Friday, November 10, 2006

Hot not to be a consequentialist/2

...If my picture of the difference between consequentialist and non-consequentialist forms of reasonings is right, the real difference between the two relies in judgments about the scope of the variables that should enter into “moral calculation”.

According to certain forms of act-consequentialism, (taken both as an agent theory and as an act theory) all good and bad facts ought to be included in this calculation. According to others, only foreseeable good and bad consequences ought to be included in this calculation.

A non-consequentialist theory of "what is right", will limit the range of facts that should be assessed in order to perform the right action, compared to both types of consequentialist theories (meaning both tipes of act-consequentialism), in a specific way.

The fact that certain good or bad events take place ought not enter into moral calculation. A non-consequentialist theory would argue that I cannot kill an innocent to prevent another one to be killed, (or that I cannot kill an innocent in order to prevent another person to kill an innocent in order to prevent another innocent to be killed.) A think what a deontological requirement should be seen as doing is ruling out from view considerations on what good my killing the innocent should achieve as irrelevant from practical reasoning. For another example, a non-consequentialist theory will deny me the right to kill an innocent now in order to avoid killing another one in the future. Facts about what I shall achieve by killing an innocente are excluded from the calculation.

This may be too strong a way to characterize what is for a view to be non-consequentialist. If all facts about what I shall achieve by killing a person are irrelevant, then the deontological prohibition says that I shall never kill an innocent even when doing so would prevent a massacre.

In order to avoid this result, we simply have to think deontological constraints as a sorts of partial filter, that gradually lets facts about consequences become relevant to our calculations, as we reach a certain threshold (it can be thought that, once a certain threshold is reached, it becomes morally wrong to ignore the consequences.)

According to this view, the difference between consequentialist and non-consequentialist moralities (moralities that include some deontological prohibitions) consist in the fact that non-consequentialist moralities limit the range of considerations that can count in determining whether one is acting rightly or wrongly.

This is coherent with what psychologists call “bounded rationality” approach to human reasoning, and with evolutional reconstruction of moral sense.
Psychological evidence suggests that human beings must use heuristics in order to act optimally given the practical limitations that human decision making is subject to, such as a time limit, and finite processing capacities.

A non-consequentialist ethics is the only kind of ethics that makes sense to agents , because it is appropriate for agents whose decision procedures are subject to empirical limitations, such as those of which theorist of bounded rationality talk about.

This account seems to provide no justification for the remorse that deontological or virtue theory views should attach to killing an innocent even when this is (supposedly) what must be done in order to prevent a massacre from occurring.

But I think that the justification that it provides is sufficiently good. We can describe this remorse as tracking down the loss in moral integrity, that is, as a loss in one's confidence about being able to live up to the standards morality requires. As I said a deontological view of morality is THE moral view an agent should have, and an agent with a deontological view must be an agent feeling remorse over the killing of an innocent, even when he has overwhelming reasons to do this.

The reason why this is so is that having any other attitude toward killing means having an attitude that is guaranteed not to produce the best results in the long terms. When I write "best results" I am not affirming a consequentialist views of rightness, but I am referring to agent's own take of the goodness of the outcomes, that is, an assessment of the goodness of the outcomes of having a certain attitude in the long run, as viewed from the point of view of the agent, which is something any sensible non-consequentialist theory must allow. (Alternatively, one can rely upon a contractualist framework and sya that the attitude in question is not the sort of attitude that could reasonably be accepted by agents looking forward to find universal attitudes to guide human behavior.)

Both when the agent is , and when he is not, aware of this relation between remorse and his long term attitudes towards morality, this justifies feeling remorse for having to kill an innocent even when this is morally justified. Remorse, that is to say, is exactly what he ought to feel if one is the sort of agent that has the right, that is to say the virtuous, attitude towards killing.

This way of looking at things can be justified by considering what it would signify, for a person that engages in philosophical reflection, to find out that one has no remorse after having killed an innocent (when the consequences granted that it was the right thing to do.) Finding out that one feels ok about the actoin, that having a rational justification for an horrible act estinguishes any sense that something terrible had appened, means finding out that one does NOT have the disposition that is requried in order to live a morally irreprensible life, and that one's repulsion againt killing innocent people may not be enough to counterweight the forces of selfish considerations on a different occasion. It is, in Aristotelian terms, to find out that one did not receive the right kind of moral upbringing.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

How to be a non-consequentialist.

Context of the discussion: what Dancy ('Moral reasons') believes a fully fledged non-consequentialist theory must account for:

In the context of this discussion, Dancy considers the sort of defence of a non-consequentialist theory that implies explaining the existence of deontological constraints. There can be theories that are not consequentialist but neither recognize deontological constraints. Assuming that consequentialism has no space for agent-relative values (a thesis criticized by Sen), non-consequentialism can (arguably) be refuted by arguing that there are "agent-relative" reasons or values, that is to say reasons (or values) that justify the agent's relative lack of committment for realizing the aim of the morally best state of affairs, when accomplishing this aim entails too big a sacrifice of the agent's own special concerns (such as projects, friendships, respect of non - moral ideals, etc). It would represent already a significant departure from (neutralists) versions of consequentialism to argue that a person has the right to give more weight in one's moral calculation to sacrifices regarding one's own projects or frienships, than the analogous sacrifices faced by another person. (This is the kind of view defended by Scheffler, who cannot find a rationale for deontological constraints, while can find a rationale for resisting the demands of the sort of impersonal morality in question.)

Dancy refuses this characterization of a non-consequentialist outlook. Dancy sides with Foot's claim that a rational defence of a good (non-consequentialist) moral theory should explain what may be called "options" and "constraints" with equal ease.

Notice that this discussion with proceed upon the assumption that a consequentialist theory is an act-consequentialist one, that is to say, a theory giving each agent the same moral aim, that of producing states of affairs with the greatest ethical value, and identifying the act the agent ought morally to do with the act that would, in each instance, and among the ones the agent is not prevented to perform, bring about that aim.

(I am not considering rule or motive utilitarianism here, for the following reason. Rule or motive utilitarianism can be seen as either an act theory or an agent theory- that is to say, either as a criterion for the wrongness or rightness of actions, or as the theory saying what act an agent ought morally to perform. If rule utilitarianism is conceived as an act-theory, then it seems undermined by its own justification. In fact, if what makes a rule a good rule is its leading on the whole to the achievement of the best state of affairs, how can an act be right that fails to reach this very objective? If, on the other hand, rule utilitiarianism is conceived as an agent theory, and act-utilitarianism as the act-theory, there will be many cases in which the act that is right (in virtue of the act theory) will not be the one that the agent ought morally to perform, according to the agent theory.

I have doubts that this picture is coherent, for it seems that a committment to act-utilitarianism as an act-theory and a committment to follow the dictates of rule-utilitarianism in practical deliberation can hardly coexist in the same agent. )

Let us consider what may justify the existence of deontological constraints. According to Dancy, deontology oblidges me to choose A2 over A1 in the following case:

A1. I allow J to be killed by K
A2. I kill N.
(N and J are innocent human beings)
I have to choose between A1 and A2: (¬(A1) → (A2)) & (¬(A2) → (A1)),

We are supposing that both A1 and A2 are facts I am aware of. I am, that is, is wholly conscious that by failing to kill J I will let K be killed.
This leads to a whole host of difficulties explaining how can A2 have more value than A1 from my point of view; it brings to the introduction of agent-relative reasons and agent-relative value. It leads to talk about "moral cost to the agent" (what explains the difference in value between A1 and A2 from my point of view.)
I have suspects about calling the violation of a constraint as "a moral cost". If it would be a moral cost, then our theory should imply that the agent has the right to discount this cost. (If the cost of killing an innocent is one that I should pay, I should be praised, not blamed, if I choose to pay it.)

The wrongness of violating a deontological constraint is conceived as a "cost" to the agent, we cannot make sense of a similar deontological restriction, like the following.

I believe that, just as an agent should morally choose not to kill an innocent even when this would lead to let another innocent be killed, a person should choose morally not to kill a person now, even when this would certainly lead to kill another person in the near future.

Moreover, I am not sure that the best understanding of a morality containing deontological restriction is that of a morality saying that we should prefer A1 over A2, that is to say, letting die to killing.

Letting someone die can be as bad as killing, when letting die qualifies as an agent act in some sense. What is required in order for an omission to count as an agent's act is something difficult to tell. But we clearly have the sense that when we have full power and control over letting someone die (say, when we have the technical means and we could prevent this at an insignificant cost to ourself) letting someone die can be as much a morally objectionable act as killing. We do not make the best sense of deontological prohibitions, I think, by conceiving them under the rule that omissions are always to be preferred to acts.

In order to gain some meaningfulness to the idea deontological perspective, I think, one must asks what deontological prohibitions are for. The answer, I think is something like the following:
if we did not perceive that there would be something morally problematic in killing a person for the sake of saving another one, we would be morally allowed to take on ourself the responsibility of deciding the life of death of many individuals. This is risky, because there are all sort of factors that may militate against this sort of self-ascription of responsibility to myself, such as personal biases.

Moreover, a person must have a strong disposition against killing innocents in general in order to refrain from this when his own interest is at stake; and a person with the right sort of disposition will have troubles killing an innocent even when a. the state of affairs that would result from his failing to do so will be equally bad in consequentialist terms, and b. the state of affairs that would result from his failing to do so will be worse in consequentialist terms.

What follows from the idea that what appear in first-person thinking as deontological constraints is objectively the effect of a moral outlook, acquired from a good moral upbringing, that takes away from the agent the responsibility of performing the sort of moral calculation that act-consequentialism requires from him?

The effect of having a deontological constraint as a part of one's moral outlook produces a shrinking of the "deliberative sphere" (the range of considerations that are relevant for the choice of action). This must not be understood as implying that, if one adopts a deontological morality, certain facts about the consequences of an act would become irrelevant (say because that act is prohibited and nothing else can be said in his favor)

Rather, according to my theory, deontological constraints are rules directing the agent's search of facts that bear upon the morality of an action. Having a deontoligical constraint about killing means, first of all, reaching the conclusion that the action is wrong in a straighforward manner, without interrogating oneselves too much about what shall be the other consequences of forgoing that act.

This explains why talking about an act /omission asymmetry is not the best way to understand a deontological outlook. When the possibility of causing the death of an innocent by omission has already entered the deliberative sphere, the agent cannot pretend that the omission causing the death of this person is somehow less wrong qua omission.

.... To be continued....