How the Principles of Consequentialism and Utilitarianism Affect our Current Political Climate.
Updated: Jan 13, 2021
Consequentialism is the moral philosophy that all moral action is to be judged solely by its consequences. The goal is to maximize humanity's good. It exists side-by-side with the Utilitarian principle that actions are moral as long as they are useful and produce the most happiness, both collectively and individually. The underlying principle of both principles is that happiness consists solely in pleasure.
The consequence of this world view is that people interact with others in an impersonal way. We seek others only for their utility, not their own sake, not their own good. In doing this, we violate their dignity as a human person who is an utterly unique individual. It follows that when we tend to use others and treat them merely as an instrument for our own purpose, we begin to fail to see their distinctiveness, which then leads to the individual's subordination to the collectivity. Here is where we are as a society. A society that lives off the principles of Consequentialism and Utilitarianism effectively destroys the very thing it is said to build up.
Both principles are the root of all sin and moral evil. It must be noted here that when we sin or do something morally reprehensible, we are indeed striving for something good. (The goods the appetites pursue are real goods but need to consider the real good of the individual and the universal goods). This is important to remember because Consequentialism in principle only relates to consequence so that non-consequential features such as our intentions and natural inclinations for the good are never considered to influence our moral evaluation.
We are all seeking happiness. As Aristotle notes, happiness is the one thing we seek for its own sake; everything else we seek is for the sake of happiness. When we choose wrong, we do so because of a defect in our perception of what is good and evil. We will the good out of necessity, we do not will evil for itself but only under the guise of the good. In Consequentialism and Utilitarianism, we ignore the evil or minimalize it and focus only on the good outcome/consequence.
In our current political climate, we have extremes on both the left and the right that tend to fall into these traps. Whether it be burning buildings, plummeting stores, raiding the capital, waterboarding, racism, etc... in one way or the other, we have all made excuses for such actions because some good may come of it.
And thanks to the failure to see individuals as uniquely distinct, which has led to subordinating individuals to the collectivity, we think people who belong to the "other side" as have chosen evil for its own sake. People of our like only choose evil by minimizing it because it is the only way to achieve our worthy ends. The other person or group is inherently evil. We desire only the good, but we can and will fight fire with fire. We push everything we inherently know as true about the human person and our appetites under the rug when we demonize individuals and whole groups of people.
We must also understand that sometimes evil does prevail, but it must never prevail over the individual if we are to remain virtuous and live a life worth living to its fullest. As Victor Frankl concluded while in the Nazi concentration camps, you have the freedom to choose how you respond to every situation. Evil may take a toll on your body, but it need not take a toll on your spirit, on your character. An upright spirit and an upright character is far better than an upright body. Victor Frankl was happy and better than any Nazi wielding power over him. It was far more noble of him to not succumb to evil than the Nazi that had. No one can take your capacity and your will to become a better person. They can hurt your body, they can hurt you emotionally, but they cannot change who you are as a person, you have control of that.
Lastly, consequentialism rejects God's Providence, as my good friend Rob Agnelli notes, "Not only does the person assume divine status in thinking they can foresee the actual consequences of their actions, but it also assumes that God could ever leave us in a situation when the Good could not be done...No situation leaves us without an option to choose good" (Agnelli, 2020).
No situation will leave us without the option to remain virtuous, bringing about the happiness we all long for. No situation will leave you from treating others with the inherent dignity they deserve. Knowing this is the surest way to remain constant governed by one unchanging central attitude. It is the surest way to stay mentally sane in a mentally insane world.
Agnelli, R. (2020, October). Consequentialism and the Dropping of the Bomb. In Two Wings to God. Retrieved from http://www.twowingstogod.com/consequentialism-and-the-dropping-of-thebomb/?fbclid=IwAR1oDbVd_davF8OEfLjPS_XrW3Ctdlb3gCtuHtwE12jo5BxbaZB7IkZAN5c