teleological ethics

Theory that derives duty from what is valuable as an end, in a manner diametrically opposed to deontological ethics.

Teleological ethics holds that the basic standard of duty is the contribution that an action makes to the realization of nonmoral values. Teleological theories differ on the nature of the nonmoral goods that actions ought to promote. Eudaemonism emphasizes the cultivation of virtue in the agent as the end of all action. Utilitarianism holds that the end consists in the aggregate balance of pleasure to pain for all concerned. Other teleological theories claim that the end of action is survival and growth, as in evolutionary ethics (Herbert Spencer); power over others (Niccolò Machiavelli and Friedrich Nietzsche); satisfaction and adjustment, as in pragmatism (Ralph Barton Perry and John Dewey); and freedom, as in existentialism (Jean-Paul Sartre).

* * *

      (teleological from Greek telos, “end”; logos, “science”), theory of morality that derives duty or moral obligation from what is good or desirable as an end to be achieved. Also known as consequentialist ethics, it is opposed to deontological ethics (from the Greek deon, “duty”), which holds that the basic standards for an action's being morally right are independent of the good or evil generated.

      Modern ethics, especially since the 18th-century German deontological philosophy of Immanuel Kant (Kant, Immanuel), has been deeply divided between a form of teleological ethics ( Utilitarianism) and deontological theories.

      Teleological theories differ on the nature of the end that actions ought to promote. Eudaemonist (eudaemonism) theories (Greek eudaimonia, “happiness”), which hold that ethics consists in some function or activity appropriate to man as a human being, tend to emphasize the cultivation of virtue or excellence in the agent as the end of all action. These could be the classical virtues—courage, temperance, justice, and wisdom—that promoted the Greek ideal of man as the “rational animal”; or the theological virtues—faith, hope, and love—that distinguished the Christian ideal of man as a being created in the image of God.

 Utilitarian (Utilitarianism)-type theories hold that the end consists in an experience or feeling produced by the action. Hedonism, for example, teaches that this feeling is pleasure—either one's own, as in egoism (the 17th-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (Hobbes, Thomas)), or everyone's, as in universalistic hedonism, or utilitarianism (the 19th-century English philosophers Jeremy Bentham (Bentham, Jeremy), John Stuart Mill (Mill, John Stuart), and Henry Sidgwick (Sidgwick, Henry)), with its formula the “greatest happiness [pleasure] of the greatest number.” Other teleological or utilitarian-type views include the claims that the end of action is survival and growth, as in evolutionary ethics (the 19th-century English philosopher Herbert Spencer (Spencer, Herbert)); the experience of power, as in despotism (the 16th-century Italian political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli (Machiavelli, Niccolò) and the 19th-century German Friedrich Nietzsche (Nietzsche, Friedrich)); satisfaction and adjustment, as in pragmatism (20th-century American philosophers Ralph Barton Perry (Perry, Ralph Barton) and John Dewey (Dewey, John)); and freedom, as in existentialism (the 20th-century French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre (Sartre, Jean-Paul)).

      The chief problem for eudaemonist theories is to show that leading a life of virtue will also be attended by happiness—by the winning of the goods regarded as the chief end of action. That Job should suffer and Socrates and Jesus die while the wicked prosper, as the Psalmist (73) points out, then seems unjust. Eudaemonists generally reply that the universe is moral and that, in Socrates' words, “No evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death,” or, in Jesus' words, “But he who endures to the end will be saved.”

      Utilitarian theories, on the other hand, must answer the charge that ends do not justify the means. The problem arises in these theories because they tend to separate the achieved ends from the action by which these ends were produced. One implication of utilitarianism is that one's intention in performing an act may include all of its foreseen consequences. The goodness of the intention then reflects the balance of the good and evil of these consequences, with no limits imposed upon it by the nature of the act itself—even if it be, say, the breaking of a promise or the execution of an innocent man. Utilitarianism, in answering this charge, must show either that what is apparently immoral is not really so or that, if it really is so, then closer examination of the consequences will bring this fact to light. Ideal utilitarianism (G.E. Moore (Moore, G E) and Hastings Rashdall) tries to meet the difficulty by advocating a plurality of ends and including among them the attainment of virtue itself, which, as Mill affirmed, “may be felt a good in itself, and desired as such with as great intensity as any other good.”

* * *


Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Teleological ethics — (Greek telos, “end”; logos, “science”) is a theory of morality that derives duty or moral obligation from what is good or desirable as an end to be achieved. It is opposed to deontological ethics (from the Greek deon, “duty”), which holds that… …   Wikipedia

  • teleological ethics — noun plural but singular or plural in construction : a theory of ethics (as utilitarianism or ethical egoism) according to which the rightness of an act is determined by its end …   Useful english dictionary

  • ethics — /eth iks/, n.pl. 1. (used with a sing. or pl. v.) a system of moral principles: the ethics of a culture. 2. the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc.: medical ethics;… …   Universalium

  • Teleological argument — A teleological or design argument[1][2][3] is an argument for the existence of God. The argument is based on an interpretation of teleology wherein purpose and intelligent design appear to exist in Nature beyond the scope of any such human… …   Wikipedia

  • Ethics in religion — Most religions have an ethical component, often derived from purported supernatural revelation or guidance. For many people, ethics is not only tied up with religion, but is completely settled by it. Such people do not need to think too much… …   Wikipedia

  • normative ethics — ▪ philosophy       that part of moral philosophy, or ethics, concerned with criteria of what is morally right and wrong. It includes the formulation of moral rules that have direct implications for what human actions, institutions, and ways of… …   Universalium

  • Virtue ethics — Virtue theory is a branch of moral philosophy that emphasizes character, rather than rules or consequences, as the key element of ethical thinking. In the West virtue ethics was the prevailing approach to ethical thinking in the ancient and… …   Wikipedia

  • deontological ethics — the branch of ethics dealing with right action and the nature of duty, without regard to the goodness or value of motives or the desirability of the ends of any act. Cf. axiological ethics. * * * Ethical theories that maintain that the moral… …   Universalium

  • Deontological ethics — Deontic redirects here. For the linguistic term, see Linguistic modality. Deontological ethics or deontology (from Greek deon, obligation, duty ; and logia) is an approach to ethics that judges the morality of an action based on the action s… …   Wikipedia

  • Situational ethics — Situational ethics, or situation ethics, is a Christian ethical theory that was principally developed in the 1960s by the Episcopal priest Joseph Fletcher. It basically states that sometimes other moral principles can be cast aside in certain… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.