Tag Archives: deontology

Other Philosophers – Variations on Theme (Part 4)

In my previous post, I discussed the more modern philosophers, Bentham and Mill. Both are Utilitarians whose ethical philosophy is very similar to that of Epicurus, however with a twist. Rather than emphasize pleasure for the individual as the road to happiness, they emphasize maximizing pleasure for all citizens of a society. That is the twist – pursuing those actions that maximize pleasure for a collective society rather than individuals.

Both of these philosophers are considered consequentialists as well – the ends justify the means. In other words, what is important in not how you go about obtaining pleasure but rather the amount of pleasure that is secured. The goal of these philosophies is to reach happiness at all cost, and happiness is defined as pleasure (or the absence of pain).

In earlier posts, I discussed Scotus, who was a philosopher contemporary with Aquinas.  He held similar positions as Aquinas but went further in promoting justice as being part of the moral good of our actions.  Scotus was concerned that the philosophers before him placed too much emphasis in obtaining one’s own happiness and not enough concern with the flourishing of others.  Essentially, Scotus took the virtue of justice (concern for others) and Aquinas’s love of neighbor and added additional weight to it to ensure that the concern for others was also not ignored in our actions.  That additional emphasis on justice by Duns Scotus was the twist on the teachings of the ancient philosophers mentioned in my book.

The final philosopher that I mentioned in my last few posts was Kant.  Like Scotus, Kant was concerned with moral actions and justice.  But, unlike Scotus, Kant did not think that the goal of life was to achieve happiness.  He believed that the goal of life was to perform one’s duty through moral actions, independent of the outcome of those actions.  He believed that those individuals with a proper sense of reason would make the correct moral decisions by following the laws before us.  While Kant was unique in his thinking, he still resembles the ancient Stoics.  The Stoics believed that the virtues, and only the virtues, would provide the proper knowledge and reason to understand those actions necessary to achieve happiness.  That is the twist – Kant resembles the Stoics’ regard for reason, even though he does not claim that the virtues will deliver the proper reason nor will reason lead to happiness but rather a sense of satisfaction for performing one’s duties properly.

So, we have discussed four influential philosophers that resemble the four ancient philosophers mentioned in my book.  The reason that these four are not included in my book is that they don’t add enough to the narrative of the road to happiness and would simply complicate the description.  They are just variations on a theme which has already been discussed by the ancient philosophers.  However, they are worth mentioning in that they help to contrast and better define the road to happiness discussed in my book.

I hope that these last few post have been helpful.  I also hope that after reviewing these alternative philosophies you might have a better appreciation of the road to happiness discussed in my book.

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 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.

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.

Understanding Moral Decisions – Part 1

If you are like myself, you must often ask yourself, “Why don’t people see things the way that I do?” or “What drives people to do what they do, which is very different from the way that I would do it?”  Philosophy can help us answer these questions.  Unfortunately, the world of philosophy is a forgotten discipline, having been de-emphasized in our educational system during the past several decades.  And, those that are in the philosophical world are too concerned with their own dense language and terms to provide much guidance and understanding to the rest of us.

I would rather go to the dentist that wade through the philosophical literature – past and present.  In fact, it is sad that to understand many philosophical books an introductory book must be read first to better explain what you are about to read!  As I tell my kids, the world of finance, which I know well, is simple to understand if you can get through all the buzzwords and terms; there are only a few concept that drive most financial decisions (e.g., present value, future value, cash flow, risk).

For those that do not want to live morally correct lives, there are many ways of deceit, lies, murder, theft, etc. that can be used to try and get ahead, or at least cope with life.  For those that are searching for the morally correct approach to life, fortunately there are only three philosophical approaches as to how we should lead our lives.  Let me try to explain these three theories of moral philosophy (or how we should conduct ourselves) as simply as possible: my explanations will be somewhat over-simplified, but that is what is needed to do get the point across.

What drives each of us to do what we do morally (or the decisions that we make) can be broken down into three broad theories:  1) Consequentialism, 2) Deontology, and 3) Virtue Ethics.  Each of these three approaches is very different from the other two.  Each approach has its own philosophers (ancient and modern) as supporters of the theory.

To be continued in my next post.