Consequentialism is the view that morality is all about producing the right kinds of overall consequences. Here the phrase “overall consequences” of an action means everything the action brings about, including the action itself. For example, if you think that the whole point of morality is (a) to spread happiness and relieve suffering, or (b) to create as much freedom as possible in the world, or (c) to promote the survival of our species, then you accept consequentialism. Although those three views disagree about which kinds of consequences matter, they agree that consequences are all that matters. So, they agree that consequentialism is true. The utilitarianism of John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham is a well known example of consequentialism. By contrast, the deontological theories of John Locke and Immanuel Kant are nonconsequentialist.
Consequentialism is controversial. Various nonconsequentialist views are that morality is all about doing one’s duty, respecting rights, obeying nature, obeying God, obeying one’s own heart, actualizing one’s own potential, being reasonable, respecting all people, or not interfering with others—no matter the consequences.
This article describes different versions of consequentialism. It also sketches several of the most popular reasons to believe consequentialism, along with objections to those reasons, and several of the most popular reasons to disbelieve it, along with objections to those reasons.
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