The Atheist Agora
What matters – actions or consequences?
January 14, 2022 at 9:08 pm #40737
In this article, it says
Ethics is best explained via its various competing ethical theories. Utilitarianism, a moral theory defended by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, urges us to place moral importance on the consequences of our actions. On this view, if the consequences of an action would bring about more happiness, then the action is morally acceptable. One implication of this view is that there are, strictly speaking, no prohibited actions. Kantian ethics, on the other hand, does not place importance on consequences. Instead, a Kantian will claim that: 1) there are actions that are prohibited; and 2) the consequences of an action are irrelevant to whether one ought to carry it out.
Currently in the UK, the National Health Service is facing a dilemma. 6% of their staff are vaccine-hesitant or refusing it. The NHS is planning to mandate vaccination for all their staff, on pain of termination of employment. But there’s already a shortage of 100,000 staff, and 6% of the workforce equates to another (I think) 75,000 or so. The vaccine mandate is there for medical safety and staffing-level benefits, and potentially, people could die unnecessarily if it’s not there. What are the NHS to do?
The solution seems to be converging on holding off the mandate, on the grounds that putting staff under too much pressure to get the vaccine will be counter-productive in the long run. One midwife cites “personal autonomy” as grounds for not getting vaccinated, and personal autonomy is seen as a good thing and almost sacred. But the inevitable result is that people are likely to lose their lives when they didn’t have to.
The hypothesis, that appears to bridge the gap between Utilitarianism and Kantianism, is “no good comes of no good”: good actions produce optimal results, and bad actions lead to unnecessary problems. Buddhism states that “karmic” actions are those tainted by greed, anger/hatred, or ignorance, whose results are necessarily unsatisfactory.
The point is that the NHS is faced with doing an apparently bad thing – not mandating the vaccine – for the sake of, probably, the best available outcome.
So which of the two “competing theories” is right? Utilitarianism or Kantianism? That’s a dumb question in my opinion. The real situation is much more complicated.January 14, 2022 at 9:55 pm #40738
Utilitarianism and deontological ethics cannot be bridged or merged or compromised. They are two totally different systems. Taking away the absolutism of deontological ethics would make it an entirely new system, as with taking away the flexibility of utilitarianism. It would not be utilitarianism anymore, but something new. It is very difficult to imagine how one could possibly create a coherent let alone effective moral system by combining the two.January 15, 2022 at 2:21 am #40739
Ethics, considered qua ethics, should be about intentions, not actions or consequences. Actions can be undertaken for good or sinister reasons, and as to consequences, one has to wait and see, doesn’t one?January 15, 2022 at 6:51 am #40743
It is very difficult to imagine how one could possibly create a coherent let alone effective moral system by combining the two.
But surely, both actions and consequences are important. Consequences are what we have to live with, and actions are putting the conditions in place for consequences.January 15, 2022 at 6:53 am #40744
Ethics, considered qua ethics, should be about intentions, not actions or consequences.
Intentions could be said to be putting the conditions in place for actions, so under that reasoning, they’re vitally important. The hypothesis is that bad intentions lead to bad actions and bad consequences.January 15, 2022 at 4:44 pm #40748
@simon Acts based on ill intentions can have positive results. Likewise, well-intended actions can have dire consequences.
From an ethical standpoint, all that really can be analyzed is what was intended since we can only wait and see as to results.January 16, 2022 at 5:54 am #40751
@simon Would you condemn someone morally/ethically for an earnest attempt to save a drowning person that wasn’t successful, for a surgery intended to give someone a second life with a donated organ but who died on the operating table?
No, we analyze such situations in terms of the intent, not their success or failure, when it comes to an ethical analysis. We may disagree with the methods and procedures, but such are not ethical critiques, and such critiques can be wrong. In other words, the “better” method or procedure may have in the end had the same sad result.January 16, 2022 at 7:00 am #40752
If you are talking about consequences then you do not seem to understand deontological ethics. In any case, you didn’t answer my question, you just answered with a statement that is really a question (“but surely”). Even if consequences were relevant (which they aren’t regarding deontological ethics), saying actions are as important as consequences doesn’t tell me at all how it would even be possible to combine utilitarian and deontological moral systems. How would that work?
By what method, in such a system, would you make moral judgements? Run me through this please. I am extremely curious how this could conceivably work.
January 16, 2022 at 7:06 am #40754
- This reply was modified 1 year, 10 months ago by Davis.
Intentions could be said to be putting the conditions in place for actions
Let me remove your weasel words:
Intentions are putting conditions in place for actions.
I am completely stumped on what this means. Could you please clarify Simon?January 16, 2022 at 7:14 am #40755
No, we analyze such situations in terms of the intent, not their success or failure, when it comes to an ethical analysis.
Indeed. It is absurd to base a moral judgement on chance. If a surgery is successful 90% of the time, then is it the case that in 9 operations the doctor made the right decision to operate and the 1 time the patient didn’t survive the doctor did not make the right decision? And even then, when you are dealing with experimental surgery where the rate of success is unknown, then you have little guidance to the chances of a desirable outcome and yet, in theory, for some moral systems, it is praiseworthy to pioneer a risky operation for the benefit of research and possible future success. It is likely to be beneficial, but in the end, it may turn out such an operation was a failure both in the experimental stage and it never leading to any useful surgical procedure in the future.
Regardless of this, different moral systems deal with consequences so differently it ranges from being 0% relevant to something like 90% relevant. Again Simon, familiarising yourself with the basics of ethics and the basic moral systems would truly help you navigate all this.
January 16, 2022 at 9:44 am #40759
- This reply was modified 1 year, 10 months ago by Davis.
Acts based on ill intentions can have positive results. Likewise, well-intended actions can have dire consequences.
A negatively-valued event can be a catalyst for change, but only if people respond to it in a positive way. I was hearing about a gruesome murder done by some rogue members of the IRA on a civilian, that was a catalyst for the Northern Irish peace process.
From an ethical standpoint, all that really can be analyzed is what was intended since we can only wait and see as to results.
You might be right. I’m not sure. – if the consequences turn out terrible, we say that the person who caused them was well intentioned but foolish (under delusion).
Would you condemn someone morally/ethically for an earnest attempt to save a drowning person that wasn’t successful, for a surgery intended to give someone a second life with a donated organ but who died on the operating table?
No, we analyze such situations in terms of the intent, not their success or failure, when it comes to an ethical analysis. We may disagree with the methods and procedures, but such are not ethical critiques, and such critiques can be wrong. In other words, the “better” method or procedure may have in the end had the same sad result.
You’re right – in these cases, the result is the optimal result, the best that can be achieved. Without these actions, the person would have stood no chance.January 16, 2022 at 10:48 am #40760
@davis – intentions lead to actions, and actions lead to consequences. There’s a chain of cause and effect, like driving a car along a road. So, both intentions and actions are causal factors in the final result, although usually not the only causal factors.
Reality adds up into a coherent whole, but your -isms don’t, so something must be wrong with them.
In making moral judgements, we judge all three. In formulating intentions and actions, we weigh up what is the right thing to do, and the consequences are judged in a different way retrospectively.
Now, if deontology regards rules of action, we use deontology when deciding what is the right thing to do. We employ virtues and moral principles on the grounds that these mirror the mechanisms of what leads to optimal outcomes based on the structure of human cooperation and the way the real world works.January 16, 2022 at 6:36 pm #40767
Simon, the more you talk about this, the less I believe you have a basic grasp of it. I don’t know what motivates you to make conclusions on things you have a vague “skimmed” knowledge of, but it is odd to say the least. Intentions leads to actions leads to co sequences is nothing profound. Of course this is the case. Different people make different kinds of moral judgements in different situations and co sequences can take a leading or minimal role depending on various factors. Things like a legal system and bioethics for example are far less based on consequences (though co sequences may land you under scrutiny, they weigh much less on the moral judgement). You have such an unsophisticated and seemingly black and white view on things you seem to fail to realise the answer to most of your questions are: this is a shit-ton more complicated than I originally thought and that simple answers are absurd.January 16, 2022 at 6:58 pm #40768
Like I said:
So which of the two “competing theories” is right? Utilitarianism or Kantianism? That’s a dumb question in my opinion. The real situation is much more complicated.January 16, 2022 at 7:01 pm #40769
The hypothesis is that wicked actions – those tainted by, say, greed, bullying, cruelty, abdication of duty – and ignorance of the truth – will necessarily lead to sub-optimal consequences.
Good consequences must be the end-goal. Worthy actions, attitudes, intentions, principles, virtues etc. are those that are, by experience, most likely to lead to these good consequences.
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