Every action has a consequence. Consequentialists believe that the level of good from that consequence determines the level of good of the action. To determine ethically who these actions are good for and which actions and decisions are important morally to the individual. Utilitarianism, what is morally good, plays a large role in determining this by achieving a greater good for everyone versus an individual greater good. Deciding what to do is the main point of moral assessment of acts.
Consequentialism has three components to the theory: what makes acts morally wrong, procedure to make moral decisions, and the conditions that moral sanctions such as guilt and praise are appropriate (Hooker, 2011). History Utilitarianism is a form of consequentialism defined as a goal-directed theory that elaborates a sense of happiness as a result of performing a positive human action. The purpose of looking into these theories is to understand why humans act upon such actions, and the intent behind it.
Consequentialism developed many centuries ago when Hermes and Socrates agreed there needs to be some form of social justice (Freeman, 2000). This endowment from Hermes has provided human beings with the most arguable task, the task of establishing social justice (Freeman, 2000). George Berkeley was one of the first rule-consequentialist and stated in creating the general laws one must be guided by good of humankind and not the everyday moral actions (Hooker, 2011).
“Having a sense of justice or fairness has proven to be one thing; knowing the process and how to make it work have proven elusive (Plato, trans. 1977, pp. 757–758)” (Freeman, 2000, p. 53). A solution to this vagueness is a determination of which claims of utilitarianism are essential to consequentialism (Sinnott-Armstrong, 2011). Major Elements of Theory There are many major elements to consequentialism and justice. Consequentialism includes theories such as ethical egoism, utilitarianism, micro ethics, and macro ethics.
Theories such as these focuses on the belief that consequences from one’s actions are what determine the good for the whole. Freeman (2000), stated “Utilitarianism is a teleological, goal-directed theory emphasizing happiness as the end result of human action” (p. 49). One would understand this to mean happiness should not only be the goal of individual happiness but also happiness for others. Justice includes elements of theory such as social justice and distributive justice. These theories base decisions and choices on the law and what is fair and equal.
One understands justice differently from consequentialism because where consequentialism focuses on the happiness of the whole regardless of the choice one has to make, justice focuses on equality by following rules. Observing this in a recent study, Beekun (2010) stated, “The justice perspective is oriented to ensure fairness– fair treatment according to ethical or legal standards” (p. 4). Justice is a more black and white approach to making decisions. Who and How In the human service profession one must make ethical judgments and decisions every day.
Those who believe in determining right and wrong because of the outcome of an action use a theory of consequentialism. Those whose focus is in favor of fairness, equality, and rules concerning individuals, groups, and society use a theory of justice. The utilitarianism theory can aid in making ethical judgment’s in the decision-making process in situations, which he or she firmly believes in. For example, “An ethical standard is adopted depending on the mores, values, beliefs, and attitudes held by an individual.
The ethical standard chosen may or may not be consistent with the standards of other individuals” (Hollingsworth & Hall, 1991, p. 1). Justice can aid in making ethical judgments in the decision-making process because it allows the individual to follow established rules, guidelines, and policies. The theory of justice is that everyone has rights and is to be treated as equal. In the human service profession there may be times when a social worker will have a client who he or she does not agree with and will have to make an ethical decision based on individual rights and the rights of society. Concluding Thoughts.
Consequentialism is about the evaluation of consequences taken from one’s actions and decisions and evaluating those consequences to decide the level of good it had on both the individual and society. Many theorists describing consequentialism and utilitarianism within each other simplify the concept to pleasure and pain. Pleasure represents happiness and pain represents unhappiness with the goal to bring out as much pleasure as possible; combine that theory with justice, the decision-making process bases its decisions and actions on the law and fairness will no doubt lead in opposing directions even though both are consequentialism.
The goal of doing what is ethically right and moral is a common ground between smaller theories under consequentialism, but the path a consequentialist chooses to follow may bring different consequences and results from a separate path another consequentialist took. References Beekun, R. I. , Stedham, Y. , Westerman, J. W. , & Yamamura, J. H. (2010).
Effects of justice and utilitarianism on ethical decision making: a cross-cultural examination of gender similarities and differences. Business Ethics: A European Review, 19(4), 309-325. doi:10. 1111/j. 1467-8608. 2010. 01600. x Freeman, S.J. (2000) Ethics: An introduction to philosophy and practice. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning Hollingsworth, J. A. , & Hall Jr. , E. H. (1991). Utilitarianism: An ethical framework for compensation decision making. Review Of Business, 13(3), 17. Hooker, B. (2011). “Rule consequentialism”, The Stanford excyclopedia of philosophy.. Retrieved from http://plato. stanford. edu/entries/consequentialism-rule/ Sinnott-Armstrong, W. (2011). “Consequentialism”, The stanford encyclopedia of philosophy . Retrieved from http://plato. stanford. edu/cgi-bin/encyclopedia/archinfo. cgi?