Strengths of teleological ethical theories

Teleological ethics is best summed up by the old adage, "The ends justify the means." Teleology is sometimes mistaken for consequentialism, i.e., a theory that derives moral value by determining which action has the most desirable outcome. Teleology, in its most general form, is concerned with both the "ends" and the "means," i.e., that what you do along the path to an outcome is just as important as the outcome itself. Looking at the big picture is one of the strengths of teleological ethical theory.


Teleology is less about gambling with potential outcomes and more about carefully considering the options at hand. Teleological ethics, which value proactivity, encourage people to take responsibility for their actions. Proactivity is a powerful deterrent to unnecessary hardship. Because consequentialism often pits logic against conscience (i.e., what in the end will bring about the greater good), it always encourages the person taking action to consider both angles before proceeding.

The Common Good

If actions are seen as a way to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of people, then moral value can be best achieved through cooperation, collaboration and empathy. This is referred to as the common good. Utilitarianism (which is a form of consequentialism) specifically concerns itself with predicting the consequences of an action. This is beneficial because several predicted solutions can be compared to determine the best solution for the greatest number of people. John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham were classical thinkers who argued that greater emphasis should be placed on the collective than on the individual. They also described the central moral component of happiness as the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain. Following this trend, teleology is always accountable to the group as a whole.


Deontology, another seemingly "off colour" teleological theory, considers duty as the basis of moral value. It largely disregards the potential consequences of one's actions because duty is required no matter what the outcome. As a communal device, this approach is antagonistic, yet misunderstood. In other words, it seems to favour actions that put the needs of the few over the needs of the many. Despite the theory's apparent nearsightedness, however, the moral value of duty is its ability to lead a loyal and cohesive following to the desired ends.


What is life without compromise? The teleological theory known as natural law combines a conception of good with rules and the value of duty. Here, compromise is essential, perhaps linked to the value of looking at the big picture. Natural law refers to what reason and rationality dictate, thereby binding the subject to the natural world and holding that good actions are those that fulfil the subject's natural purpose. Wisdom and honesty are emphasised and human life is viewed as too precious to take for granted. Because of this, rational arguments are always put first, even when religious dogma comes into play.

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