Moral Consequences. (Letters to the Editor)

The Humanist, September-October 2002 | Go to article overview

Moral Consequences. (Letters to the Editor)


In regard to Daniel Elkind's article "The Moral Code and the Trials That Test Our Adherence to It" ("Philosophically Speaking," July/August 2002): while it is certainly true that humanists cannot and shouldn't blindly follow a priori ethical rules for the sake of rules, and while one should always examine the possible consequences that may come from a chosen course of action, I find Elkind's application of consequentialism troubling.

His basic premise seems to be that one should judge an action solely on the ultimate result. Kepler stole Brahe's books for personal aggrandizement. But that's "okay" because ultimately science (and human civilization) profited. The students at Steinmetz cheated (again for personal aggrandizement). But that's "okay" because they made a statement about classism and discrimination.

Today in our country, opponents of the slavery reparations argument (both white and black) argue that African Americans are far better off than their African counterparts. Using Elkind's argument, that fact would "legitimize" slavery. Likewise, I have heard some religious people remark that the Holocaust was part of "God's plan" to create the state of Israel. It strikes me as problematic at best, dangerous at worst, to see largely unintended consequences of one's actions as an excuse to legitimize those actions. …

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