Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Contra Consequentialismum: Introduction

IN THIS NEXT SERIES OF BLOG POSTINGS, we shall look at the moral theory of consquentialism or utilitarianism, a teleological ethic which probably, in its various varietals, is the ascendant, prevailing moral theory in the West. Consequentialism is a theory of morality that is at odds with the natural law and with virtue-based ethics.* Its only viable competitor in the secular world is perhaps some sort of Kantianism or deontological (duty-based) ethic, although the natural law and virtue-based ethics are making a sort of comeback perhaps because of the felt inadequacies of the other theories. Consequentialism or utilitarianism finds its modern beginnings in the thought of the likes of James Mill (1773–1836), Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). Though the consequentialist moral theory has roots in the early 19th century, it has developed from its primitive beginnings as a result of attacks from its critics, and is alive and well and finds such modern exponents even propagandists such as the Australian moral philosopher and animal rights activist Peter Singer (1946 - )

In writing this series, we will be relying heavily on the two works of David S. Oderberg, Moral Theory: A Non-Consequentialist Approach"The doctrine of the sanctity of human life has come under merciless attack in recent years, and is the first principle that most applied ethicists seek to undermine. Without it, there is no traditional morality."
--David S. Oderberg
and its companion volume, Applied Ethics: A Non-Consequentialist Approach.*

David Oderberg, an Australian with a PhD from Oxford, is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading, in the United Kingdom. He is the author of a number of articles regarding metaphysics, ethics, philosophical logic and other subjects. His metaphysics is Aristotelian, and his morality is based upon traditional concepts of natural law.

Professor Oderberg realizes that, contemporaneously, his is the minority report, but he also realizes that, viewed historically, his is the theory with the better pedigree. Viewed historically, the consequentialist theory, and the moral skepticism and relativism and rejection of human nature as a standard that comes with it, is a moral upstart, a moral parvenu, the new kid on the block. Neither of these facts, or course, establish the veracity or lack of veracity of either theory, but the fact that the traditional morality has been held by so many for so long gives one some psychological assurance that perhaps there is more to it than meets the eyes of moderns who scoff at it and its supporters.

David S. Oderberg, Professor of Philosophy at Reading University

[E]ven if the bulk of moral philosophers find the conclusions I reach unpalatable, disagreeable, absurd, anachronistic, barbaric, bizarre, or just plain wrong, I console myself with the following thought: that every single one of the major positions I defend was believed by the vast majority of human beings in Western society for thousands of years, right up until some time in the 1960s, when the Western Cultural Revolution took place. (I do not speak of the non-Western societies, which even today subscribe to most or all of the views defended here.)

Oderberg, MT, viii. We shall follow the structure of Oderberg's Moral Theory. He first addresses the issue of skepticism and the skeptical prejudices that color, or perhaps better blind, the majority of men in Western societies, and which makes them believe that morality is purely subjective and without objective basis. Then he addresses the principal foundations of traditional morality. Following that, he addresses some of principles of the rival schools, specifically contractualism and consequentialism. Finally, he focuses on the moral principle of the sanctity of human life, a principle that "has come under merciless attack in recent years, and is the first principle that most applied ethicists seek to undermine. Without it, there is no traditional morality." Oderberg, MT, x.

These works of Oderberg are unapologetically anti-consequentialist. In his words, they "concentrate on [consquentialism's] incompatibility with the basic demands of rights and of justice (due primarily to its 'maximising' and calculative nature), and hence its fundamentally inhuman character." Oderberg, MT, x. His arguments for traditional morality and against consequentialism are based upon reason alone. In fact, it is impossible for me to tell from these two works alone, what his religious confession is, or if he even has one.*** While his positions are largely consistent with the moral doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, they seem to be based on, or at least argued from, foundations that are entirely areligious, principally upon Aristotelian principles.

*In fact, not only is it unreasonable, as we will endeavor to argue, it is unfaithful to the Church's teaching. It has reared its ugly face in modified form in Catholic circles under the name "Proportionalism." Cf. Pope John Paul II, Veritatis splendor, Nos. 75-76: ". . . This "teleologism", as a method for discovering the moral norm, can thus be called--according to terminology and approaches imported from different currents of thought--"consequentialism" or "proportionalism". The former claims to draw the criteria of the rightness of a given way of acting solely from a calculation of foreseeable consequences deriving from a given choice. The latter, by weighing the various values and goods being sought, focuses rather on the proportion acknowledged between the good and bad effects of that choice, with a view to the 'greater good' or 'lesser evil' actually possible in a particular situation. The teleological ethical theories (proportionalism, consequentialism), while acknowledging that moral values are indicated by reason and by Revelation, maintain that it is never possible to formulate an absolute prohibition of particular kinds of behaviour which would be in conflict, in every circumstance and in every culture, with those values. . . . Even when grave matter is concerned, these precepts should be considered as operative norms which are always relative and open to exceptions. . . . These theories can gain a certain persuasive force from their affinity to the scientific mentality, which is rightly concerned with ordering technical and economic activities on the basis of a calculation of resources and profits, procedures and their effects. . . . Such theories however are not faithful to the Church's teaching, when they believe they can justify, as morally good, deliberate choices of kinds of behavior contrary to the commandments of the divine and natural law. These theories cannot claim to be grounded in the Catholic moral tradition." [N.B. The "teologism" referred to by John Paul II should not be confused with the teleology that is part and parcel of the traditional natural law doctrine. The "teologism" here refers to the end or consequences of the act as the determinant of its morality, whereas the teology in the natural law theory refers to the final end or intrinsic end of a nature.]
**David S. Oderberg, Moral Theory: A Non-Consquentialist Approach (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2000) (herein "MT") and Applied Ethics: A Non-Consequentialist Approach(Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2000) (herein "AE").
***The only clue is in the selection of cover art, The Adoration of the Magi (by Fra Angelico and Filippo Lippi) for MT and The Massacre of the Innocents (by Fran Angelico) for AE.

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