Ethics and Decision Making in Education

Ethics and Decision Making in Education

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

Ethical theories that fall under the classification of consequentialism pose that the rightness or wrongness of any action must be viewed in terms of the consequences that the action produces. In other words, the consequences are generally viewed according 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 to produce the greatest good for the greatest number. Consequentialism is the name given to ethical theories that hold that moral right, wrong, and obligation depend solely on the value of the consequences (effects, results) of what we do. Ethical egoism states that moral right, wrong, and obligation depends solely on the value of the consequences for the agent (Brandt, 1959).

Utilitarianism (Lyon 1992) states that moral right, wrong, and obligation depend solely on the value of the consequences for everyone, including both the agent (thereby denying ethical altruism) and everyone else (thereby denying ethical egoism). Consequentialism says that we ought to do whatever maximizes good consequences. It doesn’t in itself matter what kind of thing we do. What matters is that we maximize good results. One popular kind of consequentialism is classical (hedonistic) utilitarianism. This view says that we ought always to 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 be concerned about the happiness and misery of others. Or it could be based on God’s will, self-evident truths, or our own personal feelings.

Consequentialism’s basic idea is that the ethical status of an act depends on the value of its consequences. (Beckner, 2004). The concept of an act’s consequences is central to the theory. The first characteristic to note about this kind of consequentialism is that it will allow a wide range of states of affairs to count as consequences. Indeed any state of affairs that can properly be called an outcome of an act is one of that act’s consequences. An act’s outcomes are the states of affairs brought about by that act. So, for example, if an act fulfils a promise, the state of affairs of that promise’s being kept is an outcome of that act demands that you act so as to maximize, and the value of 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 which ethical position claims that it is possible for us to identify a right act or a justified moral rule in other ways besides considering the goodness or badness of consequences. “The term denotology comes from the Greek words deon, meaning “duty”, and logos, meaning “logic”. With this system of thing, the focis of value is the act or kind of act,” (Pojman 2002, p.107). Deontological moral systems are characterized primarily by a focus upon adherence to independent moral rules or duties. Thus, in order to make the correct moral choices, we simply have to understand what our moral duties are and what correct rules exist which regulate those duties. When we follow our duty, we are behaving morally. When we fail to follow our duty, we are behaving immorally. Deontological moral systems also place some stress on the reasons why certain actions are performed. Thus, simply following the correct moral rules is often not sufficient – instead, we have to have the correct motivations. This would allow a person to not be considered immoral even though they have broken a moral rule, but only so long as they and obligations must be determined objectively and absolutely, not subjectively.

Some examples of deontological ethical theories include: divine command: one of the most common forms of deontological moral theories is those which derive their set of moral obligations from a deity. An action is morally correct whenever it is in agreement with the rules and duties established by God. Duty Theories: an action is morally right if it is in accord with some list of duties and obligations. Rights Theories is an action that is morally right if it adequately respects the rights which all humans (or at least all members of society) have. This is also sometimes referred to as Libertarianism, the political philosophy that people should be legally free to do whatever they wish so long as their actions do not impinge upon the rights of others. Contractarianism: an action is morally right if it is in accordance with the rules that rational moral agents would agree to observe upon entering into a social relationship (contract) for mutual benefits. Finally, the monistic deontology is when the action is morally right if it agrees with some single deontological principle which guides all other subsidiary principles.

Thus, McCain R. (1999) describes a mixed- consequentialism has the rational and ethically acceptable. To be rational is to advance the views to which one is committed; to be moral is to advance the views to which one ought to be committed. Mixed-consequentialism refers to moral decisions that may not depend on the consequences all of 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 it only stands to reason that each approach has application in varying circumstances. “The specific situation and varying circumstances must be carefully considered and decisions adjusted accordingly”(Beckner, 2004, p. 151).

In sum, institutions are left with the perplexing thought which is should they make decisions that are only and solely connected to the results of the action or should institutions consider the virtues and character of the person making the decision. If institutions follow consequentialism entirely, then they can make any decision that augurs for the common good and has good consequences despite whether the decision is impelled by the individual or any specific concern for the individual who is making it. WE are separating the decision from the person.


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

Brandt, R. B., 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) ‘Deontology, 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 Comapnay

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