Mike Kueber's Blog

March 31, 2013

Means vs. ends

Filed under: Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 1:16 am
Tags: ,

After watching the cult-classic TV series “24” for the past few weeks, I am acutely aware of the conflict of between means and ends.  A column in today’s NY Times touched on the same issue.  The lead sentence in the column reads as follows:

  • Moral quandaries often pit concerns about principles against concerns about practical consequences.

The column reports that research reveals the following:

  • We like to believe that the principled side of the equation is rooted in deep, reasoned conviction. But a growing wealth of research shows that those values often prove to be finicky, inconsistent intuitions, swayed by ethically irrelevant factors. What you say now you might disagree with in five minutes. And such wavering has implications for both public policy and our personal lives.  Philosophers and psychologists often distinguish between two ethical frameworks. A utilitarian perspective evaluates an action purely by its consequences. If it does good, it’s good.  A deontological approach, meanwhile, also takes into account aspects of the action itself, like whether it adheres to certain rules. Do not kill, even if killing does good.  No one adheres strictly to either philosophy, and it turns out we can be nudged one way or the other for illogical reasons.

The conclusion is:

  • Regardless of whether you endorse following the rules or calculating benefits, knowing that our instincts are so sensitive to outside factors can prevent us from settling on our first response. Objective moral truth doesn’t exist, and these studies show that even if it did, our grasp of it would be tenuous.  But we can encourage consistency in moral reasoning by viewing issues from many angles, discussing them with other people and monitoring our emotions closely. In recognizing our psychological quirks, we just might find answers we can live with.

Good advice.

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