Consequentialism: Principia Ethics By G.E. Moore

1937 words - 8 pages

People have opinions and ideas when it comes to ethical dilemmas. There are many examples: The debate on abortion, the trolley problem, and moral absolutism, to name just a few. In all of these examples it appears that emotion and feelings will, at some point, override an important ethical decision that needs to be made. An important factor of an ethical dilemma is how and when it might appear. Some dilemma's, like the debate on abortion, can appear in a way that there is time to talk through all options and available ethical concepts. In this type of dilemma it is possible to see how moral rules and ethical theories can be discussed and a decision made through compromise. In contrast, when a situation that poses dire ethical consequences calls for a moral action there must be a solution that is grounded in moral principle and that can be accessed quickly and efficiently producing the most desirable results. The principal that would seem the best candidate in these situations is consequentialism.
To best define consequentialism the famous English philosopher G.E. Moore declared in his book Principia Ethics that “Acts are morally right just because they maximize the amount of goodness in the world.” Moore believed that if you failed to accept the idea that it was right to maximize good, you did not know what you were talking about (297). What is unique about consequentialism is that it asks us to act in a way where the greatest benefit is made for the greatest number of people. Consequentialism asks us to look at the consequences of our actions. If the result will produce the most good, then the end justifies the means. The direct opposite of consequentialism is the ethical theory of deontology. Deontology suggests that no matter how beneficial or good a decision might be some choices cannot be justified morally. To best define the deontological approach to a dilemma, there is no firmer ground than that of St. Thomas Aquinas. In the Summa Theologica, Thomas presents the idea that if we intend to do harm either through the means in which we get to the end, or by the end itself we set ourselves to evil, and these kinds of actions are not allowed (Summa, Question 13). Looking at ethics from this perspective can also be called doing harm versus allowing harm to happen. This theory of deontology holds that moral obligations arise from God's commands.
One of the best acted out examples of how consequentialism decided a critical ethical dilemma and directly clashed with deontological ethics was in the 2003 “Battlestar Galactica (TV miniseries).” In the first episode, the Cylons (robots engineered by humans) return 40 years after a truce was reached in a war that pitted them against their human creators. In this war, the Cylons launched an attack against the unsuspecting humans with the goal of exterminating the human race. This attack wiped out virtually all of humanity and rendered the military industrial complex ineffective. Luckily for humankind...

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