Theories of Ethics
Consequentialism sees the rightness or wrongness of an action in terms of the consequences brought about by that action.
The most common form of consequentialism is utilitarianism. Utilitarianism holds that one should act so as to do the greatest good for the greatest number. The good as defined by J.S. Mill would be the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain. Utilitarians are concerned with the aggregate happiness of all beings capable of experiencing pleasure or pain including nonhuman animals. They consider the principle of utility to be the act, which produces the greatest balance of good over evil. Utilitarians ...view middle of the document...
The means justifies the end. The idea that the consequences may be seen as external to the actions that bring them about seems to contradict the idea that what is good for humans makes them more complete as human beings, not just “better off.” The decision to terminate the life of a terminally ill patient who only has a few days to live in order to donate her organs to several other patients needing transplants is an example of consequentialism.
In the United States, the best interests of the individual patient are still most important. Health care professionals still practice nonutilitarian medicine.
Deontology is an ethical system that relies heavily on the work of Immanuel Kant and stresses the importance of doing ones duty and following rules. Kant thought that ethics should be as clear and firmly based as mathematical knowledge, and just as a mathematical truth is universally true, so is ethical truth. The basic idea is that an act can be described as good and is what should be done because it expresses certain characteristics such as universality or conformity with the moral law. Kant used the principle of universality to identify appropriate actions. If the statement of an action could be universalized as, appropriate for everyone, that action would be ethically permissible. This universality is the basis for considerations such as duty or justice or respect for an individual’s autonomy. The deontologist considers the rightness or wrongness of some acts to be independent of their consequences; that is some acts are good or evil in and of themselves. Unlike utilitarians, deontologists hold that lying is wrong even if a lie would accomplish great good for many people because lying involves disrespecting the person to whom you are lying. Unlike utilitarians who insist that what makes an act wrong or right is its happiness-producing or pleasure-producing consequences, deontologists maintain that an action’s moral worth depends on the reasons behind it, specifically whether it is performed for duty’s sake or for some reason other than duty. Kant’s claim is that only actions performed from duty are truly moral.
Kant generated the ultimate guideline for moral decision-making called the Categorical Imperative because he knew that emotion, biases, and prejudices would sometimes determine our decisions. He articulated it in three ways: (1) Act only on in such a way that your action could become a universal law; (2) Treat no person as a means but rather as an end; (3) Never perform an action except on a maxim such as can be a universal law, and consequently such that the will can regard itself as at the same time making universal law by its maxim.
Philosopher W. D. Ross (1877-1940) developed a version of deontology that seems friendlier to human emotions than Kant’s version. To avoid irresolvable conflicts between two supposedly absolute moral duties, such as, “Never tell a lie” and “Never bring harm to another...