Wednesday, January 13, 2010

16 Consequentialism

Before we pay attention to a defense of consequentialism, we fist have to get clear what exactly is consequentialism. We have a nice -ism here, so we also are inclined to think that it refers to a clearly defined theory. If that were true...

Any consequentialist theory must accept the claim that certain normative properties depend only on consequences. If that claim is dropped, the theory ceases to be consequentialist.. So, it is all about consequences. Let's focus on that.

Our starting point could be thus: whether an act is morally right depends only on consequences as opposed to the circumstances or the intrinsic nature of the act or anything that happens before the act.

But you could narrow that down to for instance the actual consequences as opposed to foreseen, foreseeable, intended, or likely consequences.

You also could say that moral rightness depends only on which consequences are best as opposed to satisfactory or an improvement over the status quo.

We also could take into account that the consequences should effect to ALL people, not just yourself or your family or your tribe or the present people.

And then, how to evaluate the consequences? The Hedonist utilitarian says, that the value of the consequences depends only on the pleasures and pains in the consequences as opposed to other goods, such as freedom, knowledge, life, and so on.

But who decides on the quality of the pleasure. In the debates on consequentialism the idea emerged that whether some consequences are better than others should not depend on whether the consequences are evaluated from the perspective of the agent as opposed to an observer.

In other words one way or another the consequences should be evaluated by some kind of ideal observer: impartial, not involved , rational, etc.

And then there is the other issue that not only the consequences have to be counted for but also the act. I mean, when I blow up the tax office, killing a number of people in the process,

the consequences might be that you don't need to pay taxes for a whole year. Aren't we happy then? At least the greatest number of people.

The philosophical floor is littered with dozens of (counter)examples to show that focussing on consequences to morally justify an act, is not coherent.

Take the "sheriff example": a sheriff in a small town knows that there will be riots in which dozens of people will be killed. He can prevent this massacre by convicting an innocent person: a scapegoat.

What about the consequences? The death of many people on the one hand, injustice to an innocent person on the other hand. If people would find out, their belief in the justice system might be shocked.

You may say I am biased and I'll immediately admit it, but the more I dig into consequentialism, the more I feel lost. Take this example for instance from IEP…

-begin quote
For a more extreme example of meddling (into other people’s business.), suppose that by using your grandmother’s pension to contribute to efficient and thoughtful charities you can develop permanent clean water supplies for many distant villages,

thus saving hundreds of people from painful early deaths and permitting economic development to begin. You need only keep her bound and gagged in the cellar and force her to sign the checks.

Consequentialism would seem to say that you should do this, but moral common sense says that you should not. Hence consequentialism is opposed to common sense and is probably wrong.
- end quote

You might reply to such odd and extreme cases: Moral common sense is shaped by and for the demands of ordinary moral life and so common sense may not be very reliable in odd cases.

Hence the fact that consequentialism disagrees with common sense about odd cases is no disproof of consequentialism.

Maybe true, but I am not convinced. However, I still have the article of J.J.C. Smart on the shelf, in which he defends consequentialism. WIll he convince me, you, are you already convinced?

The discussion

[2010/01/12 13:08] herman Bergson: The situation is becoming more and more interesting.
[2010/01/12 13:18] Gemma Cleanslate: sounds like going around in circles the cat chasing the tail
[2010/01/12 13:19] BrainCrave OHare: re: pension example, a moral wrong does not make a moral right - simple
[2010/01/12 13:19] Adriana Jinn: not evident to me
[2010/01/12 13:19] herman Bergson: you could say that Gemma
[2010/01/12 13:19] Gemma Cleanslate: i did
[2010/01/12 13:19] Paula Dix: :)
[2010/01/12 13:19] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[2010/01/12 13:19] freereed Freenote: ummm... i got a true story bout morality and consequences....
[2010/01/12 13:19] herman Bergson: ok freereed
[2010/01/12 13:19] freereed Freenote: from Sumatra round 1921
[2010/01/12 13:20] freereed Freenote: a missionary... christian
[2010/01/12 13:20] freereed Freenote: who was also a zealot
[2010/01/12 13:20] freereed Freenote: attracted crowds upwards of 15,000 people
[2010/01/12 13:20] freereed Freenote: riots ensued
[2010/01/12 13:20] freereed Freenote: 10,000 people lost their lives
[2010/01/12 13:20] Paula Dix: wow
[2010/01/12 13:20] freereed Freenote: i know the son of this missionary
[2010/01/12 13:21] freereed Freenote: who was killed and made a martyr
[2010/01/12 13:21] freereed Freenote: is also recounted in the book on ghandhi
[2010/01/12 13:21] freereed Freenote: from which the film was made
[2010/01/12 13:21] freereed Freenote: end story
[2010/01/12 13:21] BrainCrave OHare: your discussion here reminds me of a book called Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt ( he says this: "...the whole of economics can be reduced to a single lesson, and that lesson can be reduced to a single sentence. The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups."
[2010/01/12 13:21] herman Bergson: dont do that Brain
[2010/01/12 13:21] BrainCrave OHare: give a quote?
[2010/01/12 13:22] herman Bergson: check the rules behind me.
[2010/01/12 13:22] Paula Dix: freereed, whats the point on consequentialism on the story? i dont get it
[2010/01/12 13:23] herman Bergson: My problem with consequentialism is that it is about consequences and not about the person as a moral subject
[2010/01/12 13:23] Paula Dix: also, you cant ever be sure of the final consequences of anything, right?
[2010/01/12 13:23] freereed Freenote: the missionary;'s intention and christian morality... thru his being a zealot... resulted in the loss of more than 10,000 lives
[2010/01/12 13:23] Repose Lionheart: perhaps you could give more moral weight to the consequences of keeping your grandmother bound in the basement than to the effects of a redevelopment project, however many lives it might (or might ot) save
[2010/01/12 13:23] Repose Lionheart: not
[2010/01/12 13:24] Paula Dix: oh i see it freereed, thanks
[2010/01/12 13:24] herman Bergson: Well as the consequences are weight in respect to the happiness the bring...
[2010/01/12 13:24] Paula Dix: (on my anti-catholic thin king for geographical reasons there was no contrast on the story :))) )
[2010/01/12 13:25] Repose Lionheart: don't know how you judge between moral consequences, except perhaps deontologically
[2010/01/12 13:25] herman Bergson: IS any of you convinced that indeed only the consequences of our acts can determine the moral rightness or wrongnes of our actions?
[2010/01/12 13:25] Repose Lionheart: not me
[2010/01/12 13:25] Paula Dix: no
[2010/01/12 13:26] Aya Beaumont: No.
[2010/01/12 13:26] freereed Freenote: not me
[2010/01/12 13:26] Adriana Jinn: not either
[2010/01/12 13:26] Paula Dix: that would be the same as telling the ending is all that matter, not the in between
[2010/01/12 13:26] Aya Beaumont: The ends do not justify the means.
[2010/01/12 13:26] herman Bergson: Yes it seems to be a big chapter in present day debate on ethics
[2010/01/12 13:26] Repose Lionheart: yeah
[2010/01/12 13:26] Paula Dix: yes, you said it better Aya :)))
[2010/01/12 13:26] herman Bergson: it is opposed to deontological ethics
[2010/01/12 13:27] Paula Dix: and again, you can never the sure what the end is
[2010/01/12 13:27] herman Bergson: That Aya refers only to the result of consequences
[2010/01/12 13:27] Aya Beaumont: The more I think about it, the more I feel that several criteria are necessary to make a good act...
[2010/01/12 13:28] Paula Dix: and in the end we are never sure? :)
[2010/01/12 13:28] herman Bergson: Yes...if you talk about ends for instance there has to be intentionality too
[2010/01/12 13:28] Aya Beaumont: You need to have a good goal for it. You need to be a rather accurate judge of the consequences, and they need to be reasonably good in your eyes.
[2010/01/12 13:28] freereed Freenote: i have seen it played out many many times in real life and in history "beware them who come to do good"
[2010/01/12 13:28] Aya Beaumont: Making most actions morally neutral, of course.
[2010/01/12 13:28] Paula Dix: whats the difference between the consequence and the result of the consequence??
[2010/01/12 13:28] Gemma Cleanslate: oh yes
[2010/01/12 13:29] herman Bergson: the consequence can be a fire..the result is ashes
[2010/01/12 13:29] Aya Beaumont: Ends presuppose a goal, yes. Not necessarily one that is reached either.
[2010/01/12 13:29] Adriana Jinn: ok
[2010/01/12 13:30] herman Bergson: Yes and I miss all these ideas in consequentialism
[2010/01/12 13:30] Aya Beaumont: Indeed.
[2010/01/12 13:30] Paula Dix: herman, that wouldnt be a consequence of a consequence? you shouldnt take that into account when planning? all the line of consequences?
[2010/01/12 13:30] Aya Beaumont: You can't. Your every action has consequences, an infinity of them.
[2010/01/12 13:30] herman Bergson: As you may have noticed..the very concept of consequence is already a candidate for long debates
[2010/01/12 13:30] Aya Beaumont: Your responsibility ends somewhere.
[2010/01/12 13:31] Paula Dix: i dont know, i feel i would never do anything if i would consider consequences only, because of this infinite progression
[2010/01/12 13:31] Gemma Cleanslate: well you can try to see what you will accomplish
[2010/01/12 13:31] herman Bergson: Yes GEmma and the balance in the debate could be
[2010/01/12 13:31] herman Bergson: should we evaluate your intention
[2010/01/12 13:32] Repose Lionheart: yes, if consequence is so imprecise, perhaps it is not a primary category of moral understanding
[2010/01/12 13:32] herman Bergson: or ignore that and just evaluate the consequences of your action
[2010/01/12 13:32] Paula Dix: yes i liked that Repose
[2010/01/12 13:32] Aya Beaumont: You need to do both.
[2010/01/12 13:32] Repose Lionheart: yes
[2010/01/12 13:33] herman Bergson: Yes Repose... I feel pretty uncomfortable with the consequentialist approach
[2010/01/12 13:33] Repose Lionheart: consequentialism seems to work best with large numbers, public policy?
[2010/01/12 13:33] Repose Lionheart: messy things
[2010/01/12 13:33] Aya Beaumont: No. That they use it is the reason we're losing our liberties today.
[2010/01/12 13:33] herman Bergson: Of course we always think about the consequences...
[2010/01/12 13:33] herman Bergson: but is that the moral evaluation of our action?
[2010/01/12 13:34] herman Bergson: the complete evaluation?
[2010/01/12 13:34] Repose Lionheart: interesting point, Aye
[2010/01/12 13:34] freereed Freenote: well... gramma's rights were ignored when ye tied her up...
[2010/01/12 13:34] Repose Lionheart: hehe
[2010/01/12 13:34] Gemma Cleanslate: no one gets that pension!!
[2010/01/12 13:34] Aya Beaumont: Consequentialism is very closely related to pragmatism, or as it's also put, Realpolitik.
[2010/01/12 13:34] herman Bergson: That is the point freereed....
[2010/01/12 13:34] freereed Freenote: thank you, herman
[2010/01/12 13:35] Paula Dix: yes i still like ethics more as reference
[2010/01/12 13:35] herman Bergson: And indeed we end up with Real politics
[2010/01/12 13:35] Aya Beaumont: If you're a politician, it's comfortable.
[2010/01/12 13:35] Aya Beaumont: For everyone else, it's probably less than optimal.
[2010/01/12 13:36] Paula Dix: there are politicians that work for things like "common good"? I feel not...
[2010/01/12 13:36] herman Bergson: My problem is the evaluation of consequences.. using the pleasure /pain criterium
[2010/01/12 13:36] Paula Dix: that would be *the* consequence, isnt?
[2010/01/12 13:37] herman Bergson: The common good could be the greatest happiness of the greatest number...
[2010/01/12 13:37] freereed Freenote: hmmm... i thought was plato said the good government, just society based on Community of pleasures and pains
[2010/01/12 13:37] Paula Dix: yes, but i dont see politicians doing it. at least not here
[2010/01/12 13:37] Aya Beaumont: Plato is also one of the greatest enemies of the free society.
[2010/01/12 13:37] Paula Dix: its always acting for the party, for their group...
[2010/01/12 13:38] Paula Dix: or themselves
[2010/01/12 13:38] herman Bergson: That is because the politicians think that they are the greatest number I guess
[2010/01/12 13:38] Paula Dix: lol
[2010/01/12 13:38] Repose Lionheart: hehe
[2010/01/12 13:38] Paula Dix: why Aya??
[2010/01/12 13:38] Aya Beaumont: Did you read his view of what the perfect society should be like?
[2010/01/12 13:38] Aya Beaumont shudders.
[2010/01/12 13:38] freereed Freenote: when mario cuomo ran for president he used plato's community of P&P and said the citizens are a Family
[2010/01/12 13:38] Paula Dix: lol ok
[2010/01/12 13:39] Aya Beaumont: Cute ideas like "the state's first priority is to do what's best for the state"
[2010/01/12 13:39] herman Bergson: ANd who is the state?
[2010/01/12 13:39] Paula Dix: yes! would he like Machiavelli??
[2010/01/12 13:40] Aya Beaumont: Machiavelli was quite a bit too liberal for Plato, I would say.
[2010/01/12 13:40] Repose Lionheart: probably not, but you'd have had it made if you were a Philosopher „ã°
[2010/01/12 13:40] Paula Dix: he was more practical than plato?
[2010/01/12 13:40] herman Bergson: Anyway... this is al I can make of consequentialism today
[2010/01/12 13:40] Gemma Cleanslate: the cat is still running
[2010/01/12 13:41] Adriana Jinn: lol
[2010/01/12 13:41] herman Bergson: When you read the articles...for every example is a counter example of consequences...
[2010/01/12 13:41] Paula Dix: for machiavelli i guess was easier to answer who is the state, it was the prince...
[2010/01/12 13:41] Aya Beaumont: No, oddly I mean that seriously. I read the Prince recently. I was quite surprised to see that the BEST society he could see was one where a democratic parliament held the king's power in check.
[2010/01/12 13:41] Paula Dix: nice!
[2010/01/12 13:42] herman Bergson smiles
[2010/01/12 13:42] Paula Dix: i never read him, only read a nice book about him and da Vinci, i liked the image of him there
[2010/01/12 13:42] herman Bergson: political philosophy might be a nice subject
[2010/01/12 13:42] Aya Beaumont: Machiavelli also (probably without noticing it) lays down principles for leadership that include a very strong tone of predictability.
[2010/01/12 13:43] Repose Lionheart: yes, political philosophy
[2010/01/12 13:43] Aya Beaumont: A precursor to the views of the violence monopoly of the state and some principles of the rule of law.
[2010/01/12 13:43] herman Bergson: WEll...
[2010/01/12 13:43] Paula Dix: thats what i got from that book, he was a practical thinker
[2010/01/12 13:43] herman Bergson: next time I'll present a defense of consequentialism by JJC Smart...
[2010/01/12 13:43] Repose Lionheart: „ã°
[2010/01/12 13:43] herman Bergson: His approach is interesting from a scientific/philosophical point of view
[2010/01/12 13:44] Adriana Jinn: ok
[2010/01/12 13:44] herman Bergson: Maybe he will convince me (tho I already read his etxts „ã°
[2010/01/12 13:44] herman Bergson: texts
[2010/01/12 13:45] Paula Dix: lol its curious that someone thinks it can be defended, cant wait for that
[2010/01/12 13:45] Repose Lionheart: yeah
[2010/01/12 13:45] herman Bergson: I would suggest to get together next Thursday and see what will happen then
[2010/01/12 13:45] Aya Beaumont: A philosophy that can tell you it's right to kill a healthy person to donate his organs to help three ill ones... nice...
[2010/01/12 13:45] Abraxas Nagy: sounds like its gonna be interesting
[2010/01/12 13:45] Paula Dix: yes, like that movie Brazil :)))
[2010/01/12 13:45] herman Bergson: Yes Aya..that is one of those dilemmas they struggle with
[2010/01/12 13:46] Aya Beaumont: Can't think why. =)
[2010/01/12 13:46] herman Bergson: I'll give JJC Smart a fair chance to make his point
[2010/01/12 13:47] herman Bergson: So I would say...enjoy your day and see you next class:)
[2010/01/12 13:47] Gemma Cleanslate: ‚ô• Thank Youuuuuuuuuu!! ‚ô•
[2010/01/12 13:47] Aya Beaumont: Thank you.
[2010/01/12 13:47] herman Bergson: and thank you for your participation
[2010/01/12 13:47] Abraxas Nagy: thank you
[2010/01/12 13:47] Gemma Cleanslate: thursday hope so
[2010/01/12 13:47] Ze Novikov: yes, ty Herman
[2010/01/12 13:47] Repose Lionheart: Thank you, Prof. Great stuff!
[2010/01/12 13:47] Abraxas Nagy: as always
[2010/01/12 13:47] Paula Dix: hope i can be here thursday, this is great!
[2010/01/12 13:47] Gemma Cleanslate: lol yes
[2010/01/12 13:47] Adriana Jinn: thank you herman
[2010/01/12 13:48] herman Bergson: My pleasure
[2010/01/12 13:48] Qwark Allen: ******* Herman *******
[2010/01/12 13:48] Qwark Allen: thank you
[2010/01/12 13:48] Qwark Allen: nice to be back
[2010/01/12 13:48] Adriana Jinn: have a good evening
[2010/01/12 13:48] herman Bergson: Bye Adriana

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