04 December 2004

Are You Next?

Consequentialism is the doctrine that the only morally relevant aspect of an action is its consequences. Each of us, according to this doctrine, is obligated at all times to bring about the best consequences, where all interests, including those of nonhuman animals, are considered equally. To a consequentialist, there are no act-types that are intrinsically wrong. (Deontology is the doctrine that some act-types are intrinsically wrong. Hence, by definition, everyone is either a consequentialist or a deontologist. It is the fundamental divide of normative ethical theory.) Killing the innocent, to a consequentialist, is not intrinsically wrong. Lying is not intrinsically wrong. Cheating, stealing, being unfaithful to one's spouse, raping, terrorizing, breaking promises, and torturing are not intrinsically wrong. Every act-token must be evaluated on its merits, which means on the basis of its consequences. If a particular act of torture maximizes the good, then it is right. If not, then it is wrong. That it is an act of torture (i.e., a token of that type) is morally irrelevant. Here is where consequentialism leads. Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedung, and Pol Pot—the greatest butchers in human history—were consequentialists. (Thanks to Mylan Engel for the link.)

No comments: