The view that the value of an action derives entirely from the value of its consequences. This contrasts both with the view that the value of an action may derive from the value of the kind of character whose action it is (courageous, just, temperate, etc.), and with the view that its value may be intrinsic, belonging to it simply as an act of truth-telling, promise-keeping, etc. The former is the option explored in virtue ethics, and the latter in deontological ethics . Consequentialism needs to identify some kinds of consequence whose value is not derivative from actions, but resides, for example, in states of pleasure or happiness, thought of as ends towards which actions are means. Opposition to this way of looking at ethics may begin with wondering whether self-standing states of this kind exist, given that generally we take satisfaction and pleasure in acting, and it is not possible to separate the pleasure as an end from the action as a mere means. Critics also point out the way in which much ethical life is ‘backward looking’ (seeing whether an action is a case of breaking a promise, abusing a role, betraying a trust, etc.) rather than exclusively ‘forward looking’ as consequentialism requires. See also pleasure, utilitarianism, utility.

Philosophy dictionary. . 2011.

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