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Moral Consequences And Choices Essay, Research Paper

The first question that arises from this statement is what is a good moral choice. How can we determine what good is, when there are many differing opinions? Is an action good if the nature or the intentions of the action are considered good? Or is it the consequences of the action that determine the goodness of the action? Is it a combination of both the intentions and the consequences of the action, or the actions´ effect on society?

The New Collins Concise Dictionary lists over thirty different usages´s of the word good. The definitions range from “morally excellent or admirable; virtuous; righteous” to “valid or genuine” and “satisfying or gratifying.”

The Greek philosopher Aristotle defined good as something that fulfils its purpose e.g. a good tool is one which performs its function, regardless of the possible hazard, which it may present if that function is abused.

The Roman Catholic tradition takes a very different view; the deontological view. Other denominations and religions, including atheists can also take this view. There are two types of deontology. The Roman Catholic tradition relies heavily on the idea of the nature of the action e.g. the main purpose of sexual intercourse is the production of children. Therefore, sexual intercourse is good as long as it produces children. Anything which prevents sexual intercourse from producing children must be bad; such as contraception and homosexuality.

The second deontological view is Rule Deontology. This view considers an action to be good if a set of rules is followed. For Christians this would be the Ten Commandments and the Commandments of Jesus. However, an atheist could still be a deontologist by following the general rules of society e.g. do not steal.

A teleologist would consider an action to be good as long as the consequences of the action were of a pleasing nature. Even if the intention of the action is considered to be evil, but the action inadvertently produces consequences that are pleasing, the action is then considered to be good e.g. someone pushes a child out of the way of a car. The child is out of danger, which is a pleasing outcome. However, was this the original intention? What if the person driving the car was a relative of the person who saves the child´s life, and the actor may not have wanted his relative charged with dangerous driving or worse. Is the action still good? From a teleologist point of view, because the consequences were pleasing, the action would still be considered good.

Another view is the Utilitarian view, which goes as far as self-sacrifice if necessary. This is a 19th century theory developed by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. The principle behind this view is that something is good if it provides the greatest good for the greatest number. Bentham uses this in the terms of the greatest pleasure for the greatest number of people. To apply this Bentham developed a method for measuring the pleasure and pain an action produces. This is known as The Hedonic Calculus. In this calculus, seven elements need to be weighed: 1. The intensity of the pleasure/pain caused.

2. The duration of the pleasure/pain.

3. The certainty/uncertainty of the pleasure/pain resulting.

4. The propinquity/remoteness of the pleasure/pain.

5. The fecundity of the pleasure/pain, the chance of a succession of pleasures/pains.

6. The purity of the pleasure/pain not being succeeded by pleasure/pain.

7. The extent of the pleasure/pain or the number of people involved. For example, a man known to be rich passes by a poor man badly in need of a drink in the street. The rich man accidentally drops his wallet; the poor man picks it up and finds £50 inside. Should the man return the wallet? Assuming that the man keeps the wallet, using the Hedonic Calculus, the pleasure and pain of both individuals can be measured. Some factors can be dismissed immediately- the extent: there are just two individuals involved. Certainty and propinquity can also be dismissed because both will experience some pleasure and some pain, and they will both be felt as soon as the wallet was dropped. If the poor man still decides to keep the money, purity would count against him because his pleasure would also contain some pain (feeling of guilt at taking the money, the after-effects of the drink). The poor man´s pleasure at finding the money will probably more intense than the rich man´s irritation at losing his wallet. Also, the poor man´s pleasure will last longer than the rich man´s pain and the poor man´s pleasure will produce further pleasures in a way that the rich man´s pain will not produce further pain. The conclusion of these calculations suggests that the poor man should keep the money. If the poor man were to return the wallet to the rich man, the rich man´s pleasure at getting his wallet returned would not equal the poor man´s pain at its loss.

However there are problems with Bentham´s Calculus. Firstly, we may be asked to compare things which are incomparable e.g. how much wealth is the same as how much poverty in terms of pleasure?

There is also the problem of unpredictability. For example, killing Hitler may be seen as a solution to the stopping of thousands of innocent Jews being killed, but how do we know until the action has been completed that the ethnic cleansing would stop? It is possible that Nazism would have continued after Hitler´s death, which would not be a pleasurable outcome for society. A more recent example would be the London Nail Bomber, who thought that homosexuals did not have a place in society, and thought that society would benefit if he removed a sizeable number of London´s gay and lesbian population. But because this man did not have the power of dictatorship as Hitler had, and the fact that homosexuality is becoming accepted the bombing only resulted in a public outrage. If Hitler were alive today, he would be met with the same reaction from the public.

Immanuel Kant invented his own ethical theory. Kant´s theory was based on the idea that an action was good if it would be good for everybody to do the same action. This is known as universalisability. However, Kant said that this would only be good if the action came from a good will:

“It is impossible to conceive anything at all in the world, or even out of it, which can be taken as good without qualification, except a good will.”

Being a good man means one has a good will, without it one cannot be good. A good will is not derived from the goodness of its results e.g. a murderer, willing evil, may inadvertently do good; but this does not transform from the original evil, even though the consequence is good. For Kant, it is not what an act accomplishes that is decisive, but the motive behind the act:

“It is having the right intention that makes the good will good.” A good will´s only motive is “to act for the sake of duty.” This duty does not involve one´s own interests.

Kant´s theory does sound reasonable for some issues e.g. not everybody can kill someone, therefore if you feel you can, it would still be wrong to do so because the action is not univeralisable. However, problems do arise e.g. Do not speak until you are spoken to. Nobody would ever say a word if this was universalised. Or perhaps, whenever anyone is over six feet tall, bald, without his right ear and little finger of his left hand, and working in Manchester as a nuclear physicist, he may be excused from paying income tax. Also, if I promise a friend to keep him from a murderer, but the murderer then asks me where my friend is, I can not tell him where my friend is as this would be breaking my promise, but neither can I give him false information has this would be lying.


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