Chapter Four :  Ethical Theories
Section 3.  Consequential or Non-Consequential

Consequentialist vs. non-consequentialist theories of ethics

There are two broad categories of ethical theories concerning the source of value: consequentialist and non-consequentialist.

A consequentialist theory of value judges the rightness or wrongness of an action based on the consequences that action has. The most familiar example would be utilitarianism--``that action is best that produces the greatest good for the greatest number'' (Jeremy Bentham).

A non-consequentialist theory of value judges the rightness or wrongness of an action based on properties intrinsic to the action, not on its consequences.

Libertarianism--People should be free to do as they like as long as they respect the freedom of others to do the same.

Contractarianism--No policy that causes uncompensated harm on anyone is permitted (Pareto safety). 

Consider these Definitions:

Teleology, consequentialism, and utility

Telos is a Greek word for "end", or goal. Not end as in the "end of the road", but as in "the end which we seek." Teleological ethical theories are theories which describe our responsibilities and obligations in terms of our attainment of certain goals, or ends. In other words, if you want to find out what you ought to do, it is essential to understand what the ultimate goal of ethics is.

One religious, teleological theory suggests that the final goal of humanity is to love God, and to live a life of service to others. A different take on the nature of our moral "end" is that the fundamental goal of human behavior is to be happy -- the task then, of course, is to spell out exactly what human happiness consists in.

Consequentialism is a type of teleological theory -- consequentialist theories suggest that the moral value, the moral rightness or wrongness of an act, is entirely a function of the consequences, or the results of that act. Like above, what sorts of consequences are morally good and what sorts are morally bad need to be spelled out.

Both teleological and consequentialist theories are types of theories. They are not themselves theories for one very important reason -- they don't specify what goals or consequences ought to guide moral judgments and actions. In other words, they are simply a couple of ways of categorizing ethical theories.

In this chapter, we examine utilitarianism. This theory is both teleological and consequentialist. It is teleological in as much as it says that moral experience is first and foremost about attaining a certain goal -- in this case, human utility (read: happiness). It is consequentialist in as much as it says that the way to evaluate moral decisions and actions is to assess the consequences of (prospective) actions. If the consequences are good, then the action is right (either morally permissible or obligatory). If the consequences are bad, then the action is wrong (impermissible).

In short, then, Utilitarianism is a type of consequentialism, which is a type of teleological theory.

READ: Teleological Theories: Consequentialist Approach

READ: Deontological Theories: Non-Consequentialist Approach

Philosophical Theories Based Upon

 Principles and Utilizing Reason

Teleological Theories

Deontological Theories






Kantian- Categorical Imperative

Act Utilitarianism

Rawl's Theory of Justice

Rule Utilitarianism

Divine Command Theory

Situation Ethics

Natural Law Theory

A    theistic

B.   non- theistic


Post Modernism-Relativism




   In the chapters that follow we shall cover these various ethical theories and their advantages and disadvantages or their weaknesses and problems

A good resource site in Ethics: British Society for Ethical Theory

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Copyright Stephen O Sullivan and Philip A. Pecorino  2002. All Rights reserved.

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