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The focus of this perspective is on the CONSEQUENCES of the action. 

The morally appropriate act is one that maximizes the amount of whatever outcome is deemed good and identified as intrinsically valuable, useful, or desirable. 

Consequentialists seek to bring about the greatest good for the greatest number of people. 

English philosophers Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill were crucial in the development of utilitarianism as a form of consequentialist ethics. In its most simplistic and traditional form, utilitarianism identifies “pleasure” as the good that must be maximized and “pain” as the evil that must be minimized. Utilitarians want to maximize happiness so they determine which actions will have the best outcome in terms of happiness or pleasure, and act so as to bring them about. Moral action is that which results in good or desirable consequences. The rightness of the act is measured by the good or bad consequences it brings about – more good is better. Contemporary utilitarian philosophers identify other values as “good” such as friendship, health, knowledge, etc. 

Terms associated with consequentialism: Utility, consequences, ends, outcomes, cost/benefit analysis, “the ends justify the means” 


  • Considers the interests of all persons equally 
  • Directs attention to the consequences of actions 
  • Offers a familiar form of reasoning – thinking about consequences to guide actions 
  • Can be used to establish public policy 


  • Bad acts with good consequences might be permissible 
  • Ignores or does not do justice to the particular and morally significant relationships that make up our lives – the highly personal nature of “duty” 
  • Interests of majority can override the rights of minorities 
  • Makes people responsible for too much; requires too broad a view 
  • Must take into account ALL people and ALL consequences 
  • Hard to determine what counts as a benefit or a harm, hard to compare benefits/harms