Consequentialism is a philosophical theory that offers a systematic approach to reaching ethical and moral conclusions. Consequentialists believe that in making a decision regarding a moral or ethical issue, one must heavily consider the outcome of the action. A moral and good decision would ultimately result in overall net happiness, and in contrast wrong and immoral actions would result in net displeasure or pain. At first, this theory seems logical in terms of weighing the utility actions that lead to promotion of good and happiness. However, closer investigation brings attention to the numerous objections and obvious conflicts with out basic moral intuitions.
When adopting the theory of consequentialism, the decision-making process might seem far too simple. This theory provides a single criterion for right action. (Arras 10) A moral decision can be made with ease, even in instances of dilemma, using the theory of consequentialism. According to the Greatest Happiness Principle, a moral action or decision is one that tends to promote overall net happiness. On the other hand, an action that would be found morally unjust would ultimately produce the opposite of happiness. In the event that an action were to produce two different conditions, the right, or moral, action is one that produces the most overall happiness or pleasure.
Besides the facility of the theory in reaching conclusions, consequentialism is one of impartiality. According to this theory, only the results of actions are relevant in assessing morality. One must discard considerations of intentions, feelings, or convictions. (Arras 9) At the same time, ties to family and friends, as well as the idea that suffering and sacrifice have moral value or worth, must be discarded. Adopting the idea of impartiality requires consideration to be given to all parties equally.
One is no longer bound by such ties as kinship and can make unbiased decisions. Thus, alleviating a great amount of stress in coming to final conclusions. To the untrained eye, this theory seems quite appealing, but soon, the theory becomes riddled with inconsistencies and conflicts. The downfalls of this theory can be illustrated in the following case. There are five patients that are inflicted with a fatal disease. The agents kin is afflicted with a fatal disease as well.
A cure, however, can be made using the ground body parts of the agents kin. There is no known cure for the disease of the agents kin. A consequentialist would easily come to a moral decision by practicing the ideas of consequentialism. The fact that the one to be sacrificed in the agents kin has no effect on the outcome. By sacrificing one, five are saved, and an outcome that provides a greater net positive is attained.
Therefore, it would be, according to consequentialism, the agents moral obligation to sacrifice his kin to save the five other people. Using this example, one can clearly object to the theory of consequentialism. We live in a society that teaches and nurtures the idea of close-knit family structures. We are taught to believe that blood is thicker than water and that the ties of kinship are ones that withstand even the test of time. It would be virtually impossible to completely ignore the fact that the one to be sacrificed is in fact related to the agent. Even if it were possible, the idea of killing a fellow human being, albeit to save five others, contradicts our very basic moral intuitions that lead us to believe that the killing of another human, justified or not, is in fact immoral and inexcusable.
Finally, because only the final outcome of the decision is relevant, one must carefully consider every possible outcome when judging whether or not more good or more harms will be the likely result. It would be virtually impossible to sit and ponder all the possible consequences of every action. Who is to say that the life of the sacrificed person is valued at 1/5 of the five saved as a whole? Because we cannot put a measurable value on life, it is not plausible to assume that saving the five would result in more happiness and good. The previous example provides that the consequentialist would consider the idea of pondering every possible consequence of actions is tedious. The mere thought of having to reflect on the many possibilities would prevent someone from doing so. The consequentialist might also add that it should be noted that both Bentham and Mill thought of [the theory] primarily as a guide to legislative policy, rather than as a guide to individual behavior.
(Arras 11) In regards to the issue of conflicting basic moral intuitions, a consequentialist states that one must disregard judgements of common sense morality and should instead adopt the principles of consequentialism. This statement in itself is self-defeating. If the general public adopts the principles of consequentialism, it is these principles which become judgements of common sense. According to consequentialism, the public should then disregard the principles of consequentialism, as it becomes more and more accepted. At first glance, the theory of consequentialism seems to be perfectly logical, while having many appealing aspects. Further investigation of the principles uncovers numerous flaws and inconsistencies. The theory suggests actions that go against our instinctive basic morals, such as advocating murder in some cases.
The theory gets into more hot water after responding to such arguments, leading to self-contradictory statements.