What is the opposite of consequentialism

Different ethical approaches

Is what the stem cell researchers do in their laboratories morally bad? Or is it morally neutral? Or is it even morally good?

The answer to this question depends not only on, but also on how one measures the value of actions. What is a good act anyway?

The consequentialism

One possible answer is: Good actions are those that have good consequences. This is the answer of all those who advocate a consequentialist ethic.

Consequentialist theories of ethics measure the value or worthlessness of an action exclusively by the Consequences that this act has. There are different forms of consequentialism.

Utilitarianism (derived from Latin: utilis = useful) is the best known and most discussed variety today. A utilitarian would say: Actions are better the more they promote people's happiness and well-being.

Applied to stem cell researchers, this means that if stem cell research increases happiness in the world, then it is not only permitted, but morally good and we should definitely promote it.

The deontological approach

Opposite to consequentialism is the deontological approach. It says: A good act is one that follows certain moral norms.

A deontological ethic measures the value of actions by whether they determine follow moral commandments.

The most famous exponent of a deontological ethic is Immanuel Kant. Kant's famous categorical imperative says in the following way: We should adopt resolutions that could become general laws, laws that all people would obey.

An act is morally good if it follows precisely such intentions.

Christian morality is also an example of a deontological ethic. According to this, the moral commandments are issued by God. Actions that obey God's commandments are good.

Applied to stem cell research, this means: If stem cell research is ethical, it is morally good and we should definitely promote it.

The virtue ethics

The most famous representative of virtue ethics is Aristotle. For virtue ethicists, the question of which actions are good is simply not that important. Rather, they advocate asking yourself what a good, virtuous person is and how such a person would live.

Of course, this also applies to everyone involved in stem cell research:

  • The women and men who provide the embryos they have created
  • the politicians who have to make decisions about the law
  • the citizens who vote for them
  • the patients who might benefit from it
  • the doctors who treat them
  • and of course the stem cell researchers themselves.

Theory of prima facie duties

According to this theory, which was developed by the English philosopher Ross, it is simply not possible in individual cases to know which specific action is good or right.

Applied to stem cell research: there is no definite yes or no to the question of whether it should be allowed or not.

We humans know a whole range of duties, for example the duty to help other people or the duty not to harm anyone. But despite this knowledge of general duties, we cannot be sure which decision is correct in a specific case.

We can only bring together as many aspects as possible, make it clear to ourselves which duties are involved and at stake in stem cell research.

We should then weigh these against each other and a decision that is as balanced as possible that will always remain uncertain.

Types of ethics are neutral to concrete moral decisions

None of these ethical theories fix us on being for or against stem cell research. In other words: regardless of whether you are a consequentialist, deontologist, virtue ethicist or follower of the prima facie duty theory - you can always end up rejecting or advocating stem cell research on the basis of certain content-related considerations:

  • A Consequentialist, who is in charge of stem cell research, can point out, for example, that it enables the healing of many diseases and thus contributes to the happiness of many people.
    A consequentialist who opposes it can point out that it hurts the feelings of religious people or alienates us from our own bodies (which in turn makes people unhappy).
  • A Deontologist, who is in favor of stem cell research, can point out that we have a duty to heal the sick.
    A deontologist who is against it may justify this with the fact that it is morally forbidden to use human embryos as a mere means to an end.
  • Self religious Motivated deontologists don't have to agree:
    Some say that God did not make any laws that protect embryos,
    the others, however, that he did it very well.
  • A Virtue ethicist could say that a good doctor will try to make people healthy.
    Or he could point out that a good doctor accepts the limits of life.
  • who Great facie-Duties can come to the opinion that in this specific case the duty to do good to people outweighs the duty not to harm anyone (not even an embryo).
    But he can also think that the other way around is correct.


The representatives of different types of ethics can therefore enter into an alliance with regard to stem cell research - while at the same time they have very different views on what actually constitutes a good action.