. Were you reverting because it was a bold split or because you disagreed with the reasoning behind it? If it's the former, I don't think that a revert was necessary just because consensus wasn't reached first; but if it's the latter, thank you for voicing your opinion, and I'd be happy to discuss before trying to split the articles again. --Drevolt (talk) 23:38, 6 August 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Regardless of the quality of the original merge discussion, there was a discussion. In general, reversing something that was discussed should only be done after more discussion. No problem, you made the split, I reversed it, and it will be discussed. Maybe, if anyone else chimes in. More importantly, the whole section that would become the new article, appears to be derived from copyrighted text. If that turns out to be true, it will probably disappear into the ether and you'll have to write it again from scratch, in your own words. If you look at this article now, you'll see the section replaced by a tag explaining the copyright issue. It would be best to wait until someone deals with that, either deleting it or reinstating the text, before trying to make the split. Lithopsian (talk) 14:28, 7 August 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Sounds good to me. I'm honestly just surprised that nobody noticed that the section was taken right from copyrighted material for over a decade, that was a great catch on your part. Also, just thought I should note that I'd be willing to spearhead the rewrite if a consensus to split emerges (or to rewrite the plagiarized section if it doesn't). --Drevolt (talk) 22:08, 7 August 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Of note, the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy's article on ethics notes in passing "Consequentialist theories are sometimes called teleological theories [...]". Additionally, its article on virtue ethics cleanly sets it off from consquentialism saying things such as "Consequentialist theories are outcome-based and Kantian theories are agent-based. Virtue ethics is character-based." It does note that "The importance of this point of eudaimonistic virtue ethics is that it reverses the relationship between virtue and rightness. A utilitarian could accept the value of the virtue of kindness, but only because someone with a kind disposition is likely to bring about consequences that will maximize utility. So the virtue is only justified because of the consequences it brings about. In eudaimonist virtue ethics the virtues are justified because they are constitutive elements of eudaimonia (that is, human flourishing and wellbeing), which is good in itself." which may be what the other source was referring to. —The Editor's Apprentice (talk) 19:11, 29 November 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]

How to resist fake love[edit]

G (talk) 00:46, 30 September 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]