Consequentialism

The worst aspect of mass politics is that none of the basic terms are defined. “Conservative” is a loose grouping of likes/dislikes, and liberal is a social identity.

From that, each person tries to abstract out some heuristics in order to make an educated guess as to any issue. Since appearance is separated by reality through a complex interaction with context, these never quite match up as one might think they should.

As a result, we have so-called “conservatives” voting for all sorts of problems that their ancestors would think were straight out of Red China, and many liberals such as Barack Obama confused on the nature of their foreign policy. It’s chaos, a level removed.

However, it’s important to remember that leftism and rightism are essentially different, even if the examples of them are confused. We might call leftism a form of humanism, or the idea that human notions, feelings and judgments come before all else. And we might call conservatism a form of organicism or integralism, or the notion that life as a whole is more important than our subjective impulses.

Another important concept in conservative thought however is consequentialism. This is a powerful idea and like most of those, is very simple at its essence. Because of this, it has been attacked by those who try to add conditions to it in order to reverse its meaning from the original. (This is common behavior for neurotic humans.)

Consequentialism is a greater concern for results than methods. It’s more than a “by any means necessary” however. What it means is that we look first to how our actions will affect the world around us, and only secondarily turn toward moral, emotional, social and political notions, because those are constructions of the human subjective mind and do not necessarily correlate to reality.

A definition from a source that normally produces analysis of quality:

Part 1
Consequentialism, as its name suggests, is the view that normative properties depend only on consequences. This general approach can be applied at different levels to different normative properties of different kinds of things, but

Part 2
the most prominent example is consequentialism about the moral rightness of acts, which holds that whether an act is morally right depends only on the consequences of that act or of something related to that act, such as the motive behind the act or a general rule requiring acts of the same kind.

“Consequentialism,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

This definition is separated for your convenience. The first part is the real definition; the second part is the socially-acceptable fix that was put in to make this definition pleasant-sounding to many people. Philosophers of the modern sort seem to be only a selective form of consumer.

Consequentialism is paying attention to the results of actions. This makes sense. However, in the second part above, the writers modify that clear definition into a muddled one. How do moral concepts, which do not exist in science and nature, get included as “results”?

As Plato was fond to point out, the human mind is like a projection screen. We project onto our world what we are thinking and then claim that our feelings, judgments and desires are “inherent” to reality. Such is the case with morality, which was never more than a choice for decent people to elect.

If we critically analyze the above definition, it becomes clear that the second part of it is entirely a non sequitur to the first. There is literally no relation. We go from paying attention to consequences to paying attention to our feelings about those consequences, which quickly translates into our feelings about the methods used.

Morality does not regulate consequences, after all. It regulates our actions and makes the assumption that a bad method equals a bad result, when that is only sometimes true (think of how we murder to keep murderers off the street, or kidnap kidnappers to keep them from kidnapping, or even make rules in the name of freedom).

The reason for this clever sleight-of-hand becomes clear later in the definition:

The paradigm case of consequentialism is utilitarianism, whose classic proponents were Jeremy Bentham (1789), John Stuart Mill (1861), and Henry Sidgwick (1907). (For predecessors, see Schneewind 1990.) Classic utilitarians held hedonistic act consequentialism. Act consequentialism is the claim that an act is morally right if and only if that act maximizes the good, that is, if and only if the total amount of good for all minus the total amount of bad for all is greater than this net amount for any incompatible act available to the agent on that occasion. (Cf. Moore 1912, chs. 1–2.) Hedonism then claims that pleasure is the only intrinsic good and that pain is the only intrinsic bad. Together these claims imply that an act is morally right if and only if that act causes “the greatest happiness for the greatest number,” as the common slogan says.

Thus we see that the point of the definition of consequentialism as practiced in modern philosophy is to support the definition of utilitarianism. But the disconnect still remains: even the definition above admits that utilitarianism is a subset of consequentialism called “hedonistic act” consequentialism, and its definition is as much hedonism as anything else.

In a stricter sense, human emotions (which is what morality, hedonism and aesthetics are) have absolutely zero to do with consequentialism, which is the study of effects. Consequentialism measures whether our well-intentioned welfare policy produces more drug addicts or fewer.

It measures whether our environmental regulation leads to more barrels of toxic waste being pushed into rivers, or fewer. It measures whether our moral intentions translated to action, and whether those in turn translated to the changes we claimed they would make.

That is a dangerous philosophy, right there. People do not want accountability for their actions; they want accountability for the image of their actions as filtered through their social group. But that is a form of leftism, and like utilitarianism, is a reversal of the consequentialist principle.

Conservatives make decisions by consequentialism because it always works. Instead of using the laboratory of human emotions and social feelings, we use the laboratory of life itself, and test every factor at once. What was the result? That result will occur again if we do the same action.

As views go, it is an accurate one. It will never be as popular as the idea that whatever we mean in our minds translates to a method which then translates to an identical outcome. But as they’re fond of saying among the intelligent, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

43 Comments

  1. Esotericist says:

    What’s with all the heady stuff lately? Are you trying to turn us conservatives into philosophers? The television told me that libruls are the smart ones. We’re supposed to grow their crops for them and fix their cars, y’hear!

  2. ferret says:

    “the second part is the socially-acceptable fix that was put in to make this definition pleasant-sounding to many people”

    I understand it in a quite opposite way. This second part asserts that even if there was a good intention or an accepted rule suitable for this particular situation, we cannot tell whether the act was morally right or not without learning the consequences. Only consequences matter.

    Try it this way: “whether an act is morally right depends only on the consequences of (that act or of something related to that act, such as the motive behind the act or a general rule requiring acts of the same kind)”.

    1. I understand it in a quite opposite way. This second part asserts that even if there was a good intention or an accepted rule suitable for this particular situation, we cannot tell whether the act was morally right or not without learning the consequences. Only consequences matter.

      Let’s see how that stands up:

      the most prominent example is consequentialism about the moral rightness of acts, which holds that whether an act is morally right depends only on the consequences of that act or of something related to that act, such as the motive behind the act or a general rule requiring acts of the same kind.

      Here’s the rub: “such as the motive behind the act or a general rule requiring acts of the same kind.”

      That’s where the reversal occurs. Otherwise, if what you asserted was true, the second part would be a restatement of the first.

      1. ferret says:

        Brett, the second part is an extention that confused me at the beginning exactly the same way. I will try one more time formatting it:

        the most prominent example is consequentialism about the moral rightness of acts, which holds that
        whether an act is morally right

        depends only on the consequences
        {
        of that act or of something related to that act, such as the motive behind the act or a general rule requiring acts of the same kind.
        }

        That is,

        the act itself, or a motive, or a rule

        caused a consequence.
        Depending on this consequence we can determine whether it was morally right or not.

        Here we have the case when even good intention may have bad consequence and thus the act would be morally not right.

        1. Herein is the problem:

          or of something related to that act, such as the motive behind the act or a general rule requiring acts of the same kind.

          Consequences or (see above) including human emotions like motives and rules.

          I think the first part of the definition establishes the true rule, which is measuring acts by their outcomes and not intentions or social rules.

          1. Sun says:

            Yo Brett btw, I just wanted to holla’ that I love the site.

            You make me think.

          2. ferret says:

            “Consequences or (see above) including…”

            There is “consequences OF …”

            You are connecting this “or of something related…” to a wrong part of the sentence, namely, “depends on”.

            If it was “or on something related…”, it would be the case, although this “only” makes the whole sentence logically absurd.

            1. A. Realist says:

              “Here we have the case when even good intention may have bad consequence and thus the act would be morally not right.” Yeah, I think that’s what he’s saying. You’re talking past each other again. “I think the first part of the definition establishes the true rule, which is measuring acts by their outcomes and not intentions or social rules.”

  3. ferret says:

    “Consequentialism measures whether our well-intentioned welfare policy produces more drug addicts or fewer.

    It measures whether our environmental regulation leads to more barrels of toxic waste being pushed into rivers, or fewer”

    All these are emotions. One cannot tell what are consequences of a mass drug addiction: maybe it will prevent the nuclear war. Same about the toxic waste, maybe it will regulate human population and no war will happen.

    You can like or dislike junkies and stinky rivers, and it will be only your human emotions and feelings telling nothing about the consequences in the long run.

    One should not care about having pleasure from the clean healthy save environment, for not to fall under the definition of hedonism or utilitarianism, or both.

    1. A. Realist says:

      More toxic waste in a river is an emotion?

      You can say that the human valuation of it is emotional, meaning that it has no proven utility, but I think that flies in the face of all known science on the topic. Toxic waste kills ecosystems.

      1. ferret says:

        The ecosystem, including men, is a self-regulating system. Any self-regulating system works better when the processes are running fast providing quick response to impacts.

        Toxic waste suppresses the ecosystem resulting in extensive reduction of human population. Here we can see a real benefit; a stinky river makes men struggling for the clean environment; they overbreed, get overintelligent, create weapons of mass destruction, and destroy the humankind completely.

        1. A. Realist says:

          I think you’ve gone off the deep end here. Toxic waste in an ecosystem will kill it dead long before the humans, who will simply filter the water, will die. If environmental history has taught us anything it is that humans take care of themselves and the environment suffers.

    2. Anon says:

      I think you’re mistaken here. The consequentialism is in evaluating whether a certain action produced a certain result (welfare program -> less/more drug addicts?; environmental laws -> less/more toxic waste?), not in passing a value judgement (more drug addicts/toxic waste are bad).

      And preferring a functioning ecosystem to one on the brink of ecocide does not make one a hedonist or utilitarian. In fact, many people will have to suffer (companies producing pointless plastic junk would go bankrupt, human population would have to be drastically reduced) in order to restore balance to the ecosystem.

      1. ferret says:

        “… not in passing a value judgement (more drug addicts/toxic waste are bad).”

        That’s what I mean. More drug addicts/toxic waste is an intermediate result that only perceived as bad or good; the consequences should be considered later. If it helped controlling human population without the necessity of nuclear war, then the consequence was not bad at all.

        “And preferring a functioning ecosystem to one on the brink of ecocide does not make one a hedonist or utilitarian.”

        A consistent consequentialist should remember that men are part of ecosystem, and the ecosystem “on the brink of ecocide” will reduce human population to the point where all proles, leftists, hedonists, and socialists are not dangerous anymore.

        1. crow says:

          The ferret operates on a level unknown to most.
          A severe case of long-sightedness :)
          Corrective-lenses, old chap!
          Take away the natural aggressiveness, and you’d make a fine taoist. Then again, without the teeth, you would no longer be a ferret.
          There is always a place for predators.

          1. ferret says:

            If the goal is to build a better traditionalist society in your nest, it would work fine and smooth, and not too hard to build it. One crow as a monarch, couple of eggs, deep ecology under the crown of a single tree, that’s it.

            But what about the predators in the forest; corrective glasses don’t allow to see them? And these hunters and dogs…

            And what is “Radical honesty”, an inability to see there are other trees with other nests around?

            And why consequentialists should consider only immediate results of their acts?

            I saw a fantastic chick nearby, what a breast! You’ll see her feathers around soon. I’m hungry.

            1. crow says:

              That’s the spirit.
              Ferret munches on crow.
              Too many crows are as bad as too few.

              1. Sun says:

                And then some big bad human like me comes along and shoots the rest of those damn critters meddling in MY yard.

          2. A. Realist says:

            Long-sightedness is only useful insofar as it is accurate. I think the “toxic waste being bad for the rivers is a moral decision” is not only factually ludicrous, but a dangerous path of anthrocentricism upon which we embark.

            1. ferret says:

              “toxic waste being bad for the rivers is a moral decision”

              I have a feeling that in a next comment you will be asserting I was going to poison all American and European rivers and even started a propaganda in order to accomplish this goal, say, to the end of year.

              An analogy:

              A team of professionally trained people are poisoning a man. They also use some radioactive stuff against his body. The poor man is suffering, throws-up all the time, became thin, completely bold, etc.
              The consequentialist would say the consequence of their act is so bad that we consider it morally wrong.

              On the other hand, all these procedures allowed this poor man not to die of cancer. But this is not an immediate consequence, it takes time to learn it. Now we can consider this same act to be morally right.

              What kind of sightedness do you prefer?

        2. Anon says:

          That same collapsed ecosystem will also be inhospitable to almost all life. In that sense, we will have receded and what further greatness and transcendence humanity could have achieved will have been lost.

          But this is sort of tangential to the main point: once we’ve decided a certain outcome is worthy, we primarily focus on what action will bring it about; not necessarily the manner in which we carry out this action – this is secondary, and in the modern time, a huge distraction to the main goal.

          1. ferret says:

            “That same collapsed ecosystem will also be inhospitable to almost all life”

            It will. And the wild life will recover much faster: it doesn’t depend on clothes, fast food, TV, cars, drugs, and banks.

            “once we’ve decided a certain outcome is worthy”

            Is it possible to find out what outcome is worthy?

            “a huge distraction to the main goal”

            What is main goal?

            1. What is main goal?

              The main goal is survival and adaptation, which in the case of complex thinking organisms like human includes a Maslow’s hierarchy of material benefits, emotional benefits, logical benefits and ultimately self-revising code a.k.a. the superman.

              1. Sun says:

                Self-revising code? The superman. You mean the Ubermensch?

                Logical benefits?

                Forgive me if I’m mistaken but isn’t Maslow’s hierarchy: physiological, safety, emotional (love and belonging), esteem, and finally self actualization?

      2. A. Realist says:

        I think you’re right. People seem to be arguing about this phrase “consequences of that act or of something related to that act, such as the motive behind the act or a general rule requiring acts of the same kind” which is where the authors of that definition go off the deep end. If you’re making a moral decision, you don’t need consequentialism. Morality is “don’t hit others.” Consequentialism is “only hit others if there’s a good result.”

        1. Nicholas Marville says:

          This leads to nothing. Whether this result is classified as “good” in turn depends on the moral premises one shares.

    3. You can like or dislike junkies and stinky rivers, and it will be only your human emotions and feelings telling nothing about the consequences in the long run.

      Unfortunately, now you’ve become the moralist here. Nihilism dictates that nothing is true inherently; however, designs of certain systems are ascertainable. For example, water in the gasoline of an engine will stop it running. And toxic waste in the rivers will stop ecosystems from running. You have mistaken our emotional judgment of that fact with the fact itself. That of course is the hallmark of the moralist!

      1. ferret says:

        “You have mistaken our emotional judgment of that fact with the fact itself”

        How did you arrive at this?
        Perhaps I’ve articulated it badly.
        I meant, when we see a beginning of a process we cannot know what will happen after a long period of time passed.
        That is, the far future consequence prediction is virtually impossible if based on near future observations.

        Now moralist. It’s strange because I’m way too far from being a moralist.

      2. A. Realist says:

        Nothing is true inherently? Only if true requires a perceiver. Trees falling in the forest do make a sound. Life itself is true. It’s real, at least, which is even better.

  4. Sun says:

    Interestingly enough, the left claims that the right is full of emotions, especially that of fear mongering and hate (their words) about many issues, including demographic change as well as decline.

    Altruism shapes the beliefs of the left.

    Whereas will to power shapes the beliefs of the right.

    1. crow says:

      Will-to-power may shape the beliefs of rightist politicians. Which could be said to be true of almost all politicians.
      But rightists, in general, prefer to be left alone, and to leave others alone.
      Unlike leftists, in my experience, who seem to need others to be like, and behave like, them.

      1. But rightists, in general, prefer to be left alone, and to leave others alone.

        Except that they know this is a false goal. If your neighbor is doing something stupid, results will be visited on you, no matter how much it appears he is doing it inside his own home. There are no consequenceless acts and there are no victimless crimes.

        1. crow says:

          I said “prefer” :)
          The rightist can usually tell good from bad, right from wrong, what serves, from what does not. This is usually not a moral judgment, either. It is more an awareness of consequences of actions/inactions.

          1. crow says:

            BTW: terrific picture!
            Is there a larger version of that, somewhere?

              1. Sun says:

                Ah, if (and I will) go to Europe I must visit this place in Ukraine.

                It is supposedly called the “Tunnel of Love.”

                Too bad no women loves me :(

              2. crow says:

                Thank you :)
                Imagine that at 1600×900 pixels!

              3. ferret says:

                Great pictures, thanks a lot!
                I wish I knew there is such a place in the Ukraine, I would visit it when traveling.

          2. A. Realist says:

            That seems to be what this article is about: consequences, not moral judgments. Fits with what I remember from Buddhism 101 as well. But even the Buddhists admit that the acts of others have influences on each of us.

  5. EvilBuzzard says:

    Dissociating cost from behaivior is the train-ticket to the bankruptcy express. In economics, look at the price of any good w/ a 3rd party payer. (In the US, Death Care and Colllege Indoctrination are prime examples). The cost gets to be untennable.

    Look at social issues. 53% of American children are now being born bastards. Amerika the Buttiful. Inconsequentialism is the road to hell.

  6. Nicholas Marville says:

    “However, it’s important to remember that leftism and rightism are essentially different, even if the examples of them are confused. We might call leftism a form of humanism, or the idea that human notions, feelings and judgments come before all else. And we might call conservatism a form of organicism or integralism, or the notion that life as a whole is more important than our subjective impulses”.”

    Hmm, there is one still that is not clear to me. I DO think that human notions come before all else. We live in the world, we interact with the world, even if we first have to learn the objectively existing laws of nature which govern the universe (as you have described under ‘consequentialism’), we ultimately use the knowledge of the world to bring about a certain effect which stirred us in the first place, for example an appeal of an envisioned beauty which we strive to bring about by planting a garden in a certain way. The knowledge of the universe (or nature) was necessary, but everything started out from the human incentive.

    1. Nicholas Marville says:

      “Consequentialism, as its name suggests, is the view that normative properties depend only on consequences.”
      This leads to nothing. It would require an underlying theory of: “If such and such and such occurs, the action which led to it will be classified as such and such and such, under such and such conditions.” Theoretical notions would again be underlying the rest.

      The answer is in a slight modification which I propose to Brett’s definition of consequentialism:

      What Consequentialism means is that we look first to how our actions will affect the world around us, and only secondarily turn toward moral, emotional, social and political notions. This is because although those notions ultimately arrived in our minds through interactions with the environment, the notions may not correlate accurately to reality.

      However, the deeper problems all boil down to what inherently justifies existence. Even if Brett’s right and all morality evolved from discussions about how to elect competent leaders for society, the question arises, “competent to do what?” with other words, competent to make a type A society and not a type B. Which would again require some sort of morality that designates A as worthwhile and B as evil/wrong.

      1. Nicholas Marville says:

        “Unless” – it suddenly comes to mind: “The society humans strive for is always one where people can work, breed, and own houses in relative stability. Morality arose from the discussions and differences in perception over how to guarante that society. All the notions about higher orders come secondary as they are but products of the human mind.”

        And suddenly we find ourselves thrown back upon the very premise of Marxism: “All man’s about – and ever will be about – is how to secure the daily existence of himself and his family. Man may be receptive to higher notions of religion, philosophy and idealism, but these have always been impregnated in his mind by priests and kings and capitalists to guarantee the continuation of the existing order. Not because those notions had any bearing on reality.”

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