I think that the ‘end’ or ‘purpose’ of providing medical care to everyone is a very laudable one, but the decision requires realistically analyzing the risks and likelihood of failure. If the government goes bankrupt and we have in the end a public health crisis, we would have to call it a very bad decision. So, the end does not justify it. But if the consequence of the policy is indeed a dramatic improvement in public health, then it was a good policy. Moral value is determined by consequences.
By “Desire Utilitarianism,” I presume that you mean that you consider an act to be good if a person wants good things to result from his action.
I disagree, because I think a person must be responsible for the consequences of his actions. He has to account in his moral calculus not just the value of the intended result, but also the likelihood and consequences of failure.
I think that strict Act Utilitarianism, basing moral judgment on actual consequences, is the most objective ethical system
[...snip...]But I suggest that you read Chapters 1 and 2 of Manifesto.
But prior to the invention of slavery, the captives would have been killed. So it doesn’t trouble me terribly to say that slavery was a moral advance.
If the consequence of the policy is government bankruptcy and a public health crisis, [...], then the policy was wrong, no matter how laudable its intent.
Just as governments are responsible for the consequences of their policies, people are responsible for the consequences of their actions. Let us suppose someone offers a neighbor child a peanut brickle dessert, and he declines; but, certain that he will like it, she tells him it is something else. The boy has an allergic reaction to the peanuts, and has to be hospitalized, or dies. The woman is not free from responsibility because she thought the child would like the dessert if she didn’t tell him it had peanuts. She is responsible for the consequences of her actions. She may have never considered that he may have an allergy, but her failure to consider that risk is a moral error.
There are two problems with limiting the moral valuation of an action to its intent, as you propose. The first is that it negates personal responsibility, or more generally, the responsibility of moral agency. It obviates the moral calculus, and excuses harmful actions as long as the person was well-meaning.
If indeed the moral quality of an action lies solely in its intent, then you are wrong to hold a person morally culpable for false beliefs. In Desire Utilitarianism, ignorance is a virtue, since it would permit well-intended action to be unfettered by doubt.
The second problem is that basing moral valuation on intent rather than consequences eliminates the objective basis for ethics. We can only be objective when we limit our consideration to actual consequences in peoples’ lives.
I stated the failures of Desire Utilitarianism above. If you have counter-arguments I would like to discuss this in more detail.
You asked me to elaborate on the claim that the driving force of history is class struggle. I’ve provided a brief exposition of historical materialism.
Since the choice was between killing captives and enslaving them, I would then have to ask if you regard killing them as the morally preferable course.
Well, not necessarily. People are not computing machines that can perform an exhaustive moral analysis before undertaking any action.
If one does not consider risks that he should, you would consider him morally culpable even if the risk factor does not materialize.
Let us suppose that you send your young son to the store. There is minute yet real risk that he may be kidnapped. You might consider the risk, and decide that the possibility is so negligible that the risk is acceptable. More likely, though, you won’t think about it for an instant, and that is perfectly reasonable. But in your analysis, he is morally culpable.
My position is much simpler, that people are responsible for the consequences of their actions.
From the Atheist Ethicist: An act of rape might produce good consequences. The victim might be motivated to study the psychology of rape and come up with a way of treating sex offenders so as to drastically reduce the number of rapes. These would be good consequences. The act-utilitarian theory would then have to say that this particular rape was a “right action.”
I do not consider punishment to be at all the important reason for a moral system. The reason is to create a process for moral reasoning, to permit one to decide if he is doing the right thing or the wrong thing.
Punishment should also be determined according the utilitarian principle. One should decide “what punishment, if any, will produce the greatest good?”
Do you believe that there is an objective basis for ethics? It appears, from your next answer, that you do not. I would ask as a follow-on, that if ethics can never be objective, in what respect can one say that it is valid? On what basis can you argue for one moral system opposed to any other?
Admittedly this is completely impractical. We are not going to be spending all of our time conducting surveys. But it does provide the framework for moral discourse, and an objective basis for working out disagreements over whether an action was good or bad.
I did not address the dialectic, which may help conceptually[...snip...]by the twentieth century the concept of historical materialism became a keystone of modern communist doctrine.” Your explanation that “time drives history” does nothing to identify the dynamic forces in operation. All previous economic systems were quite conservative, so life changed very little from one generation to the next. Only in the modern epoch is change readily apparent, because of the continuous revolution of the means of production generated by the market economy.
Are you a pacifist in all situations, then? Do you think that a nation should defend itself against invasion?
I agree. No action is good or bad in itself, but only as it produces harm or benefit in peoples’ lives
I cannot think of a modern situation in which rape would be good. I think that in the case you provide, it would be ridiculous to assert that the rapist’s decision to rape was the product of consequential reasoning.
The most important thing is that we are agreeing here that moral value is determined by the results of actions. In your hypothesized case, a deluded ruler may believe that it would be a better world if everyone is a Christian and there are no gays. And so, to bring this about, he implements an extermination policy, or compels people to convert their beliefs and sexual orientation on threat of death. Consequential reasoning to results would not permit this.
Basing moral reasoning on actual consequences imposes modesty on us, because we cannot foresee all of the consequences of such a policy. That is why we must refrain from inflicting harm.
Yes, in my concept moral value is always relative to consequences. Usually, however, the term ‘relativism’ refers to cultural relativism, that moral value is whatever a particular society says it is. But I do not hold that view at all. I believe that the utilitarian principle should be used to determine whether an action is good or bad. Of the different answers proposed by different societies, some are much better than others.