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Nonconsequential Theory of Ethics: Case Analysis

Applying the principles of consequentialism and non consequentialism to the same situation can address it from different ethical points of view. According to Nye, Plunkett, and Ku (2015), the proponents of the first ethical theory state that good intentions and goals do not always clearly lead to positive consequences (p. 2). Thus, the outcomes are the ones that are ethically significant because, unlike intentions, they explicitly affect reality.

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At the same time, non consequentialism focuses on the actor’s motivation, since it can be evaluated from an ethical point of view, and the consequences are not always subject to human control. This paper analyzes the given case from the perspective of the non-consequential theory of ethics, considering the doing and allowing of its situational actors, and also provides possible concerns from the perspective of consequentialism.

Doing and Allowing in Nonconsequential Theory

While nonconsequentialist consider intentions to be ethically significant, various proponents of this theory recognize the importance of the relationship between intention and consequences. For instance, Wedgwood (2016) discusses the distinction between the categories of doing and allowing, since the former involves active intention, and the latter does not (p. 797). Doing is characteristic of the desire to achieve specific outcomes or to avoid them while allowing rather implies passive willingness to let the outcomes happen, or lack of any interest.

Thus, there is an ethically significant distinction “between executing an intention for a consequence to come about, and acting in a way that has that consequence without any such intention” (Wedgwood, 2016, p. 797). In the latter case, there is no intention of any result at all, and, in a strict sense, nonconsequentialists cannot assess ethicality in this regard. However, such a radical position is rare, and usually, the intentions that have taken place among specific situational actors are being considered and evaluated.

In the given case, Chelsea faced an unexpected circumstance in the form of an emergency that required her to interrupt Mr. Smith’s preparation for the operation. Chelsea asked the surgical technician to continue prepping Mr. Smith’s leg for surgery. This action should be interpreted as doing, as it implied active intention to provide appropriate preparation of the patient for the operation.

From a non-consequentialist point of view, Chelsea’s intentions should be considered ethical, since she had to interrupt the draping of a patient’s leg due to an emergency, and delegated this responsibility to Daniel. Chelsea’s actions demonstrate a strong commitment to her responsibilities and an adequate response to the situation. Daniel faithfully prepared the patient’s leg for surgery and notified the surgeon of Chelsea’s absence. Daniel’s actions also demonstrate an active commitment to perform his duties properly.

Thus, there was an unintended mistake that caused the operation to be carried out on the wrong leg. The information presented in this case does not provide a clear indication of how the mistake occurred. It should be noted that Chelsea’s and Daniel’s actions in the given case implied active good intentions for positive consequences, which proves that, from a non-consequentialist perspective, their behavior was ethical.

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Possible Consequentialist Viewpoint

The consequentialists consider the actual outcomes to be significant in assessing the ethicality of particular actions. According to Nye et al. (2015), consequentialists state that the plausible moral reasons’ primary purpose is “to bring about the overall best outcomes, which exhaust the content of morality” (p. 2). This means that ethics is, in principle, viewed through the prism of utilitarianism, and an evaluation of consequences determines the ethicality of behavior. According to the theory of consequentialism, there is no sense in considering the morality of one or another action in isolation from its consequences in the real world.

The starting point for consequentialist analysis is the estimation of results. In this case, the surgery was conducted on the wrong leg, which is a negative outcome. Therefore, the actions that led to it can be assessed as unethical. The main question that a consequentialist could raise is whose actions caused this mistake. Based on the available data, it is not possible to determine precisely whose actions have contributed to such confusion. Generally, medical laws scrupulously describe the distribution of liability in similar cases. For the analysis in this paper, it is crucial to reveal the course of the consequentialist’s reasoning. According to it, the negative consequences demonstrate the unethical nature of someone’s actions, and the question mentioned earlier clarifies whose actions were unethical. This analysis goes from consequence to action and is less concerned with intentions, while the nonconsequentialist’s reasoning goes in the opposite direction and begins with intentions and actions.


Consequential and non-consequential theories of ethics put different accents when analyzing the morality of someone else’s actions. Nonconsequentialism focuses on intentions and actions and distinguishes between doing and allowing. In this case, Chelsea’s and Daniel’s actions fall into the category of doing, because they imply an active intention to perform their duties properly. Hence, from the standpoint of non consequentialism, their behavior should be considered ethical. Consequentialism initiates the analysis with the results, and since the operation was not performed adequately in this case, the actions that led to this outcome should be considered unethical.


Nye, H., Plunkett, D., & Ku, J. (2015). Non-consequentialism demystified. Philosophers’ Imprint, 15(4), 1-28.

Wedgwood, R. (2016). Two grades of non-consequentialism. Criminal Law and Philosophy, 10(4), 795-814.

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