Teleological ethics

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The teleological ethics (from gr. Télos "goal") is based on the basic idea that living beings (including humans) pursue natural goals or intend purposes. If such purposes exist, they set limits, for example, to the "use" of living beings and establish a far-reaching right to inviolability and the like. The proof of their existence or the justification for compliance with the resulting limits is u. a. Task of teleological ethics . This is u. a. given an opportunity to philosophically justify an ecological ethic .

Furthermore, ethics are called teleological if they undertake a moral evaluation only on the basis of the conditions brought about. The utilitarian ethics represents such a model, although here too there are efforts to expand utilitarianism to include motives for action.


There are several distinguishable teleological concepts:


The term “teleological ethics” is mostly avoided today. Because he uses an Aristotelian term to describe a non-Aristotelian philosophy movement ( consequentialism ). In the opinion of Aristotelians, the term fits much more closely to Aristotle's ethics and, in this view, virtually excludes consequentialism. Usage will cause confusion where there are professionals who derive terms from their word content and are unfamiliar with modern concept formation. According to Aristotle, living beings gifted with reason are particularly distinguished by the fact that they are able to set goals for themselves. This is what makes them capable of ethical action. The basis of ethics here is the goal (telos). In this sense, the Aristotelian ethics is, in the literal sense, an excellent "teleological ethic". The followers of consequentialism have correctly observed that Aristotle orders the goals in a similar way as she herself orders the consequences. Therefore, they wanted to tie a link to Aristotelian teleology.

However, Aristotle does not understand the “goal” as a consequence (ie an effect), but as a cause. This makes a considerable difference to consequential ethics. The word Telos should be used according to its original meaning (Aristotle). Using the modern sense creates confusion.

Order of effect

The consequentialism, which claims the term “teleological ethics”, is an order of effect. The ethical content of an action, the goodness, is determined from the consequences that an action has. For the decision-making it is of course impossible to know the actual consequences of the action, therefore for consequentialists the actual decision criterion is de facto the most likely consequences of the action to the best of their knowledge. But acting can have a very complex structure of consequences that can hardly be overlooked. Therefore z. B. RM Hare to orientate himself not on individual actions, but predominantly on general maxims of action, standardized types of action, generally widespread modes of action, traditions and conventions, the consequences of which can be foreseen in a manner similar to natural law. These consequences are very important.

Cause order

This seems to resemble the teleology of Aristotle. The goals that Aristotle has in mind are also aligned with the consequences that action ultimately has. But they are only a goal insofar as they are consciously intended by an intelligent living being. In this way they determine the action which they are the cause. The consequences that arise afterwards from the action are therefore not immediately determining for the ethical content of the action, but the intention that is established at the time of the action. In the Aristotelian sense, at the time of his act, the agent has all the means to willingly determine the ethical content of his act. This is only possible if an action can be evaluated in a certain context due to its structure, regardless of the consequences. However, it is obvious that the goodness of an individual action cannot be fully categorized (since the finality is transcendent). On the other hand, a structural assessment is possible when assessing the shortcomings of an action. Against the background of the ethical intellectualism of Aristotle, it remains questionable what space he leaves for the striving of the will. The scholastic moral systems deal with the question of the extent to which the striving of the will within the framework of reason can be given a leeway for determining individual action.


The Aristotelian teleology is between an objectivist consequentialism and the Kantian deontology , which determines the ethical content of an action from mandatory specifications. The Aristotelian goal is aimed at an ontological change in reality, the evaluation of which is accessible to objective standards. Deontology is more oriented towards rules and norms or moral (not juridical ) laws, i. H. action itself is considered.

See also


Individual evidence

  1. Fischill: Philosophy. 2011, p. 68ff.