Consequentialism

Consequentialism is described as the idea of one’s ethical theories which form the basis of what they distinguish as 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 recognised 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 a trolley is seen driving quickly down a track in the direction of five unsuspecting workers. Then, a lever that, if pulled, would divert the path of the trolley from the five people, but instead lead to one other worker. So the question is, would it be better to 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 one truly puts themselves in that position, it becomes much more difficult to answer. 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 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 idea that a soul is created at the moment of conception. The moral argument is that it is murder to abort a pregnancy, no matter the reason. However, there are many viable 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.   

Consequentialism is the bases of ones 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 basses 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 outweigh the steps taken to get there?

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