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Ethics and Decision Making in Education

When making ethical decisions in education, consequentialism is often applied to the kinds of guides to action based on relativism theory. Philosophers and ethicists use the term teleology, from the Greek word telos, meaning end (Beckner 2004). Consequentialism The term was first used for (1) a theory about responsibility, but is now commonly used for (2) a theory about right and wrong. (1) the view that an agent is equally responsible for the intended consequences of an act and its unintended but intended consequences (Anscombe 1958).

Ethical theories that fall under the classification of consequentialism posit that the rightness or wrongness of any action must be viewed in terms of the consequences the action produces. In other words, consequences are generally considered to the extent that they serve some intrinsic good. The most common form of consequentialism is utilitarianism (social consequentialism) which proposes that one should act in such a way as to produce the greatest good for the greatest number. Consequentialism is the name given to ethical theories that hold that moral good, evil, and obligation depend solely on the value of the consequences (effects, results) of what we do. Ethical egoism establishes that moral good, evil and obligation depend only on the value of the consequences for the agent (Brandt, 1959).

Utilitarianism (Lyon 1992) states that moral good, evil, and obligation depend solely on the value of the consequences to everyone, including both the agent (thus negating ethical altruism) and everyone else (thus negating ethical egoism). Consequentialism says that we should do what maximizes good consequences. In itself it does not matter what kind of things we do. What matters is that we maximize good results. A popular type of consequentialism is classical (hedonistic) utilitarianism. This view says that we should always do whatever maximizes the balance of pleasure over pain for everyone affected by our action. This view could be based on the golden rule, which leads us to care about the happiness and misery of others. Or it could be based on God’s will, self-evident truths, or our own personal feelings.

The basic idea of ​​consequentialism is that the ethical status of an act depends on the value of its consequences. (Beckner, 2004). The concept of the consequences of an act is central to the theory. The first feature to note about this type of consequentialism is that it will allow a wide range of states of affairs to count as consequences. In fact, any state of affairs that can properly be called the result of an act is one of the consequences of that act. The results of an act are the states of affairs brought about by that act. So, for example, if an act fulfills a promise, the state of affairs of fulfilling that promise is a result of that act requiring you to act to maximize, and the value of, the consequences in this broad sense. Taking such a broad view of consequences immediately makes available a potentially different set of responses to hypothetical examples.

On the other hand, the opposite of consequentialism is deontologism whose ethical position asserts that it is possible for us to identify a right act or a justified moral rule in ways other than considering the goodness or badness of the consequences. “The term denotology comes from the Greek words deon, which means “duty”, and logos, which means “logic”. With this system of things, the focus of value is the act or type of act” (Pojman 2002, p.107). ). Deontological moral systems are mainly characterized by their focus on adherence to independent moral rules or duties. Therefore, to make the correct moral decisions, we simply have to understand what our moral duties are and what correct rules exist that regulate those duties. When we do our duty, we behave morally. When we fail in our duty, we are behaving immorally. Deontological moral systems also emphasize the reasons why certain actions are performed. Therefore, simply following the correct moral rules is often not enough; instead, we must have the right motivations. This would allow a person not to be considered immoral even though he has broken a moral rule, but only to the extent that he and his obligations must be determined objectively and absolutely, not subjectively.

Some examples of deontological ethical theories include: Divine mandate: One of the most common forms of deontological moral theories are those that derive their set of moral obligations from a deity. An action is morally correct as long as it is in accordance with the rules and duties established by God. Theories of duty: an action is morally correct if it is in accordance with a list of duties and obligations. Theories of rights is an action that is morally correct if it adequately respects the rights that all humans (or at least all members of society) have. This is also sometimes known as libertarianism, the political philosophy that people should be legally free to do whatever they want as long as their actions do not affect the rights of others. Contractualism: An action is morally correct if it is in accordance with the rules that rational moral agents would agree to observe when entering into a social relationship (contract) for mutual benefits. Finally, monistic deontology is when the action is morally right if it accords with some single deontological principle that guides all other subsidiary principles.

Thus, McCain R. (1999) describes a mixed consequentialism that has what is rational and what is ethically acceptable. To be rational is to promote the views to which one is committed; to be moral is to promote the views to which one should be committed. Mixed consequentialism refers to moral decisions that may not depend on consequences all the time. Mixed consequentialism involves the reasons for the rightness of actions in situations. Mixed consequentialism is a combination of both consequentialism and deontologism and is only because each approach has application in different circumstances. “The specific situation and the various circumstances must be carefully considered and decisions adjusted accordingly” (Beckner, 2004, p. 151).

In short, institutions are left with the baffling question of whether they should make decisions that are solely and exclusively connected to the results of action, or whether institutions should consider the virtues and character of the person making the decision. If institutions fully follow consequentialism, then they can make any decision that portends the common good and has good consequences regardless of whether the decision is driven by the individual or by some specific concern of the individual making it. WE are separating the decision from the person.


Anscombe E. (1958) Modern Moral Philosophy”, The Anscombe Society

Brandt, RB, 1959, Ethical Theory (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall).

Beckner, W. (2004). Ethics for educational leaders. New York: Allyn & Bacon.

Lyons, D “Utilitarianism,” Encyclopedia of Ethics, edited by Lawrence C. Becker and Charlotte B. Becker (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1992), vol. II, pp. 1261-68

McCain, Roger A. (1999) ‘Ethics, Consequentialism, and Rationality’, Review of Social Economy, 49(2), Summer, pp. 168-195. [*0]

Pojman, L. (2002), Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong, (4th Edition) Belmont, CA Wadsworth Publishing Company

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