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Tyler Zimmer

on 6 October 2016

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Transcript of Consequentialism

Consequentialism | Part 1
Ethics 213
Instructor: Dr. Tyler Zimmer

Consequentialism: The Basics
Consequentialism about actions? Consequentialism about policy?
Applying the theory
More Applications:
Punishment and Retribution
Learning Objectives
value as well as the
vs. the
vs. the
Understand the basic components of consequentialist ethical theories.
Understand how consequentialism asks us to think about ethics.
Learn to correctly apply consequentialist reasoning to real-world ethical problems.

Consequentialists on
Right and Wrong
What's "Good"?
The Point of View of Consequentialism
Consequentialism: A Test Case
In the show
Breaking Bad
, Walter White resolves to help secure his family's financial future by manufacturing methamphetamine. He also decides to lie to his family and friends about what he's doing in order to protect them.
How would a consequentialist evaluate this plan?
What would they see as morally relevant?
Is there any particular action that consequentialists see as
inherently wrong?
Case 1: Torture
What would a utilitarian say about torture?
Is it inherently wrong?
How would they analyze it?
Case 2: Lying
What do consequentialists say about it?
Is it inherently wrong?
How do they analyze it?
Case 3: Inequality
What should a consequentialist say about income and wealth inequality?
What, from a consequentialist point of view, is the best distribution of income and wealth?
Key Concept:
Diminishing Marginal Utility
Quantity of Some Good/Service
Amount of
Diminishing Marginal Utility of Money
The more money you get, the less pleasure you get from each dollar earned.
The more money you get, the less "bang for your buck" you get from each dollar.
$10,000 dollars would produce an
amount of pleasure for a homeless person but would produce a
amount of pleasure for Bill Gates.
If I lose $1,000 it's a big deal. If Bill Gates does, it's insignificant as far as his pleasure.
Diminishing Marginal Utility and Income Distribution
What does it imply?
What's the reasoning?
How would a consequentialist analyze the practice of punishment?
Would they see it as justified? Why or why not?
What would be the point of punishing people?
What would a consequentialist say about revenge or retribution?
Would they accept the "eye for an eye" principle?
What would they say about retaliation?
Ethical Theories
What's Good?
What's Right?
What's Just?
What is of value? What makes a life go well?
What do we owe to others? How should we relate to them?
How should the basic structure of society be organized?
Whether an action is right/wrong depends
on its consequences.
But how do we evaluate consequences?
makes consequences good or bad? Good or bad
for whom
How to be a consequentialist
First, find out
what's valuable
, what's good.
The best consequences = states of affairs with the
greatest possible amount of good for the greatest number of people.

What's Good?
Pleasure, absence of pain.
The Good
What's valuable.
Intrinsic Value vs. Instrumental Value
Instrumental Value
Intrinsic Value
Good for the sake of something else.

Good because it enables us to get something else of value.
Examples: Tools, efficiency, money, etc.
Good for its own sake.
Good in itself; good, period.
Examples: happiness, well-being, etc.
What's Right?
Maximizing the good,
promoting outcomes with the greatest overall possible amount of pleasure for greatest number.
What's Just?
What follows from the above?
How must a consequentialist define the idea of
morally right action
What about
morally wrong action
Right action
Wrong action
Whatever promotes the greatest possible amount of good for the greatest number.
Anything that
to promote the greatest good for the greatest number.
Actions that cause unnecessary suffering or pain.
Inefficient actions.
Notice that consequentialism doesn't ask us to maximize our
good, but the
total overall amount of good in the world
It therefore asks us to take an
impartial perspective
when evaluating outcomes. Sometimes this third-person perspective is called that of a
"benevolent spectator."
Key Concepts and Phrases
Cost/Benefit analysis.
Promoting, maximizing, optimizing.
Consequences, outcomes, states of affairs.
Utility, pleasure, well-being.
Impartial spectator.
"The ends justify the means."
"Greatest good for greatest number."
Apply consequentialism:
how should the cake be divided up among us?
What is right is whatever produces the
most good.
Acts are morally right only if they
maximize the total amount of goodness
in the world.
"You have to crack some eggs to make an omelet."
"The road to hell is paved with good intentions."
"The ends justify the means."
Three Consequentialist Sayings
How to do the right thing
Figure out what is intrinsically good (and bad).
Survey all possible actions you could perform.
For each option, calculate expected consequences.
Choose the action that yields the best balance: the most amount of expected good and the least bad.
The Rocks.
Six innocent swimmers have become trapped on two rocks by the incoming tide. Five of the swimmers are on one rock, while the last swimmer is on the second rock. Each swimmer will drown unless they are rescued. You are the sole life-guard on duty. You have time to get to one rock in your patrol-boat and save everyone on it. Because of the distance between the rocks, and the speed of the tide, you cannot get to both rocks in time. What should you do?
What would consequentialists say about stealing the medicine in the case we discussed earlier in our course?
What do consequentialists say about it?
What do consequentialists say about the norm that "we ought to keep our promises"?
Distribution of resources in society.
What do consequentialists say?
Some data on wealth inequality in the U.S.
What would be some consequentialist reasons to prefer,
ceteris paribus
, an
distribution of wealth and income?
What would be some consequentialist reasons to prefer an
distribution of wealth and income?
The Problem of "Leveling Down"
If our first preference is for equal distributions, then we ought to prefer D over A, B, and C. But that seems counter-intuitive -- how could D be a better distribution if it means overall utility would be lower? Isn't D the worst, all things considered?
Leveling Down and Equality
Suppose we were in world B. Would it better for any individual in world B to move to world D? Assessed impersonally, how could D possibly be better, all things considered, than B? Likewise for A and C.
Consequentialists have reason to criticize unequal distributions -- usually they are inefficient (i.e. they fail to realize the maximum sum total amount of happiness given a finite amount of wealth and income).
But consequentialists view equality in instrumental terms -- they don't think it's valuable in itself. Sometimes inequality produces the greatest sum total amount of utility, and in those cases consequentialists see inequality as
by justice.
Consequentialism is a theory of moral rightness, i.e. a standard of what makes actions right or wrong.
But it is also a theory of justice, i.e. of what makes public policies just or unjust.
In both cases, all that matters is the outcome:
Right actions produce maximum utility.
Just policies produce maximum utility.
Consequentialism can be thought of as a decision procedure: it prescribes what ought, morally, to be done in any given context.
It can therefore be used to decide what we, as individuals, ought to do.

But so, too, can it be used (in exactly the same way) to decide what governments or other institutions ought to do.
At the end of the day, consequentialism holds that:
What has value is states of affairs in the world.
The best possible state of affairs in any case is that state that has the greatest sum total amount of utility in it.
The right action, then, is the action that promotes that state of affairs.
The just policy, then, is the policy that promotes the best possible state of affairs.
Consequentialists have a
theory of value (compare that to what we might call a "pluralistic" theory of value.)

They think, in other words, that only one thing in the entire universe has intrinsic value:
What's intrinsically good?
Synonyms include: happiness, utility, well-being, enjoyment, satisfaction, etc.
Everything else, therefore, is a means to this end.
How to think like a consequentialist
Think impersonally, impartially.
Do "sum ranking" of states of affairs.
Try, as much as you can, to promote the highest rank state of affairs.
Sum-ranking means: add up the total amount of utility that would result from any action, then compare with other actions.
Full transcript