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Consequentialism Versus Deontology: Its Role and Importance to Ethical Thinking

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Consequentialism its Role and Importance to Ethical Thinking


As one of the most important Ethical study theories, Consequentialism has been widely concerned by philosophers since it was put forward, and many of its versions occupy an important position in philosophy. A well-known problem of Consequentialism is that it does take into account the influence of activity results instead of the process (Sinnott-Armstrong, 2003). Generally, ethical thinking is not identical to other subjects and always could not be unambiguously to get an ethical conclusion (Jones et al., 2010), so some approaches like Consequentialism could be used to perfect ethical development in the theoretical aspect. However, quite limited open literature to date has reported the role and importance of Consequentialism to Ethical thinking. The overall goal of this report was to resolve this problem by researching and discussing the implication of Consequentialism.

Research & Discussion

Outline of Consequentialism

The first time for the term “Consequentialism” put forward was by G.E.M Anscombe to specify the Consequentialist theory (1958) which has existed for a long time. The basis of Consequentialism is that acts’ ethical value depends on the value of their consequences (Sosa, 1993). This definition briefly and clearly defined Consequentialism as a consequences-oriented theory. It could be more precise and comprehensive if the “overall consequences” replaces “consequences”.

“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.” (Haines, 2019)

There are two typical Consequentialism cases, Utilitarianism and Hedonism. Although these two ideas are similar approximately, utilitarianism believes pleasure should be the greatest pleasure together instead of focusing on maximum personal pleasure (Watson, 1876).


The core idea of Consequentialism is the overall consequences. For theorists, they use “consequence” instead of “result” or “outcome”, “consequence” actually consists of the concomitant effects and results of acts, which means that this is not simply what happened. Imagine that there are 10 thousand dollars available to a poor man or a millionaire. Consequentialists may think that it is better to adopt the second choice because it could generate greater positive emotions and effects and it is obvious that the poor man needs the money even more, which means that the second choice is a better action. Consequentialism is rational, to determine the best strategy, people have to calculate the net profit of the total positive and negative consequences (Philosophy Terms, n.d.).

Disadvantage & Advantage

Consequentialism is against by many theorists. Firstly, the future is not definite, or it should be about the deviation between expected and actual results (Haines, 2019). Think about the poor and millionaire question. Should the money still be given to the poor if the millionaire generates more profits and welfare for the world? Secondly, Consequentialism may violate human rights. Here is a typical question. Suppose there are a doctor and six patients, and one patient's drug could treat the other five patients with mild illness, which will lead to the death of that patient. Should the doctor do this? The answer is true for Consequentialism but false for morality (Foot, 1967). However, the advantage of Consequentialism is evident. It embodies a strong concept of realistic rationality (Freeman, 1994). Consequentialism could be applied widely because every decision could match measurable consequences (Haines, 2019). Its principle is clear and guides us to choose an action that could maximize good consequences when we meet a moral difficulty (BBC, n.d.).

The ideas of a well-known proponent

John Stuart Mill is a faithful advocate of this theory. Mill thinks that the theory of life is 'pleasure', which is intrinsically desirable, but it does differ from the thought of Bentham. Mill insisted that people should pay attention to the quality of pleasure, which means pursuing higher quality is more utilized than quantity. A typical statement of Mill is the pig satisfied theory, and then he went on to criticize Bentham's theory as absurd.

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“It is quite compatible with the principle of utility to recognize the fact, that some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and more valuable than others. It would be absurd that while, in estimating all other things, quality is considered as well as quantity, the estimation of pleasures should be supposed to depend on quantity alone.” (Mill, 1879)

Moreover, some research about Mill’s theory illustrated that Mill presumed that more complete knowledge of moral duties results in greater happiness (Rising, 2002), maybe this is the reason why Mill would like to pursue “greater happiness”.

Consequentialism & Deontology

Consequentialism always contrasts with Deontology. Deontology is the study of duty. The representative of Deontology is Kant, whose central idea is that responsibility takes precedence over the result (Thomas, 2015). As Consequentialism thinks that the value of actions depends on the overall consequences, which is also the most apparent attribute of this approach, Deontology holds that some choices could not be judged by their effects no matter how positive the consequences are in morality – some choices are banned morally (Alexander and Moore, 2007). Therefore, returning to the patient-doctor question, Deontology would like to adopt the opposite choice, because killing violates moral rules. On the other hand, Deontology can lead to immorality in some special cases. Some scholars hope to combine the two theories as a reference. All of these attempts to combine deontology and consequentialism provide moral realists with a perfect (Thomas 2015, p.5). In summary, Deontology is the philosophical opposite of Consequentialism, which means it is a rules-oriented approach.

Role & Importance

Consequentialism is a kind of methodology to help people make decisions and execute actions morally. To form ethical or moral thinking, this kind of method does lots of importance to supply people with a train of thought. The theory of Consequentialism tends to do something generally morally.

“Ethics is the branch of philosophy concerned with how we should decide what is morally wrong and what is morally right.” (Jones et al., 2010)

Although sometimes consequential decisions are not moral for each individual, Consequentialism tries to execute reasonability. Otherwise, Consequentialism requires less serious knowledge, hence people could adopt this methodology widely. It is simpler than deontology, because for any action and activity, no matter whether there is a specific rule or not, it could be utilized. In the system of Consequentialism, the result could be quantified, so the mathematical evaluation could help to obtain the most moral decision. Thus, this provides people's ethical thinking with a simple access mode (Hart, n.d.).


This report has given an account of the reasons for Consequentialism its role and importance to ethical thinking through the definition researching, pros and cons discussion, and typical ideas analyzing and contrasting with Deontology. Compared with the rule-oriented ethical theory, Consequentialism is consequences-oriented and could be widely used to maximize profits, although it may cause some special unethical cases. Consequentialism is significant to ethical thinking because it helps people to form a well-defined frame of ethical thinking. As a clear and comprehensible methodology, consequentialism could supply people with a kind of critical examining method to justify possible strategies and actions by consequences.


  1. Alexander, L. and Moore, M. (2007) Deontological Ethics, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University.
  2. Anscombe, G.E.M. (1958) ‘Modern Moral Philosophy, Philosophy, 33(124), 1-19, Available:
  3. Consequentialism (n.d.) BBC, available:
  4. Consequentialism (n.d.) Philosophy Terms, available:
  5. Foot, P. (1967) The Problem of Abortion and the Doctrine of the Double Effect, Oxford Review, 28-41.
  6. Freeman, S. (1994) Utilitarianism, Deontology, and the Priority of Right, Philosophy & Public Affairs, 23(4), 313-349, available:
  7. Haines, W. (2019) consequentialism, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, University of Hong Kong, China.
  8. Hart, G. (n.d.) Applying Utilitarianism: Are Insider Trading and the Bailout of GM Ethical, Utilitarianism and Consequentialism - The GM Bailout, available:
  9. Jones, A., McKim, A., and Reiss, M. eds. (2010) Ethics in the science and technology classroom: a new approach to teaching and learning, SENSE PUBLISHERS.
  10. Mill, J.S. (1879) Utilitarianism, 7th ed., London: FRASER'S MAGAZINE.
  11. Rising, J. (2002) Justice and Ethics, MIT, available:
  12. Sinnott-Armstrong, W. (2019) consequentialism, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University.
  13. Sosa, D. (1993) ‘Consequences of Consequentialism’, Mind, 102(405), 101-122, Available:
  14. Thomas, A.J. (2015) Deontology, Consequentialism and Moral Realism, Minerva, 1-24.
  15. Watson, J. (1876) Hedonism and Utilitarianism, The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, 10(3), 271-290, available:
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Consequentialism Versus Deontology: Its Role and Importance to Ethical Thinking. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from
“Consequentialism Versus Deontology: Its Role and Importance to Ethical Thinking.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
Consequentialism Versus Deontology: Its Role and Importance to Ethical Thinking. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 5 Mar. 2024].
Consequentialism Versus Deontology: Its Role and Importance to Ethical Thinking [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2024 Mar 5]. Available from:
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