Decision Making Models: Consequentialism / Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism  holds that we should judge the merit of an act by its foreseeable consequences.  Actions are good when they produce benefit or prevent harm.  There are two divisions:

  • Act Utilitarianism – The ethical merit of an act is judged by the immediate and direct consequences of the action.
  • Rule Utilitarianism – The ethical merit of an act is judged in terms of what the consequences of the action would be if such conduct became the general rule and everyone acted accordingly.

Consequentialism  has the merit of calling attention to all stakeholders because it requires the decision maker to predict the likely results of an act and weigh the good it will produce against the harm it would cause.


People can manipulate this theory to produce an end-justifies –the-means credo, elevating expediency over principle.  In practice, many people treat ethical and non ethical values on the same plane, often concluding that non ethical consequences outweigh ethical ones.