Below is the explanation of consequentialism provided by the BBC's website:

Consequentialism is based on two principles:

  1. Whether an act is right or wrong depends only on the results of that act
  2. The more good consequences an act produces, the better

My view is similar to this but subtly different, and I wonder where my view fits into the taxonomy of ethics. My view is that an act is good if the actor attempts to maximise the good consequences the act produces, given all available information.

That is, if before an act is performed, it is calculated that it will bring the most good consequences, then I would consider the act to be good, even if turns out there was an error in the calculations and the consequences actually led to harm.

Consequentialism (as defined by the BBC) would consider the act to have been wrong in this case however, if the consequences ended up being bad (even if the negative consequences weren't known ahead of time.)

What is the name for this slight alternative to consequentialism?

  • So this is like politically correct consequentialism? Exactly the same except you try harder not to point out others' mistakes? – Veedrac Mar 26 '18 at 18:01
  • That would be a form of Utilitarianism, most likely rule-utilitarianism, which tries to find general rules to follow that tend to have outcomes that make people happy. – jobermark Mar 26 '18 at 22:25

It's still consequentialism, just not "classic" consequentialism. There's a distinction between "actual consequentialism" and "expected consequentialism". The former is about the consequences that do happen, the latter is about the intentions. Actual consequentialism could however claim that a person may not be blameworthy if an act backfires, yet still claim the act was wrong.

The SEP goes into the different parts any consequentialist theory has or can have right at the start of the article on consequentialism and has part of a section about the actual-expected-distinction if you're interested.

  • Then at what point does consequentialism diverge from utilitarianism, in your interpretation? Or does this framing make utilitarianism just a subcategory of consequentialism? Most utilitarians would say that we are after rules that predict happiness, not just ad-hoc accidental happiness. – jobermark Mar 26 '18 at 23:25
  • I do see utilitarianism as a kind of consequentialism, to be more precise at least hedonistic consequentialism. Consequentialism takes only the consequences an act (or general rules for acts) has or aims at into moral consideration. Utilitarianism specifies that the consequences that are morally relevant are about pleasure and pain only. Don't really understand the last sentence. – Marc H. Mar 27 '18 at 8:38

My short answer is: Classical consequentialism asks for the factual consequences of the action, while your variant asks for the purpose of the actor. Both alternatives are valid positions in ethics.

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.