Understanding the problems of consequential ethics
Another very common ethical idea in our surrounding culture is that the morality of an action can be determined by its consequences. If one’s sense of morality is primarily based on feelings, but the there are situations in which feelings are unclear then one can look at the consequences of an action to determine if it is right or wrong. In moral philosophy this way of seeing ethics is represented best by utilitarianism, but for many in the culture around us the consequential ethics they use is not as well thought through as utilitarian ethical theory. It is primarily the simpler idea that one can morally justify doing something that would otherwise be wrong if the outcome is good.
This is not a way of thinking that is compatible with biblically grounded Christian ethics. We should be concerned about the consequences of our actions, but there is a clear understanding among Christian ethicists that consequential ethics can lead to many wrong moral decisions. The value and dignity of persons in the minority or otherwise on the fringes of society can be abandoned when decisions are made on the basis of the good of the majority. It does not fit with a biblical understanding of moral truth to say that we can do what is wrong to achieve a good outcome. The ends do not justify the means. Consequential arguments are commonly false rationalizations to justify ourselves for doing something we know to be wrong. King Saul tried to justify his disobedience of God’s command to kill the livestock of the Amalekites by saying that bringing the best of the animals home with him would allow him to give them to God as sacrifices.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.