Any ethic that claims that we must approach right and wrong by weighing up the consequences instead of just going by rules is called consequentalist. People fear being controlled by rule makers. Consequentalism therefore automatically produces some happiness at least.
Once we do something we have no guarantee about what the short-term and long-term results will be. We will not even know for sure all the direct results and indirect results. The argument that consequentialism is wrong for the results of every action go out of control at some stage is incorrect and myopic. The fact of the matter is some good has come out of the things we do for the sake of consequences. Just because we may get it wrong does not mean we must stop trying to get it right.

The argument runs, “We oppose consequentialism and take the fact that all things are one huge domino effect as our starting point. For example, if Buddha had been born a day earlier, people would have done different things to what they have done and the world would be very different. Each action rearranges the forces of chance and accidents. Nobody knows if the world is better because Buddha was born a day earlier or not and it is the same with each one of our own actions. Nobody knows what direct and indirect results will take place because of their actions. Every action produces a domino effect of events that ultimately shapes the whole world. Therefore it is impossible to predict that your choice will maximise happiness. It could make the world happy and still be the stepping-stone for a nuclear war or disaster that brings happiness to a slow and sudden death. This takes away from one the certainty that one has done right. It is something that you cannot be happy about or let others be happy about because encouraging delusions on the basis of emotions would threaten the welfare of many. All consequentialism is impracticable”.

Those who say that all things are permitted when we don’t know how things will turn out are forgetting that even if this is true we must still do what we intend and hope is good even if it turns out to be a mistake.
Though it is true that conseqentialism is full of risks and problems it does some good. The alternative would be worse. Better to do things hoping for the best of the consequences than to act as if it is a mistake to consider the consequences.

We are not divine and cannot see what the far-reaching ripples made by the stone we have thrown into the pond will create. We cannot help the indirect consequences of our actions. We just have to act according to the best of our ability and knowledge so right and wrong do exist. Effort matters more than success. It is better to try to be good than not to try at all in case it collapses for it might not. Sitting on your backside can do as much damage if not worse.

Consequentialism is about what can be done and thought about. We cannot think of everything and things have to get done so we must worry about what we can think of and how it affects those who we know who are directly involved. We are practicing true consequentialism in this for we are avoiding thinking of anything but the main results as far as we can. 
If the domino effect objection were right it would dispose of the forms of absolutism that make absolute rules because of the bad consequences they have. It would destroy the Catholic art of casuistry. Indeed any action even an absolutist one that has no regard for consequences could result in the maximisation of evil by indirect evil far far far down the road. The domino argument would destroy all morality and humanity if it could work.

And of course, good tends to produce good when people agree about what good is. Consequentalism mostly tends to create goodness and happiness. Knowing that is all we really need.

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Roman Catholic Ethics: Three Approaches by Brian Berry


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