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(intro music) Hi! My name's Julia Driver, and I teach in the philosophy department at Washington University in St. Louis. Today, I'm going to introduce you to the theory of consequentialism. Consequentialism is a type of normative ethical theory. Such theories provide criteria for moral evaluation, and may also recommend rules or decision procedures for people to follow in acting morally. Consequentialism, in its most general form, holds that the moral quality of an action is completely determined by its consequences. There are variations on this theme. For example, we might be evaluating character traits instead of actions, or we might be evaluating actions in terms of the consequences of adopting a set of rules that prescribe those actions. The common thread, however, is that moral quality is a function of consequences and nothing else. Traditionally, consequentialist theories of moral evaluation have two parts. One part is an account of what is good, and the other part, an account of how to approach the good, which underlies the attribution of deontic properties to the action, such as the property of being right. For example, the most well-known version of consequentialism is hedonistic act utilitarianism, which holds that the right action is the action that maximizes pleasure, the action that has the best overall consequences in terms of the production of pleasure. Here, the theory of the good is hedonism, which is the view that pleasure is the one intrinsic good, and the approach to pleasure is to maximize it, or to produce as much of it as possible. Suppose a doctor, Martha, has a dose of medicine that is just enough to save the life of one person, Steve. To save Steve, she would need to use the entire dose of medicine. However, there are five other people who need much smaller doses in order to be saved. She could instead divide the medicine into five smaller doses and save them instead of Steve. The utilitarian would view the right action as the action with the best consequences, and so Martha should use the medicine to save five rather than just one. The guiding idea is that the point of morality is to make the world a better place. Consequentialism is contrasted with theories of moral evaluation that either hold that consequences are not relevant in determining the moral quality of one's actions; or that consequences are only partly relevant, and that other considerations matter in determinations of moral quality. Very few believe that consequences are not at all relevant. However, there are very many moral theorists who believe consequentialism is incorrect because it reduces the moral quality of an action to the goodness of its consequences. For example, I have moral reason to keep a promise, even if the promise does not promote the good. The reason is simply that I made the promise. If I break a promise, I have done something wrong, even if the consequences of breaking the promise are slightly better than the consequences of keeping the promise. Maximizing forms of consequentialism are thought to be overly demanding. If the right action for me to perform is the one among the options open to me that produces the most good, and if failure to produce the most good is therefore wrong, then many of our ordinary actions are wrong. For example, if I buy a bagel every morning for breakfast, rather than make my own toast at home, then I am spending money on a bagel that I could be spending to do something else that, morally speaking, is better. I could save my bagel money and send it to Oxfam, and use the money to save people's lives. And this is true for very many of the purchases that people in affluent countries make. Thus, maximizing forms of consequentialism, such as utilitarianism, seem to be morally very demanding. To avoid this problem, some consequentialists hold that the right action need not maximize the good. Instead, the right action is the action that produces enough good. This is called "satisficing consequentialism." However, this approach seems odd, since maximizing seems to be rationally required by the observation that more good is surely better than less good. Subtitles by the Amara.org community