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Consequentialism Integrity Notes

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This is an extract of our Consequentialism Integrity document, which we sell as part of our Ethics Notes collection written by the top tier of Cambridge students.

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Becky Tun


Would accepting consequentialism undermine our integrity? If so, is that really a problem for consequentialism?
Integrity can be defined as the alignment or correspondence between what one thinks (beliefs, values), what one says to others, and what one does. So one is said to have integrity to the extent that everything they do and believe is based on the same core set of values. Normative theories of ethics aim to classify right and wrong in a coherent system while capturing how our moral sensibilities work. If a normative theory somehow failed to capture how our moral sensibilities worked, namely by prescribing or prohibiting actions in a way that conflicted with our intuitions about what would be the right thing to do, then the theory could be said to undermine our integrity, in that it would dictate that we should not act in accordance with our values and beliefs. Undermining our integrity would be a problem for a normative theory if the theory's aim was to capture our moral sensibilities. Arguably you could not have a normative theory that did not have this aim since if it did not, it would have no non-arbitrary motivation or basis for its principles. There are various types of normative theories. There are ones that call some outcomes intrinsically good (consequentialist), one that call some actions intrinsically good (deontological), and ones that call some characteristics intrinsically good (virtue theories). The question at stake is whether consequentialism is a normative theory that matches our confident moral convictions. It can fail in two ways: it can fail to approve things that we would intuitively call good, and it can fail to condemn things that we would intuitively call bad. However if it does not fail in these ways, then it is a normative theory that successfully describes the way morality really works. Here are some ways in which consequentialist theories can vary. You can have a consequentialist theory that judges actions individually according to how much good they produce, and this is called act-consequentialism, or you can assess actions according whether they conform to a set of rules the general acceptance of which would produce the most good, and this is called rule-consequentialism. Then you have to decide what the good is. In 'Rule-Consequentialism' Hooker defines it as 'whatever has non-instrumental value', i.e. that which is intrinsically good. The simplest form of consequentialism therefore is utilitarianism, which says that the only intrinsically good thing is utility: 'pleasure and the absence of pain'. But there are other candidates for intrinsic goods. For instance equality. You might want to combine utility with equality and say that it is not just utility that has intrinsic value but the way it is distributed. Recently, philosophers have wanted to put fulfillment of people's desires in the good box, because we have desires for things other than pleasure, and our desire is not for the pleasure these things (may) bring, but for the things themselves. Hooker gives some examples of such desires: 'knowing important truths, achieving valuable goals, having deep personal relationships, and living life in broad accordance with their own choices'. I am going to take consequentialism as the simple maxim 'do what promotes the good', and tackle various purported results of this maxim which seem to conflict with our moral intuitions, and thereby undermine out integrity. I will discuss whether they really contradict our intuitions or whether they stem from not understanding the

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