Frustrations with Consequentialism
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10-05-2012, 12:12 AM
Frustrations with Consequentialism
Hey, wrestling with a question that I can't find the answer to, and I thought you all might be able to offer some insight. First off, before I get flamed (as has happened in the past), I am a recovering theist trying to change my point of view. As such, I might use terms or phrases that only make sense in a religious context (because that's how I was raised), so please be patient in explaining my mistakes to me. I'm doing my best to be open-minded! Now, all of that said...

I understand the basic idea behind consequentialism, and it seems to make a lot of sense. The definition I found was "Of all the things a person might do at any given moment, the morally right action is the one with the best overall consequences." That seems to sum it up nicely. However, what defines what is "morally right?" And how do you decide whether one moral good is more important/better than another?
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10-05-2012, 06:06 AM
RE: Frustrations with Consequentialism
I think you are always in danger when you propose that the ends justify the means, simply because it is difficult to predict the final ends and judge wisely as to whether they really do justify the means. I prefer to think that at all times seeking to do the most good and the least harm is a better overall recipe for a moral society. If as many people as possible are acting in the moment in a moral way then I see society as coming together to a moral conclusion.

Consequentialism can, if taken without care, be used to justify trampling over human rights in order to reach some societal ideal that in the end may not actually be achievable. I think it's simpler to work with what we have, and with what is in front of us to act morally about.

I know Sam Harris has been on lately talking about the possibility of judging the overall morality of a society by judging some kind of total good. He focuses on the absolutes - if everyone is suffering the society is immoral. If everyone is happy then the society is probably moral. However, it's the landscape in between the two that is where I think we all really live.

If we were to come up with a one true metric of "goodness" that we could base our morality on, I think it would need to consider:
1. Sum happiness vs suffering of individuals across the society, and
2. Some measure of the sustainability of that score over time

Under 2 I would tend to look for things like:
2a) Some measure of the distribution of happiness vs suffering scores across the society, such as the gap between rich and poor and the treatment of minorities versus the majority
2b) The ability of the society to live within resource constraints of this planet and/or explore beyond this planet
2c) Trends in happiness vs suffering scores
2d) Some measure of how much suppression of human nature is required for the society to continue to operate as it is, and how much buy in and acceptance there is of the current societal system by its members

The actual measure of suffering versus happiness could be straightforward to define, based on whether an individual has access to various necessities and luxuries. I suspect the sustainability metric would be much more difficult to define.

To me, without an overall scoring system that has some level of broad acceptance consequentialism is a philosophy that can be difficult to apply to the big questions of how societies should be run, and even to individual moral decisions.

Give me your argument in the form of a published paper, and then we can start to talk.
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10-05-2012, 06:51 AM
RE: Frustrations with Consequentialism
Another faith + works proponent. Where's my flamethrower...

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10-05-2012, 08:25 AM
RE: Frustrations with Consequentialism
For those who study Best Practices (maybe just me) there is a startling parallel with Hafnof's posting.
This is an extension of my theory that religious texts were very early attempts at law, health care guidance; tribal best practice if you like and the secular version is the ISO standards (thou shalt and thou should).
IT Service Management doctrine has a Boolean diagram for describing Value Creation:
Value from a customer's perspective is a combination of Utility + Warranty.
Utility is described as Outcomes Supported and/or Constraints Removed (i.e. happiness for all / suffering for none (i.e. Buddhism))
Warranty is a combination of: Available enough? Enough Capacity? Continuous enough? Secure enough?
So, from Hafnof's post, above, 1 = Utility and 2abcd = Warranty.
The tricky thing though is the definition of Value. With an IT service, it is essentially to do with the customer's perceptions and preferences but when put a moral context the consequences of that value creation are less clear cut.

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10-05-2012, 09:01 AM (This post was last modified: 10-05-2012 10:50 AM by Lilith Pride.)
RE: Frustrations with Consequentialism
Like Hafnof's suggestion I think you should look into utilitarianism. John Stewart Mill made a much better argument for it than his predecessor Jeremy Bentham.

John Stewart Mill's Utilitarianism Here's a link to the book written by Mill on this subject. It is important to realize that all moral philosophies must be seen as a starting point and not the total answer. I like this book because it discusses a few of the issues being brought up by critics during his time.

There is no perfect idea for how every situation should be handled. If you wish to look more into what is societally moral I would suggest taking a class in ethics. It's important to understand that in general, what is moral is what you feel should be done since most everyone is raised within the cultural morality. Most likely your morality that you used to consider from god in many ways is the cultural morality. The philosophies are simply guiding principles which in general have led to huge changes in the societies they were introduced to. Nowadays most classrooms follow Aristotle, and each contribution by the many philosophers is taught as small colloquialisms.

There is always more to look into, but I agree that if you want to be a consequentionalist you'll need a good judging criteria which demands further reading. The main argument against consequentionalism, (that you are given a free pass on the means towards your end) has already been discussed. Along with the simple fact that you cannot be certain of the consequence that will occur.

My suggestion is for you to take everything you can from the moral philosophers and have notes about them, but never take a side. You will be a better overall moralist if you simply allow each philosophy's strong points to shine through your examples.

I'm not really a moralist myself as I feel there is no need to justify a natural urge, but this is for you. Personally, Mill was one of my favorites, particularly because he paid attention to a lot more than humans. But there are plenty of ideas out there to read and assimilate. Just keep your opinions subject to change as there has yet to be a serious end all answer to anything.

I'm not a non believer, I believe in the possibility of anything. I just don't let the actuality of something be determined by a 3rd party.
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11-05-2012, 12:44 AM
RE: Frustrations with Consequentialism
(10-05-2012 12:12 AM)nobodyimportant Wrote:  Hey, wrestling with a question that I can't find the answer to, and I thought you all might be able to offer some insight. First off, before I get flamed (as has happened in the past), I am a recovering theist trying to change my point of view. As such, I might use terms or phrases that only make sense in a religious context (because that's how I was raised), so please be patient in explaining my mistakes to me. I'm doing my best to be open-minded! Now, all of that said...

I understand the basic idea behind consequentialism, and it seems to make a lot of sense. The definition I found was "Of all the things a person might do at any given moment, the morally right action is the one with the best overall consequences." That seems to sum it up nicely. However, what defines what is "morally right?" And how do you decide whether one moral good is more important/better than another?
AS Lilith points out, I too see moral theories as best integrated, rather than opting for one particular model.
Utilitarianism or the best, (whatever that is) for the most can impact badly on minority groups.
Command theory, a strict allegiance to holy writ or Kant's version is very inflexible.
I rather like moral relativism myself, in that specifics seem to be addressed, the problem here being that we tend to our own best interests, even if unaware.
As for consequentialism we can sort of mix it up with moral relativism and utilitarianism.

I think it was Blaise Pascal who said 'In choosing a line of action always opt for the least evil'..... or something like that.
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22-05-2012, 05:53 PM
RE: Frustrations with Consequentialism
(10-05-2012 12:12 AM)nobodyimportant Wrote:  However, what defines what is "morally right?" And how do you decide whether one moral good is more important/better than another?

You get to do that all by yourself. Let me see you do it. Wink





(10-05-2012 12:12 AM)nobodyimportant Wrote:  The definition I found was "Of all the things a person might do at any given moment, the morally right action is the one with the best overall consequences." That seems to sum it up nicely.

"Karma's a bitch" is even more succinct. Big Grin




Breathing - it's more art than science.
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22-05-2012, 06:54 PM (This post was last modified: 23-05-2012 07:59 PM by Thomas.)
RE: Frustrations with Consequentialism
(10-05-2012 12:12 AM)nobodyimportant Wrote:  Hey, wrestling with a question that I can't find the answer to, and I thought you all might be able to offer some insight. First off, before I get flamed (as has happened in the past), I am a recovering theist trying to change my point of view. As such, I might use terms or phrases that only make sense in a religious context (because that's how I was raised), so please be patient in explaining my mistakes to me. I'm doing my best to be open-minded! Now, all of that said...

I understand the basic idea behind consequentialism, and it seems to make a lot of sense. The definition I found was "Of all the things a person might do at any given moment, the morally right action is the one with the best overall consequences." That seems to sum it up nicely. However, what defines what is "morally right?" And how do you decide whether one moral good is more important/better than another?


The biggest problem is that you have to assume to know the consequences. Not so easy.

Second, you have to assume that the problem(s) caused are less than the problem(s) solved. So even if you nail the consequences you have to presume to know how the outcome affects everyone involved. Pain and pleasure are subjective, but we do know that people are 2 1/2 times more averse to pain then pleasure. That's a tough calculation.

Now you have to choose between "Act Utilitarianism" and "Rule Utilitarianism". Do you follow a rule or call each case as it comes.

The old gods are dead, let's invent some new ones before something really bad happens.
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22-05-2012, 09:37 PM (This post was last modified: 22-05-2012 10:52 PM by Bucky Ball.)
RE: Frustrations with Consequentialism
(10-05-2012 12:12 AM)nobodyimportant Wrote:  "Of all the things a person might do at any given moment, the morally right action is the one with the best overall consequences." That seems to sum it up nicely. However, what defines what is "morally right?" And how do you decide whether one moral good is more important/better than another?


Actually that question is one which humans have been wrestling with for eons. When seen in it's original context, it's the same question posed in the Biblical garden myth, which was taken from the Sumerian "Dragon of Chaos" myth, (Taimet Slays the Dragon of Chaos)... (ie does one do one thing, or another .. since you can't do both). You have to choose. You have to, (or seem to need to), make "order from chaos". One path, not the other. Can't "eat" from the Tree of the "knowledge" of good AND evil. Fergit the apple. Have ta pick. So which do ya pick ? Ya pick the one that "promotes your authentic self". So the question which remains, is : "what is my athentic self". The answer is ; "follow yer bliss". Can't hurt anyone doin' it. See Paul Tillich "The Courge to Be". Tongue
BTW, isn't "consequentialism" just a fancy shmacy way of saying "morality" ?

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Isaiah 45:7 "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things" (KJV)

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23-05-2012, 06:50 AM
RE: Frustrations with Consequentialism
Just ask yourself not what Jesus would do, but what you would get locked up for, and then don't do that.

That is all the morals one needs.

I don't talk gay, I don't walk gay, it's like people don't even know I'm gay unless I'm blowing them.
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