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Different Considerations for Evaluating Actions

Different Considerations for Evaluating Actions

Author: Glenn Kuehn

Identify different orientations and considerations based on different ways of evaluating an action

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Hello, I'm Glen, and this ethics tutorial is on different considerations for evaluating actions. Three key terms to keep in mind for this tutorial are consequentialism, the position that consequences are the basis for ethical valuation; deontology, the position that something intrinsic to the action itself is the basis for ethical valuation; and character ethics, the position that the character trait being manifested in the action is the basis for ethical valuation.

In this tutorial, we will be going through an overview of the ethical theories that we've been talking about. We will focus specifically on three of them-- consequentialism, deontology and virtue-based ethics. And then we will identify different considerations for these three main theories.

All right, let's take a stroll through the garden of ethical theories that we've been nurturing throughout this course. And keep in mind that all of these theories, broadly construed, can fit into three categories and the categories are consequentialism, deontology, and character ethics. And after we go through these, we will look at these top three a little bit more closely.

So let's look at the table here to see how these-- to remind ourselves of these theories and see how they can be categorized. OK, so let's look at the table and see how these theories play out. I'm not going to read everything, as you should be familiar with the definitions. But I will briefly highlight them and see how they fit into the three main categories.

We have divine command theory, conventionalism, egoism, utilitarianism, Kantian deontology, and the virtue-based ethics. Now each of these does fit under at least one of those three main categories. And a couple of them can fit under more than one. We can see the divine command theory, since right and wrong are determined by solely God's free command, it has elements of deontology in it because there is something intrinsic to God's command, which contains the ethical rightness of the direction.

Egoism could be both deontological and elements of character ethics because right and wrong is relative to self-interest. It's within me. My interest is what's important. But also self-interest has to do with personal flourishing, and so that can be related to character ethics. Utilitarianism is clearly consequential, and Kantian deontology of course fits under deontological ethics. So we can see how the various ones are placed in the different categories.

Now let's look a little bit more closely at the big three categories and see which of the theories fits most perfectly into each of them. Under consequentialism-- consequentialism, we'll remember is the position that consequences are the basis for ethical evaluation. And of course, utilitarianism fits this one just right. Utilitarianism is the view that we need to bring about the consequences that create the greatest amount of total utility. So it is naturally a consequentialist ethical theory.

Deontology is the position that something intrinsic to the action itself is the basis for ethical valuation. And the intrinsic thing could be conscience, it could be intention, it could be intuition, it could be a rule. Kantian deontology is therefore the most well-known example of deontological ethics. For Kant, the intention or the motive or maxim is the locus of moral worth.

And then character ethics is the position that character traits that are being manifested through actions are the basis for ethical valuation. Virtue ethics, also called Aristotelian ethics, is the most well known example of this. Aristotle asked us to focus on how various virtues, such as courage and loyalty and generosity, are made manifest through our actions, and how we can cultivate them in our lives.

Now let's identify some different considerations given these perspectives, different considerations of actions. A couple of scenarios can arise. One is where we can look at various actions and see how they evaluate it and what particularly theory is considered most appropriate for these actions.

Another way is how to see that the main positions can in fact yield different results. So let's first look at that one. What we can see here, in the following example, is that what seems immoral or wrong through one evaluation given the considerations might be morally good from another.

So let's say you bundle up your child on a winter day with the intention of keeping her warm, but in fact, the result of doing this is that she falls down and becomes immobile because there's so much heavy clothing on her that she can't move. So the intention was good, so from the deontological point of view, we have acted morally good. Yet the consequences have decreased the total utility, so from consequentialism and perhaps utilitarianism, we have not acted morally good. Different considerations and how the action is intended or ends up yield different results from the different perspectives we can use.

Also let's look at four examples of standard evaluations of action given different perspectives. The issue of stealing-- stealing is wrong. This is very suited towards deontology. There's something intrinsically wrong with stealing. Not letting someone else play in the sandbox with you, that's wrong because it's selfish and because it's displaying selfishness. Character ethics comes to play on that one.

Not letting someone merge into your lane as you're driving along is inconsiderate and selfish. Again, character ethics comes to the front as being appropriate for the evaluation here. And then finally, let's say someone asks you for a hug because it's going to help them feel better and you do so. Well, that has good consequences, so consequentialism and utilitarianism fit very well for evaluating that particular action.

In this tutorial, we have gone through an overview of the ethical theories covered in the overall lesson on Introduction to Ethics. We focused on the top three categories of consequentialism, deontology, and virtue-based ethics, and then identified different considerations for three main ethical theories.

Terms to Know
Character Ethics

The position that the character trait being manifested in the action is the basis for ethical valuation


The position that consequences are the basis for ethical valuation


The position that something intrinsic to the action itself is the basis for ethical valuation