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Philosophy 224. Consequentialism, Natural Law Theory, Kantian Moral Theory. Consequentialism: The Basics.

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philosophy 224

Philosophy 224

Consequentialism, Natural Law Theory, Kantian Moral Theory

consequentialism the basics
Consequentialism: The Basics
  • Consequentialism is the name given to a family of more specific normative ethical position all of which share the conviction that it is the consequences of actions which determine their moral worth.
  • All of these positions are committed to the following claims.
    • Right action is to be understood entirely in terms of the overall intrinsic value of the consequences of the action compared with the overall intrinsic value of the consequences associated with alternative actions an agent might perform instead.
    • An action is right if and only if its consequences would be at least as good as the consequences of any alternative action that the agent might instead perform.
  • There are a number of important implications of this statement of these claims.
    • Consequentialist theories are value-based.
    • They are comparative theories. They make specific reference to alternative actions and the rightness or wrongness of any action is dependent on the value of the consequences of those actions.
    • The consequentialist account of right action is a maximizing conception.
    • Consequentialism is an impartialist moral theory. We have to consider the consequences for everyone and everyone counts equally.
it s all in the family
It's All in the Family
  • The various specific forms of consequentialism share a commitment to these basic claims.
  • They differ in their theory of value.
    • The TV of Utilitarianism identifies intrinsic value with human welfare or happiness (it's expression).
    • The TV of Perfectionist Utilitarianismidentifies intrinsic value with human perfection.
    • The TV of Rule Consequentialism identifies intrinsic value with the acceptance value* of rules.

*The value of the consequences of the rule were it generally accepted

  • The basic idea of U is that the rightness or wrongness of actions is determined by the their effect on human welfare or happiness, with maximization and impartiality assumed.
    • Measure of this effect is called Utility: the net value of the consequences of actions.
  • Result is the Principle of Utility.
    • An action is right if and only if its performance would likely produce at least as high utility as would any other alternative action.
what makes you fare well
What makes you fare well?
  • An important issue that all utilitarians must address is how to understand human welfare.
  • Classical utilitarians (J. S. Mill, J. Bentham) identify happiness (and thus human welfare) with pleasure and pain.
    • For this reason they are labeled HedonsiticUtilitarians.
    • How does adopting the hedonistic point of view alter the PU?
perfectionist consequentialism
Perfectionist Consequentialism
  • PC adopts a different TV than utilitarianism.
    • Value Perfectionism: states of human perfection (knowledge, excellence) that have intrinsic value.
  • Thus, the TRC of PC says
    • An action is right iff its performance would likely bring about a greater net balance of perfectionist goods than would any other alternative action.
  • What is a perfectionist good?
    • If knowledge is a state of perfection, then those capacities and qualities which promote the acquisition of knowledge would be perfectionist goods.
rule consequentialism
Rule Consequentialism
  • Both U and PC focus on actions.
    • They are both forms of Act Consequentialism.
  • There are a number of well recognized challenges to act utilitarianism.
  • As a result, some consequentialists have shifted their focus to the capacity of rules to guide our action.
  • When we shift with them it becomes possible to consider the consequences of the acceptance of various possible rules.
playing by the rules
Playing by the Rules
  • On the assumption that some rules produce more valuable consequences than others we can specify a TV for RC.
    • An action is right if and only if it is permitted by a rule whose associated acceptance value is at least as high as the acceptance value of any other rule applying to the situation.
  • In the face of more than one possible action, RC directs you to identify the rules governing the possible actions and then compare the rules'acceptance values to determine which action is right.
consequentialism in action
Consequentialism in Action
  • Applying consequentialism requires calculation and comparison.
  • Calculation can refer to an overt calculus or a more informal estimation. The explicit goal of the calculation is to identify the action/rule that maximizes the specified value(s).
  • Comparison must include all parties affected (in a relevant or significant way) by the proposed action.
  • See the example about inviting a guest lecturer on pp. 10-11 of the Timmons handout.
natural law theory
Natural Law Theory
  • Natural Law Theory is based on the assumption that there are objective facts about human nature that can serve as the ground for objectively true moral principles.
  • Because of this, NLT is a value-based moral theory, but it is not the value of the consequences of the action alone, but the value of the human characteristics in question that are at issue.
aquinas on intrinsic value
Aquinas on Intrinsic Value
  • The chief historical proponent of NLT is St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).
  • According to his theory of human nature, there are four basic intrinsic goods.
    • Human Life
    • Human Procreation
    • Human Knowledge
    • Human sociability
  • These four values serve as the basis for his NLT.
basic principle of nlt
Basic Principle of NLT
  • However we conceive of human nature and its intrinsic value, the basic principle of NLT is:
    • Natural Law Theory: An action is right if and only if in performing the action one does not directly violate any of the basic values.
  • Thus stated, NLT seems to straightforwardly and non-controversially satisfy both the theoretical and practical aims of Moral Theory. But this picture is more complicated than it first appears.
the doctrine of double effect
The Doctrine of Double Effect
  • In many cases, a proposed action both potentially protects and violates one of the basic values.
  • To deal with these cases, proponents of NLT rely on the Doctrine of Double Effect.
    • DDE: An action that would bring about at least one evil and one good effect is morally permissible if and only if:
      • Intrinsic Permissibility: action (minus effects) is permissible.
      • Necessity: good effect requires the action.
      • Nonintenionality: evil effect is not intended
      • Proportionality: evil effect not out of proportion with good effect.
kantian moral theory
Kantian Moral Theory
  • Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) revolutionized philosophical ethics. Prior to Kant, people sought the origin of morality in the natural order, in the ends proper to human beings, or in feelings. In contrast, Kant seeks the conditions of the possibility of morality and locates them in the autonomy, the self-legislation, of the will.
  • When we think about moral obligation, he argued, what we need to account for is its categorical character, the fact that it commands us absolutely.
kant and the categorical
Kant and the Categorical
  • The focus on the categorical nature of obligation points to a TRC, but Kant also needs a TV. The notion of the categorical fills this need as well.
  • Kant makes a distinction between hypothetical and categorical willing, arguing that the latter can only be observed when it is the moral law itself that directs our will.
what about the practical aim
What about the Practical Aim?
  • So much for the Theoretical Aim of MT, how does Kant address the Practical Aim?
  • He does so with a fundamental moral principle called the Categorical Imperative.
  • Applying the categorical imperative to proposed actions provides a principle of moral evaluation, directing us to the right actions.
ci humanity formulation
CI: Humanity Formulation
  • CIHumanity: An action is right if and only if the action treats persons (including oneself) as ends in themselves rather than as means to our ends.
  • There is both a negative (don't treat others as means) and a positive (treat others as ends in themselves) requirement contained in the formulation.
    • The positive requirement is captured by Kant with the notion of Dignity.
ci universal law formulation
CI: Universal Law Formulation
  • CIUniversal Law: Act always in such a way that you can will the maxim of your action to be universal law.
  • Despite the proximity of this formulation to the Golden Rule, it is really quite different. The UL formulation imposes a consistency requirement.
  • You should only act in such a way that everyone else should act and that you want them to act.
putting kant s theory to work
Putting Kant's Theory to Work
  • In employing either the Humanity or Universal Law formulations of the CI the question to answered is: "Does the action under consideration satisfy the specified constraints?"
  • Kant held that the formulations are functionally synonymous. That means that they produce the same moral verdicts.
  • Unfortunately, it's not always easy to see that this is the case. Timmons highlights some common examples which do support Kant's contention. See the discussions starting on pp. 16 & 19. Do you agree?