Episode 1 – Consequences

Interviewees Peter Singer and Caroline West explore consequentialism and ask would you, could you, kill to save others?

Teacher Notes

Content overview

This episode focusses on the concept of consequences as a means by which we can make ethical judgements. It considers the extent to which conscience guides our ethical decision-making, and the ‘gut-feel’ consequentialism of doing the most good for the many. Through thought experiments (the trolley problem) it critiques simple consequentialism and explores the implications of a strictly consequentialist ethical view.

Links to Ethical Capability

• Explore the extent of ethical obligation and the implications for thinking about consequences and duties in decision-making and action (VCECD017)
• Discuss the role of context and experience in ethical decision-making and actions (VCECD018)
• Discuss issues raised by thinking about consequences and duties, in approaches to decision-making and action, and arguments for and against these approaches (VCECD022)
• Investigate how different factors involved in ethical decision-making can be managed by people and groups (VCECD023)

Complementary curricula

Personal and Social Capability
VCE Legal Studies Unit 2

HSC Legal Studies
HSC Society and Culture

Questions and discussion points

  1. How reliable is our conscience as a means of making good ethical decisions?
  2. Is it always ethically justified that we should kill one person to save five? How would your decision change if it was killing a friend (or family member) to save five strangers?
  3. If a good act is one which causes the most good for the most people, would I sometimes be ethically obliged to act against my own self-interests (ie: to wrong myself to benefit others)?