The Definition of Consequentialism : A Survey

Oscar HORTA*, Gary David O'BRIEN, Dayron TERAN

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


There are different meanings associated with consequentialism and teleology. This causes confusion, and sometimes results in discussions based on misunderstandings rather than on substantial disagreements. To clarify this, we created a survey on the definitions of 'consequentialism' and 'teleology', which we sent to specialists in consequentialism. We broke down the different meanings of consequentialism and teleology into four component parts: Outcome-Dependence, Value-Dependence, Maximization, and Agent-Neutrality. Combining these components in different ways we distinguished six definitions, all of which are represented in the philosophical literature. We asked the respondents which definition is best for consequentialism and for teleology. The most popular definition of consequentialism was the one which accepted value-dependence, but not maximization and agent-neutrality. We therefore recommend the use of this meaning to avoid misunderstandings. The results for teleology were more problematic, with several respondents claiming they never use the term, or indicating that it is confusing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)368-385
Number of pages18
Issue number4
Early online date5 Aug 2022
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press.


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