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The consequentialist moral decision making theory states that an action is considered morally right provided that the consequences which result are more positive than negative. A good aphorism for describing the backbone of consequentialism is that “the ends justify the means.” Provided that a good outcome results from an act, that act is considered morally just. Consequentialism can be agent-neutral or agent-focused and the two approaches are worth discussing to better understand the moral decision making model. Agent-Neutral consequentialism ignores the specific affect an action has for any certain individual and instead focuses on the consequences benefitting all. Agent-Focused consequentialism, on the other hand, is when the results of the moral decision are concentrated on the needs of the decision maker. This means that the moral actor makes their decision so that consequences resulting better themselves and the welfare of those they care about and not just the general welfare of society.
The deontological moral decision making theory is a different form of moral reasoning than consequentialism for a variety of reasons. As opposed to consequentialism, deontological moral theory states that the rightness of an action or decision is not solely dependent upon maximizing the good of society. Instead, deontological theory defines the morally rightness or wrongness of an action from the behavior of the action itself, not the behavior of the outcome. Deontological moral decision making provides distinct guidelines for morally right and wrong behavior for individuals to use when making day to day choices. This deontological moral guide places a higher value on the individual than on maximizing the good for society. In fact, deontology actually has constraints to stop an individual from maximizing the good if it hinders following the moral standards of the guideline. Deontology is more open to interpretation than consequentialism, however, because it remains flexible for self-interpretation.
Consequentialism possesses strengths as a moral model that deontology does not. One of the strongest points in favor of consequentialism is actually another theory which resulted from it known as utilitarianism. Utilitarianism was founded by Jeremy Bentham, an English philosopher, who believed that the best moral action would result in the greatest good for the largest amount of people. Following it allows for relaxed tensions in society ensuring that the most people feel pleasure, rather than a large amount of individuals on edge or in pain. However, consequentialism possesses weaknesses in its moral decision making too. Consequentialism causes irresolvable morality dilemmas as it requires correlating principles which cannot be compared against one another on the same scale. A resulting weakness of utilitarianism is that it is so focused on the interest of all that it overlooks the rights of the individual which can lead to injustice. The most unavoidable weakness of consequentialism is that is does not provide any direction to its followers for which actions are right or wrong, morally. The wrongness of the action can only be determined by its consequences and by that time it’s too late to change the decision.
Deontological moral theory also possesses its own unique strengths and weaknesses. One of the advantages of deontological morality is that it allows the individual to take into account their families, friends, and personalized plans when making ethical decisions, as opposed to consequentialism which tends to be alienating in its decision making module. By putting more stress on the self-worth and personal capital of the individual deontology results in a less flawed moral theory. Immanuel Kant, a well-known deontological philosopher, and his Kantian ethics are a strength of deontology as well because he stated that it’s not the consequences of the actions that are right or wrong but rather the motives of the person doing the action. This forces the agent to take responsibility for all parts of their moral decision making, not only the results. However, the biggest weakness of deontology is that it categorizes actions as right or wrong, black or white, leaving no room for any gray area despite the obvious existence of many moral gray areas. Deontology is also hard to follow because its stringency leaves its followers feeling unguided by their morals which lack prioritizing, ultimately causing confusion.
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These are only two moral decision making models in philosophy and neither are necessarily the ideal. It is my belief that the ideal moral decision making process must combine the strengths of consequentialism and deontology while attempting to compensate for their errors. The best decision making process must involve an individual’s own moral beliefs combined with the knowledge that can be gained from studying a large amount of moral theories and opinions. Morals are subjective, meaning that each person or group of people may possess their own set which differs from those of others. This is why the ideal process must be personalized to meet the needs of the individual following it. This compensates for deontology’s inadequate claim of unchanging principles known as universal law. However, it should include the aspect of deontology that forces a person to be morally responsible for their own actions as this is its best idea. By forcing an individual to take into account how their decision will affect them and their own rather than society, leads, I believe, to better moral decisions being made. This combination decision making theory will also make use of the principle of utility, the best idea of Jeremy Bentham, which teaches individuals to do the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people. This combined with deontology’s focus on the individual’s rights dissipates the danger of consequentialism justifying genocide, torture or violence as necessary means to a morally right end.
The ideal moral decision making process is difficult to pinpoint, as morals vary by individual and are subjective to different opinions from one person to the next. However, there are aspects of modern philosophical theories, consequentialism and deontology, which can be studied and used to help create an ideal guideline. Consequentialism is important because it focuses on the results of an action for the good of humanity, something which cannot be overlooked in an increasingly globalized world. Deontology forces the moral agent to take responsibility for their own actions instead of relying on someone else to care, just as important to maintaining moral societal standards. Together the two create checks and balances, which, when combined with an individual’s beliefs, allow for moral decision making to occur with limited room for error.
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