Consequentialism is described as the idea of one’s ethical theories are what forms the basis of what one believes is right or wrong. These philosophical issues are some that haunt everyone at some point in their life. We are encouraged to stretch our minds by exploring these questions, even though they do not have any right answer. Some of the most troubling problems involve death, a higher power, or fairness and are truly unanswerable.
When looking at slightly morbid examples of ethical problems, some subjects such as The trolley problem come up. The trolley problem was first recognized in 1967 by philosopher Philippa Foot. She came up with the moral dilemma that has troubled philosophers for decades. In it, she explains a scenario in which you see a trolley driving quickly down a track in the direction of five unsuspecting workers. You then see a lever that you have the option to pull. This would divert the path of the trolley from the five people, but that path leads to one more worker. So the question is, would you pull that lever to kill one, or step aside and allow it to hit all five? It seems like a simple choice for most, however, if you truly put yourself in that position, it becomes much more difficult. Is it really worth it to be responsible for killing someone if it saves five others? Many adaptations of this dilemma have been developed over the years, for example, a transplant surgeon being put in the position of deciding to take one unsuspecting person’s life in order to give their organs to five dying patients. In the play, Macbeth, the first major idea of consequentialism is introduced in Act I Scene II when Macbeth is praised for killing Macdonwald the rebel. The issue lies in the murder being made, not only acceptable but honourable. By completing this act, he may have saved an army, so is the murder acceptable? In these problems, one’s code of ethics is put into question by asking if the end justifies the means.
Another very serious issue of morality that is, unfortunately, a real dilemma is the pro-life/pro-choice debate. Christians seem to be mainly pro-life due to their moral identity of a soul being created at the moment of conception. The moral argument is that it is murder to abort an unplanned pregnancy. However, there are many reasons a woman might choose to abort a fetus. These reasons can include health reasons, financial reasons, or lifestyle reasons. The question is, is it acceptable to abort a fetus so that a child does not come into this world unwanted? So many factors, such as emotion, lifestyle, religion, upbringing, and personal code of ethics all play into one’s decision-making process when it comes to choosing a side of this controversial topic.
The childhood story of Robin Hood brings up the question of consequentialism by asking whether it is acceptable of him to be taking from those who have more to give to those who have nothing. In doing this, he ends up creating an arguably “fair” economy even though in the process he does break the law. It is important to understand that this is a very simplified version of a real-world problem. This shows that we begin to be asked unanswerable ethical questions from the first few years of our lives. Even though this issue is disguised as a children’s story, it is preparing them for some of the more serious issues they will be faced with as they grow. Similar to this, in Macbeth, one of the three witches tells a story of her unpleasant encounter with a sailor’s wife. The witch asked the wife to kindly share her abundance of food with the poor and malnourished witch. The response to that question was immediately and harshly denied. Due to the unkind remarks made by the woman, the witches felt it was acceptable for them to inflict punishment by ensuring her husband does not return from his journey at sea. Although in this case, the witches seem to be acting simply out of rage, it could be argued that punishment could change how the sailor’s wife treats people in the future. More specifically to Macbeth, the witches who tell the future are playing with consequentialism by the way they see the future. Is it right of them to be sharing these prophecies? The natural course of the way things were meant to be could be changed because of it. Due to everyone’s ethical standpoints are slightly different, the ways of societies and economies are constantly put into question and some of these questions simply lead to more extreme responses, such as Robin Hood’s thieving and the witches curse.
Consequentialism is the bases of one’s ethical decisions which form beliefs. They are considered moral dilemmas because they have no one right, fact-based, answer. These difficult questions can be formed around the bases of death and blame, such as the Trolley problem and abortion, or around fairness, like the story of Robin Hood. Whatever the issue is, one question can always be asked; does the outcome outweighs the steps taken to get there?