Ethics and Values in Industrial-Organizational Psychology

By Joel Lefkowitz | Go to book overview

4
Normative Ethical Theories:
II. Consequentialism

An ethical judgment that is no good in practice must suffer from a theoretical defect as well, for the whole point of ethical judgments is to guide practice.

—Peter Singer


CONSEQUENTIALIST THEORIES

As noted at the outset of the previous chapter the teleological or consequentialist point of view asserts that the morality of our actions is to be judged by the relative goodness of their effects rather than by their inherent lightness or wrongness. Pragmatists, such as business managers, economists, and applied psychologists, who are accustomed to making their professional choices based on the anticipated consequences of their actions, have generally felt more comfortable with consequentialism than with deontological theories (Fritzsche & Becker, 1984). For example, a proposed model of ethical decision making in organizations defines a moral issue entirely in terms of harm or benefit to others (T M. Jones, 1991). The first systematic formulation of this approach, utilitarianism, was presented by Jeremy Bentham (although it was suggested earlier by Hume) and it was expanded and refined by his student, John Stuart Mill. The resulting composite of their work is usually referred to as classical utility theory, and it has undergone further refinements in response to the criticisms raised by Bentham and Mill themselves, as well as by other vociferous critics. Contemporary consequentialist theories retain much of the essence of classical utility theory but with several substantial modifications, as I will show.

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