Theories of Ethics: Consequentialism and Ethical Relativism

Ethical relativism and consequentialism are controversial lines of thought. However, the two schools of thought highlight the basis upon which decisions can be made when face with ethical dilemmas that require moral solutions. According to the ethical relativism theory, an action is measured based on its intention as the basic building of moral decision making.

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On the other hand, consequentialism reviews every moral decision that is made based on the outcome or consequence.

Similarities, Differences, Strengths, and Weaknesses

Consequentialism concentrates on the consequences while ethical relativism dwells on the intention of reviewing the ethicality of a decision. Consequentialism and ethical relativism are ethical and moral arguments that are dissimilar. Reflectively, relativists think that every situation or phenomenon should be reviewed and not just a cluster of facts or solutions at the macro level to every occurrence, which is a strength (Sher, 2013).

For instance, in the ethical dilemma surrounding abortion, the principle of consequentialism would confer that is not right to procure an abortion, despite being legally allowed. However, as a weakness, the relativists would review the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy and rationale for proposed abortion.

For example, in an instance of a single fling that has resulted in an unplanned pregnancy and the carrier is very young or cannot afford to take care of the coming baby, the principle of ethical relativism would review such a scenario and derive a logical inference and decide whether it is okay for such a lady to procure an abortion or not (Harrison, 2013). However, the consequentialism principle would suggest that the consequence of abortion would outweigh the intention, which is a weakness.

The ethical relativism suggests that situations should be approached on the morals to make reasonable decisions that can match the occurrence to which the decision-maker is in (Sher, 2013). The ethical relativism school of thought is alive to the principle that “it is wrong for anyone to impose absolute standards on anyone” (Harrison, 2013, par. 8). Though this principle contradicts the tenets of relativism, it highlights the reasoning module to arrive at a decision that does not necessarily be standards to every situation as similar to consequentialism. For instance, as a strength, ethical relativists would argue that it is unfair to impose the routine of a party on another person who is comfortable with his or her daily habits (Sher, 2013).

Application of Ethical Relativism and Consequentialism Theories

Ethical relativism is closely related to consequentialism, which weighs different ethical challenges to come up with perfect solutions. The underlying principle of consequentialism functions on the notion that the end decision of an ethical problem is the most imperative (Harrison, 2013). This means that the result of an action is more valuable than the primary intent of such an outcome, which aligns with my code of proactive thinking (Sher, 2013).

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For example, a woman who is walking on the edge of the pavement and visualizes a young boy walking in the road from one edge heading to cross to the other edge. From the woman’s point of view, she is convinced that the young boy is not seeing the oncoming vehicle and may be in danger of being knocked down. However, she is not correct since the young boy is seeing the oncoming vehicle, and he can cross the road before the oncoming vehicle reaches that point. Since the woman is not aware of this aspect, she shouts to warn the young boy who is immediately distracted by the noise from safely and quickly crossing the road. The young boy turns around in the direction of the noise, therefore failing to get over in time to avoid being hit by the oncoming vehicle.

In the view of a consequentialist, the action of the woman to shout at the young boy is a bad act. Despite having the intention, the noise from the woman caused a disaster, which is of more value as a principle of consequentialism (Harrison, 2013).

Though the woman intended to be of help, the consequentialists are now interested in the fact that the young boy is injured because of the distraction from her. Thus, the woman was erroneous in her judgment. On the other hand, ethical relativists would differ with this judgment but would concentrate on the intention of the woman (Sher, 2013). As a principle of ethical relativism, the intention of the woman is of more value in the above scenario.

This means that ethical relativists would endorse the action of the woman as good, although it was an erroneous decision at the moment it was made. However, the consequentialism school of thought concentrates on the consequences, not the actions (Burnor & Raley, 2013). This can be blinding, since the tenet of morality functions on the intent and decision-making process, as is now common in the 21st century global ethical standards. On the other hand, ethical relativism does not consider the consequences, which are as good as the intention of an action.

The Most Convincing Theory and Rationale

Based on the intent and consequence, ethical relativism is more convincing since it captures the individual decision-making process as opposed to standardized actions, which might not fit in every scenario (Sher, 2013). For instance, in the example of the woman and young boy crossing the road, it would be unfair to dismiss the action of the woman since her intentions were good and in the best interest of the other party.

Had she not done anything and a similar result occurs, her conscience would have been haunted by a feeling of guilt. This means that the ethical relativism theory is very deep and captures the intent aspect of an action, which is the building block of moral decision making in the 21st-century ethical decision-making standards (Harrison, 2013). The relativism theory is more convincing and practical as compared to the consequentialism school of thought that dismisses intentions but concentrates on the outcome.

Ethical Theories and Decision-Making in Personal and Global Standards

Since ethical relativism works for many people because of its leniency than consequentialism, it allows an individual to get acquainted with an ethical dilemma based on the ‘difference in the norm’ (Sher, 2013). This means that decisions that are made based on morality must be weighed upon the intent to arrive at a conclusion that has both absolute and standard norms as is now common in the 21st century. Based on ethical relativism and consequentialism, it is easy to reach a decision that is justified by the intention and consequences to ensure that the tenets of morality are upheld in reasoning (Harrison, 2013).

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In summary, the ethical relativism would motivate an individual to make decisions based on the intention while the consequentialism principle would ensure that as much as the intention of an action is significant, an individual should consider the consequences to have standardized decision-making norms to conform to the current global ethical decision-making standards. However, they share the tenet of what makes an action morally upright.


Burnor, R., & Raley, Y. (2013). Ethical Choices. London, UK: Oxford University Press.

Harrison, B. (2013). Relativism and consequentialism. Web.

Sher, G. (2013). Ethics: Essential readings in moral theory. New York, NY: Routledge.

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