Paradoxes of Consequentialism

Article excerpt

Any religion has an ethical component. Thus, the examination of ethical problems is very important for religious studies. Consequentialism is an ethical doctrine according to which a fact is good only if it has good consequences. In order to avoid infinite regression, there is the need for a moral foundation in conformity with the criterion of goodness. The consequentialists proposed various criteria for goodness, such as pleasure, happiness or utility. Any fact will be judged as good only if its consequences belong to the moral basis. The correctness of ethical judgments depends on the analysis of consequence relations. This study takes into account material and strict implication as representations of consequence. Both of them generate ethical paradoxes. If consequence is represented by material implication, according to the Manichean ethics, a fact is either good or bad; there are no neutral ethical facts. If consequence is analyzed by strict implication, the necessary facts will not have a moral value. The present study is to suggest an original solution to these paradoxes.

Key Words:

consequentialism, Manichaeism, ethical paradoxes, strict implication, soul, utilitarianism.

Moral values - good and bad - are applied to facts. Facts are expressed through sentences so that each sentence presupposes a fact, and a sentence corresponds to each fact. If the fact presupposed by a sentence happens, the sentence is said to be true. If the presupposed fact does not happen, then the sentence is false. Thus, it is to differentiate the ontic value of facts - a fact can happen or not - from the truth value of sentences - a sentence can be true or false. For instance, the sentence "Romania is a republic" corresponds to the fact Romania is a republic. When this fact happens, this being valid for the year 2009, the mentioned sentence is true; reversely, when the fact does not happen, this being the case of the year of 1946, the sentence corresponding to it is false.

In addition to its ontic value, a fact is characterized by its ethical value. For example, some evaluators consider it is good that Romania is a republic, whereas others might argue that this fact is bad. Not only facts that have an author can be endowed with an ethical value, but any fact can have this quality. For example, the fact that 'it is raining' can be considered good or bad depending on the circumstances, although the rain is not produced by someone in particular. Furthermore, the ethical value of facts does not depend on their ontic value; in other words, a fact can be considered as being good or bad even if it happens or not. The evaluator could consider it would be good if Romania was a kingdom, in the same way as some consider it is good that Romania is a republic. One can notice that good can be applied both to facts that happen and to facts that do not.

In this respect, which is the criterion to consider, in a justified way, a fact as good or bad? Researchers in the field of ethics have offered various answers to this matter. The present paper discusses the solutions offered by the advocates of consequentialism. Consequentialism is a perspective in ethics according to which a fact is good as long as it has good consequences.1 Some confuse this thesis with the maxim "the end justifies the means" starting from the thought that the end is a consequence of the used means so that if the end is good, and the good is judged by consequences, then any means is good to the extent to which it serves to achieve that purpose.2 On the one hand, the relation between means and purpose is only one variant of the consequence relation. On the other hand, the purpose cannot be judged by itself in an absolute way but, in order to endow it with an ethical value, one must take into consideration its consequences.

In addition, the means cannot be judged only by the purpose they serve because the means, as any facts, have other consequences that could be bad although the end is good. …

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