Tag Archives: consequentialism

Other Philosophers – Variations on a Theme (Part 3)

In my last post I discussed the philosophy of Kant.  Kant wrote that the best moral structure is not to seek after our own happiness (as taught by the ancient philosophers mentioned in my book) or to consider justice in addition to happiness (Duns Scotus), but to discard happiness altogether and focus on one’s duty according to a moral code based on good will.  This moral approach focuses on one’s duty without regard to the consequences of the action taken in performing one’s duty – “the means justify the ends.”  I mentioned that the synthesis of the road to happiness in my book addresses the concerns of both Duns Scotus as well Kant.

After the philosophy of Kant began to take hold within certain parts of society, a new moral approach was introduced and one that returned to the importance of the pursuit of happiness.  This new philosophical approach began with Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and was refined by John Stuart Mill (1806-1873).

Both Bentham and Mill are considered utilitarians.  Utilitarians believe that we all seek after our own happiness (agreeing with Aristotle/Aquinas) but that happiness is not reached through the virtues but on maximizing pleasure or minimizing pain.

Bentham taught that the outcome of any action should be to contribute to pleasure. He defined the value of this pleasure to be equal to its intensity multiplied by its duration. So you must consider not only the number of pleasures, but the intensity of each and the duration of each.

Mill took a slightly different approach arguing that there are different levels of pleasure and that the higher levels (such as art, literature, philosophy) should be pursued more than than the lower or simpler pleasures.

Both of these philosophers proposed a Utilitarian belief that the moral value of any action is based on its outcome (i.e., pleasure). This is a form of consequentialism – “the ends justify the means.”

The philosophy of Epicurus, discussed in my book, is essentially the same as that of the two Utilitarians discussed above.  All three schools equate the idea of “good” not with virtue but with those things that bring pleasure (or reduce pain).  Epicurus does differ from the other two Utilitarians in that his maximizing of pleasure occurs on an individual level rather than at a societal level.

I believe that Bentham and Mill are “variations on a theme” of the very original teachings of Epicurus. In addition, the narrative in my book does address enhancing the prosperity of society through the actions of individuals looking to achieve happiness.

More in the next post!

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 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 3)

Continuing with my previous post.  So, what does moral philosophy tell us are the next steps regarding Obamacare.

The President, continuing with his insistence on the full enactment of the law, is operating according to his consequentialism moral philosophy.  He is being consistent with the philosophy that he considers necessary to provide healthcare to all Americans.  From a consequentialism point of view, the President is acting rationally and according to the tenets of the philosophy: the greatest good for the greatest number of people.  As such, from a consequential philosophy perspective, the President’s actions are now much easier to understand.

For those Democrats in Congress that adhere to the consequentialism philosophy, the same as the President’s, then their actions are also much easier to understand and for the same reasons as mentioned above.

But, for those Democrats in Congress that adhere more to deontology and believed that it was their duty or obligation to support Obamacare based on the marketing by the President that “if you like your plan…” then they have a very difficult moral decision ahead of them.  They can either: 1) remain passive and let enactment continue, either becoming consequentialists themselves (highly unlikely) or, more likely, find themselves opposing their own moral philosophy for political reasons, or 2) remain true to their deontology philosophy and take actions to correct their mistakes that are apparent to everyone.

While no Republicans voted in favor of Obamacare, those that did read the fine print of the plan did fall short in their rebuttal of the marketing by the President that “if you like your plan…”  While they could have been even more vocal, I must admit that the points about keeping your plan, keeping your doctor, and save $2500 annually was so powerful of an advertising push, that no battle against it could have been won.

The Republicans, most of which probably adhere to the virtue ethics philosophy, do have a responsibility in all of this based on their philosophy.  Their responsibility is to not only fight to reverse Obamacare, which is now seen as not what was marketed to the public, but to also offer a reasonable alternative plan that come as close as possible to the intent of the people, and with complete transparency.  To not offer such a plan would be similar to those deontological Democrats that decide to do nothing about the enactment of Obamacare.

I hope that the world of moral philosophy has helped to define the issues regarding Obamacare and the three philosophies that are followed in dealing with the issues.  I think that by using moral philosophy, rather than political science, the actions taken by the President and Congress become much clearer and the next steps to be taken are more easily defined.

In fact, the American people need to have a national conversation among themselves as to whether 1) consequentialism is an acceptable philosophy for civic leaders and 2) what are the consequences for those civic leaders who are not consequentialists and who decide to not make amends for their mistakes as a result of the actions of leaders who adhere to consequentialism.

Up next, the financial crisis of 2008.

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 6

Summarizing my previous five posts: for those that are attempting to lead good moral lives there are three basic moral philosophies: consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics.

I believe that consequentialism, while possibly noble, is one that deemphasize individual choice and performance for the sake of the good of society.  As such, it can be used to justify actions that are harmful to individuals for the sake of the social good.  This philosophy robs the individual of his/her pursuit of happiness and the future flourishing of society.  Ii is very difficult to accept the premise that the ends justify the means, and that the individual is subservient to the will of society.

I believe that deontology, the most widely accepted of the three philosophies, also while possibly noble, is one that emphasizes the individual and his/her actions, but without regard for the consequences of those actions.  Just following what one believes to be the duty or obligation for certain actions, without considering the consequences of those actions, leaves the individual and society at risk.

I believe that virtue ethics is the only philosophy that is concerned with the individual making the right decisions for the right reasons.  The virtues found in good people make sure that this happens.  The virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance, justice, and love of neighbor, are displayed throughout the fine arts as the models for achieving happiness and the flourishing of society.  A person who possess all or some of the virtues will lead to good actions.  In other words, a good action will only come from a good person, and a good person is one who has earned or is earning the virtues.

Not only do the great masters of the fine arts present the virtues a necessary for good actions, but the great myths, great philosophers, and modern positive psychologists also support the earning of the virtues through hard work and preparation as necessary for a moral life and one that leads to individual happiness.

The virtues are the catalysts for the individual to seek out and capture the boon that is the gift to society.  The virtues (of which at least wisdom and courage are earned from a loving family, and involvement and exposure activities earlier in life before acceptance of the call to adventure) are the instruments by which the individual is awarded happiness and society flourishes.

Let me illustrate with three great artworks:

The Morning Bell by Homer

The Morning Bell by Winslow Homer (1871)

Above is Homer’s interpretation of the acceptance of the call to adventure (Gallery Four in my book).  The girl has the wisdom to see her future course of action and the courage to follow the path, even though it is uncertain where the path will lead her.

Homer - The Veteran in a New Field

The Veteran in a New Field by Winslow Homer (1865)

In this painting, another one by Homer, we have the adventurer who has fought the many trials and has captured the boon for his society (the end of the Civil War, as displayed in Gallery Five of my book).  He is displaying the virtues of temperance and justice (concern for the common good) – wisdom and courage to accept the adventure were earned earlier before battle.  But one thing is missing, happiness – the veteran has not yet been recognized for his efforts by his fellow countrymen.

 

The Night Watch by Rembrandt (1642)

The Night Watch by Rembrandt (1642)

In this masterpiece by Rembrandt, we see the protectors of the community being lauded by the military followers as well as the citizens (depicted by the little girl).  They have fought the many battles to capture the boon (safety and security of the community) and have been able to return back to the everyday world as a result of the love and admiration of their friends and neighbors (as seen in Gallery Six of my book).

This great Rembrandt painting illustrates that it is the responsibility of individuals and not the state to determine the future of the community (consequentialism is not supported in this painting).  Also, the painting illustrates that the mere duty or obligation of the few military men to protect the community is not sufficient as well.  The lighting and the placement of the small girl, representing the common community that it relying on the military men, is prominent in the painting, and for a special reason.  She represents the admiration and love for the heroes that have returned from the adventure: it is she, the personification of love of neighbor, who is welcoming the men across the threshold back to the everyday world (a personification missing in the Homer painting above).  It is this love of neighbor that brings happiness to the men (who have earned the virtues to succeed in the adventure) and the gift of their boon of protection to their society.  A mere sense of duty (deontology) would not have been sufficient.  It is the application of the virtues that makes this painting a masterpiece.

Understanding Moral Decisions – Part 5

In my last few posts I have talked about three moral philosophies that can be followed by those wanting to lead positive lives.  What I would like to do now is provide a quick comparison of each of them.  It is clear that there is some overlap among the three philosophies.  However, I believe that the following are the distinctions:

1) Consequentialism is concerned with the ends and not the means.  It is concerned with providing the greatest amount of good to the greatest number of people.  I believe that this goal of the most happiness for the greatest number of people tends to diminish the role of the individual at the expense of the goals of society, as determined by some collective body of people or leader.  I believe that this is not an optimal philosophy and can be greatly abused by the collective bodies or leaders imposing their will on individuals.

2) Deontology is concerned with the duty or the obligation of the individual.  The focus is much more on the individual, requiring reason and intelligence.  However, the lack of focus on a goal or outcome, as well as the lack of concern for unintended consequences, can lead individuals to a false sense of purpose.  I think that this approach may take the individual far along the “journey” segment of the road to happiness, but falls short of encouraging the “adventure.”  This limits the ability of the individual to reach happiness and the promotion of the flourishing of society.

3) Virtue Ethics is concerned with the individual and his/her character.  It is based on an ultimate goal of happiness.  To reach this happiness requires acquiring the virtues.  It is these virtues that lead the individual along the road to happiness.  It includes the goal-focus of consequentialism and the duty-focus of deontology but with an emphasis on individual character and not action.

Final thoughts in my next post.

Understanding Moral Decisions – Part 4

In my previous post I discussed a second philosophical approach to moral behavior – deontology (consequentialism being the first).  Deontology determines whether a situation is moral correct based on the rightness or wrongness of actions that brought about the situation (the means to the end).

This philosophy is less concerned with a specific goal in life and more concerned with making the right decisions based on duty, laws, and obligations.  For example, under this philosophy, giving money to a homeless person would be considered the right action to take (comforting others in need) even though the consequence may be that the homeless person purchases liquor or drugs that further his/her demise.

The first philosophical approach that I discussed – consequentialism – is concerned with the rightness or wrongness of the consequences of our actions (the ends and not the means).  Consequentialism would say that it is acceptable to lie or defraud someone if it would lead to an increase in the common good.

Both of these moral philosophies are based on actions.  Either actions that are concerned with the right or duty of one towards others, or actions to produce a certain outcome or consequence that increases the common good.  However, the third and final philosophical approach centers on character rather than actions.

Virtue Ethics is a philosophy that emphasizes the role of virtue and character rather than either doing one’s duty (Deontology) or acting in order to bring about good consequences (Consequentialism).  A virtuous person is someone who is moral or upright in all situations over a long period of time because that is his/her character and not due to a perceived obligation to do what is right or consider actions that lead to the greater good.

Both Aristotle and St. Aquinas are philosophers that support this theory.  Virtue Ethics places great importance on the virtues: wisdom, courage, temperance, justice, and love of neighbor.  They are much less concerned with identifying and putting into practice certain duties or obligations to act in a specific way, or to identify ways to increase the common good.  They are more concerned with questions like: “How should I live?” and “What is the good life?” and “What are proper family and social values?”  The current philosopher, Alisdair MacIntyre, who I mentioned in earlier posts, is a proponent of this philosophy.

One additional aspect of Virtue Ethics is that it is purpose driven.  There is an ultimate goal to life, which is happiness.  And the only means of reaching happiness is by acquiring the virtues.

More to come.