A Commonly Accepted Flaw in Consequentialism, and Why It’s Wrong
Posted by Michael Dickens on November 25, 2009
Consequentialism is the moral philosophy that morality should be judged solely based on consequences. One widely observed flaw in this philosophy is that a person’s intentions do not matter; as long as there is a generally good outcome, a person with evil intentions is considered in the right. And someone with good intentions who causes a bad outcome is in the wrong. Most people see this as counter-intuitive. However, even under Consequentialism, it is not necessarily true.
If someone has good intentions, it is fairly likely that the outcome of their actions will be good. Likewise, if they have bad intentions, it is likely that the outcome will be bad. In real life, it does not always work out that way. But those actions can still be good or evil, independent of the outcome. How? Think about it this way. Someone with good intentions may accidentally harm some people, but is not so likely to cause harm in the future since he or she will be actively trying to avoid harming others. This person is more likely to do good in the future, even if he or she hasn’t yet. Therefore, according to Consequentialism, this person is a good person. The same logic applies for bad or selfish intentions.
Let’s look at a similar problem. What if someone wants to do good, but is just really bad at it? What if this person is very clumsy or naive? Doesn’t Consequentialism deem this person evil? In fact, no. Given the opportunity, this person could become empowered to do good in the world. This person just needs instruction, and would be all too willing to accept it. Someone who wants to do good but does not put forth the effort to find out how cannot truly be considered a good person.