Category Archives: Understanding Moral Decisions

Moral Decisions – Some Examples (Part 8)

Continuing with my last post.

Clearly, combining consequetialism with deontology can have very harmful results (housing crisis of 2008 and Obamacare).  But what about virtue ethics.  Virtue ethics would suggest that our leaders utilize the cardinal virtues of wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice, as well as the love of neighbor, when considering moral decisions.

The virtue ethicists were either absent from the moral decisions regarding housing and health care, or drowned-out be the opposition.  You would think that they would rely on the virtues of justice and love of neighbor to at least understand the benefits to American citizens of affordable housing and health care.  But, you would also think that they would have the wisdom to understand the risks of such programs and the humility to suggest that such policies may not work and might have very harmful unintended consequences.  And, you would hope that in the face of severe opposition, that they would still have the courage of their convictions to stand up and be heard.

The courage aspect has been lacking in our leaders.  They may follow this third moral philosophy of virtue ethics, which I consider the toughest of the three to follow, but, without the virtue of courage, the philosophy loses its effectiveness.  And without an effective third philosophy, the remaining two moral philosophies, much easier to follow, expand to take its place.

Moral Decisions – Some Examples (Part 7)

Some final thoughts on the three moral philosophies.

I believe that both the Bush White House and the Obama White House were sincere in wanting to provide affordable housing or affordable medical care to as many Americans as possible.  Both of these aims are morally acceptable by most people.

These moral actions were initiated following one branch of moral philosophy: consequentialism.  Consequentialism is swift and effective – you don’t need to be concerned with the means to the end (either relaxing existing policies or lying), just the end result.

The moral actions were validated mostly by a second branch of moral philosophy: deontology. Deontology is also swift and effective – you don’t need to be concerned with the ends (affordable housing or affordable heath care), just the means to the end, accomplished by exercising one’s duty or obligation to support the White House’s consequentialism.

As such, the initiation of the actions by the consequentialists were each validated by the actions of the  deontologists.  Unfortunately, one party was concerned only with the ends and the other party was concerned with only the means.

But, as we have witnessed first hand, these two moral philosophies have been disastrous for the US.  While well-intentioned, they have been met with failure (or potential failure), and the failures have occurred within a matter of a few months of enactment.

Where does this leave us.  To be discussed in the next post.


Moral Decisions – Some Examples (Part 6)

Continuing from my previous post.

So, the housing party is over in 2008.  Why, well for one thing the model that home prices always goes up didn’t work anymore.  Those people that really should not have received a mortgage, could not make the mortgage payments and ended up having to sell their homes.  These homes were sold for a loss.  The banks could not absorb the huge losses, so they needed to be bailed out by the government.  This took an immense toll on the economy, which we are still paying for and experiencing.

The decisions to relax the lending policies leading up to the 2008 crisis, while morally acceptable from a consequentialism philosophy, were ruinous for the American economy as well as the rest of the world.  The deontologists could not be blamed for they were simply dutifully obliging the White House in its policy decisions.  The virtue ethicists, most likely mindful of the risks to the changes in the lending policies, were no where to be found, lacking any courage to speak up about the unintended consequences of the policy actions.

Final thoughts in my next blog.

Moral Decisions – Some Examples (Part 5)

Continuing with my previous post.

The White House was following the moral philosophy of consequentialism leading up to the 2008 housing crisis.  Homeownership for all Americans was seen as the morally correct approach, so the policies regarding the giving of mortgages were relaxed to accomplish this morally acceptable goal of homeownership for all.

Congress, and basically the rest of the country, went along with the White House, many from a deontology philosophy perspective.  It was their duty or obligation to support the policies of the White House so that the morally acceptable position of homeownership became a reality for everyone.  They did not question the White House policies and consider the consequences of such changes in the lending policies.

While there were clearly some members of Congress that were followers of virtue ethics, they did not have the courage to be heard.  Of course, the country was having one big party: the banks, mortgage bankers, and rating agencies were making enormous profits, millions of homebuyers became qualified over night and purchased their new homes, and Congress and the White House were “high-fiving” one another for delivering the American Dream to all Americans.

Of course, all parties do end and someone has to clean up the mess.

Moral Decisions – Some Examples (Part 4)

The financial crisis of 2008 was driven by a similar moral philosophy to that of Obamacare, but with a few differences.

First, there was no big lie regarding this crisis – there was no new federal program to enact.   But what did happen at the White House was a disregard for the lending policies that had been in place for decades.  These policies involved the down payment for a home, income verification, and the standard mortgage amount based on the down payment.  Mortgage brokers and banks were free to offer a mortgage to just about anyone.

The reason given for this behavior was based on consequentialism.  Since it was considered in the public’s best interest to have everyone be able to purchase their own home, the sky was the limit and no policy was going to stand in the way.  The “ends” of homeownership for everyone justified the “means” of not enforcing the lending policies.

Just about everyone in Congress went along with this philosophy – after all, home prices had always gone up as protection to the banks providing the mortgages.  Those in Congress that were deontologists were simply doing their duty by not blocking any legislation that might hinder Americans from the American dream of homeownership.  Their duty was to support those White House policies that were publicized as good for all Americans.  It was not their duty to examine the potential consequences of these policies.

More to come.

Moral Decisions – Some Examples (Part 2)

In my last post I presented the facts regarding the enactment of Obamacare.  Now for the analysis.

The facts indicate that the President knew that he had to lie to get Obamacare passed.  If his  moral philosophy is consequentialism, which I think it is, then lying is justified by this philosophy .  The ends (affordable healthcare for everyone) justify the means (lying to the American public).  Consequentialists are not concerned with the actions, they are concerned with the results or the consequences.  If lying is required to provide affordable healthcare to all people, then so be it.

The facts also indicate that the Democrats in Congress did not read the bill before their voting. They relied on the President’s word that “if you like your plan…”  If they had actually read the bill, many would not have voted for it.  Those Democrats that would not have voted had they known what was in the bill follow the moral philosophy of deontology.  They believed that is their duty or obligation to provide affordable healthcare to everyone, and they would not have enter into a lie to et the law passed.  These members were simply following their duty to all Americans to provide affordable health care.

Those few Democrats that did know what was in the bill and voted for it would be followers of consequentialism.  Lying to the public would be acceptable to these Democrats since it contributed to the enactment of the bill.

The few Republicans that read the bill and knew that the President was wrong were vocal in their opposition; however, they were drowned out by others that accepted the deceitful marketing points.  These few members were defeated by the lies that were simply too powerful to overcome.  Why wouldn’t you support the moral objective of affordable healthcare for everyone if there were no changes to your policy or doctor and the premium cost would go down.

More to come.

Understanding Moral Decisions – Part 3

In my previous post, I wrote about consequentialism, one of three moral or ethical philosophies for leading a good and moral life.  Consequentialism is concerned with the consequences of ones decisions, or the ends rather than the means to the ends.  The means to reach the ends are justified, no matter what they are, in this philosophical approach to life.  In other words, the greater good of a society is more important than the means of reaching the greater good.

Deontology, derived from the Greek word deon – meaning obligation or duty, is a philosophy based on actions that adhere to rules or obligations.  In many ways it is the opposite of consequentialism.  Deontology is not concerned with the consequences of actions but the motives behind those that carry out the actions, or what is “Right.”

Kant is one of the main proponents of this philosophy.  Kant believed that people should behave out of respect for the moral law.  He taught that people act out of respect for the moral law when they believe that they have a duty or obligation.  Deontologists believe that what makes a choice right is conformity to a moral duty or obligation.  Deontologists believe that the Right takes precedence over the Good, no matter what the Good may lead to.  The ancient Stoics, presented in my book, adhere to this theory of moral philosophy.  They believed that reason and knowledge would determine the appropriate duty or obligation to lead a moral life.  They believed that the consequences of our actions are out of our control.

A current example of deontology is the actions by Congress regarding Obamacare.  The Republicans thought that is was their duty or obligation to defund Obamacare.  As such, they tried to tie the defunding to the shutdown of the government and the raising of the debt limit.  Their duty to defund Obamacare had significant unintended consequences for the nation.  The same is true for the Democrats that passed Obamacare without really understanding the bill that they were voting upon. They believed that it was their duty or moral obligation to pass a bill providing affordable healthcare, not understanding the consequences of their actions.  Both parties were following the deontology approach to moral and ethical decisions.

So, what we have with Obamacare was consequentialism employed by the president and deontology employed by the Congress.  Unfortunately, both had good intentions but the unintended consequences are just now being felt by the nation.