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The Important Focus of Ethics: The Consequence

December 11, 2011 3 comments

consequentialismI am currently focusing my first book on the lack of free will. This is for a number of reasons. One important reason is that I want my next philosophical book to be on the topic of ethics. Understanding the lack of free will is an important base understanding for any ethical system. It needs to come prior.

In this post I want to briefly talk about why the consequences of our actions should be the primary focus of any ethical system. Ethics that focus on the consequence are called… take a guess… you guessed it… consequentialist ethics. The consequence is the output of the action. In other words, what will happen if you do something. It is this that needs to be the focus.

Some would think this obvious, but there are different types of ethics with different focus’s. Some are “rule based” ethics (called deontological ethics), in which rules or “duties” are the focus, regardless of the consequence. Some are virtue based ethics, where as the character of the person is the focus (and what an action means for that character), regardless of the consequence. These ethical systems, for the most part,  place the consequence as secondary.

I am certainly not suggesting virtue is unimportant, or that rules and duties should not be part of an ethical system. I am saying that those should always be contingent on the potential consequence of the action. On our predictive ability and output of what may or will happen later given a certain action.

I would argue that rules or duties make no rational sense outside of what they lead to. Outside of the consequence. One might say that it is always unethical to lie. That may be their rule: One ought not lie. And in general, this may be a good rule. What makes it a good rule is the consequence. A world of constant liars is a world where trust is impossible. But when something happens where the consequence outweighs the rule, such as a Nazi asking a person if another person is hidden and if so where, certainly it is not the ethical thing to tell the truth.

The consequence should always trump any rule based system. Likewise with virtue, it may be a virtue to tell the truth, but the consequence should always trump such “virtue”.

This simplistic example makes the point. The end output is more important than if someone is “virtuous” or if someone  holds a rule or duty. Rules, duties, and virtue should point to action that lead to the best consequence. This is by no means an elaborate argument for consequentialism and my second book will go into great detail about this. This is just a lil’ something to get a person thinking about where their own ethics are focused.

The question to ask someone that gives you a moral or ethical rule is, why is such rule ethically important? Or why is an action virtuous?  I bet they will have a hard time justifying it without pointing to an actual consequence.

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