Friday, October 25, 2019
Consequentialism, Deontology, and Inevitable Trade-offs :: Philosophy Essays
Consequentialism, Deontology, and Inevitable Trade-offs ABSTRACT: Recently, unrestrained consequentialism has been defended against the charge that it leads to unacceptable trade-offs by showing a trade-off accepted by many of us is not justified by any of the usual nonconsequenlist arguments. The particular trade-off involves raising the speed limit on the Interstate Highway System. As a society, we seemingly accept a trade-off of lives for convenience. This defense of consequentialism may be a tu quoque, but it does challenge nonconsequentialists to adequately justify a multitude of social decisions. Work by the deontologist Frances Kamm, conjoined with a perspective deployed by several economists on the relation between social costs and lives lost, is relevant. It provides a starting point by justifying decisions which involve trading lives only for other lives. But the perspective also recognizes that using resources in excess of some figure (perhaps as low as $7.5 million) to save a life causes us to forego other live-saving activiti es, thus causing a net loss of life. Setting a speed limit as low as 35 miles per hour might indeed save some lives, but the loss of productivity due to the increased time spent in travel would cost an even greater number of lives. Therefore, many trade-offs do not simply involve trading lives for some lesser value (e.g., convenience), but are justified as allowing some to die in order to save a greater number. It has long been one of the standard criticisms of consequentialist approaches to ethics that they too easily justify "trade-offs" that are morally unacceptable. The criticism which holds "the end justifies the means" philosophy inherent in consequentialism to be a source of great immorality is expressed, for example, in the famous scene from Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. Remember how Alyosha reacts to the prospect offered by Ivan of a harmonious world order, a system that would bring about peace and rest and happiness for all men. A lovely idea, but the structure comes at the price of torturing one tiny child to death. And Alyosha will not consent to that "exchange." A consequentialist response to Alyosha's refusal to consent to trade the suffering and death of one innocent in exchange for universal harmony is that, in the present inharmonious order, many innocent children will die horribly, not just one. Alyosha's tender conscience will cost thousands of innocent children their lives. And so the debate continues. Recently, however, a proponent of consequentialism, Alastair Norcross, has sharpened the debate.