Consequentialism Fails to Understand That Principles Are a Necessary Guide to Determine Behavior
One of the many alternative reasons given for why it is justifiable to commit aggression in certain instances is given by the philosophy of consequentialism. Therefore it is high time to unpack the consequentialist view. It is time to not only critique it but to expose it for the circuitous, incoherent, dangerous nonsense that it is. So let us do so.
Consequentialism is an anti-principle view disguised as a moral philosophy, so from the get go, consequentialism is disingenuous. Consequentialism makes many statements, when analyzed, are a result of fuzzy thinking.
So what is consequentialism? Consequentialism says that using moral principles that determine just conduct are flawed. According to consequentialism, it is not the action that determines right or wrong, but the results (or consequences) that result from it. It is not sufficient to use moral principles, such as the non-aggression principle for instance, when talking about how one should act since principles which ignore what the results are are useless. The purpose of action is to achieve a goal, but not action in and of itself. Principles focus on the action and ignore the goal and are therefore flawed. Likewise, according to consequentialism it is not sufficient to say that certain actions will necessarily lead to certain results since depending on the circumstances they won’t. Rather, instead of determining moral conduct based on abstract principles, one should look at the situation on a case by case basis and see if the action is justified or not. And it is known if the action is justified or not based on if it produces good results, which we can only know based on the situation and not based on adhering to “rigid, universal moral principles.”
Consequentialism, Much Like Keynesian “Economics,” Puts the Cart Before the Horse
To use an analogy to show the flaw of consequentialism, suppose a deonotologist says that, “If one values life as the highest moral principle one should not jump off of tall buildings without a parachute.” Now enters the consequentialist: “Nonsense,” the consequentialist replies. “There may be certain cases where jumping off of tall buildings without a parachute destroys lives and there maybe other cases where jumping off of tall buildings saves lives. So instead of adhering to such a rigid principle of ‘don’t jump off of tall buildings without a parachute,’ instead one should act on a case by case basis to determine if jumping off of tall buildings produces good consequences or not.”
What are the flaws with the above line of reasoning? One is that such a statement puts the cart before the horse. The consequences come after the action takes place, not before, therefore it is useless to say one should take an action based on if it produces good consequences since one won’t know what the consequences are until after the action has already been taken and by then it’s too late. One of course could say, “Ideas do not exist in a vacuum. One did not arbitrarily decide that jumping off of tall buildings without a parachute will result in death. Rather, based on the laws of physics, which are universal and unchanging, one can study the law of gravity and know what the results of jumping off of tall buildings are in every case. Likewise, morality does not exist in a vacuum, devoid of context, but is a result by studying, much like physics, the law of morality and justice. And once one understands the laws, a principle is sufficient to guide action. One can use a principle, such as do not murder someone, to determine how people should act towards one another. Likewise one can use the principle, do not jump off of tall building without a parachute, by understanding the laws of gravity.” One could respond this way, but if one does one is not a consequentialist.
Another problem with conseqentialism, besides being unaware that principles do not exist in a vacuum but arise out of knowledge and the laws of nature, is that consequentialism spirals in an endless circle. “What determines just conduct? Whether the results are good or bad. How do you know what is good or bad? By looking at the results.” If one is going to say that what is good or bad is determined based on if it produces good or bad results, one needs a theory to determine good or bad first. Simply saying that the results determine good or bad without defining good or bad first results in a confused, elastic, muddy viewpoint that can essentially justify anything since good or bad are never clearly defined (unless it’s some largely meaningless abstract like “the common good,” but “the common good” does not define what good is or how it arises, but simple puts the word, “common,” in front of it).
Preventative Harm as a Justification for Mass Murder
Let use look at a few examples to show the flaws of consequentialism. One of the things many advocates of consequentialism believe in are preventative laws. Instead of saying one should be punished as a result of causing physical destruction and harm to another person or their property, consequentialists instead say that they want to make laws that will prevent the bad act from occurring in the first place. Why punish a guy after he murders someone when you can make laws that prevent him from murdering in the first place? To use the famous example that consequentialists love: Would you kill baby Hitler? According to consequentialist theory (and I use the word theory loosely here, since conseqentialism seems to be opposed to theories), if it were possible to go back in time and kill baby Hitler one should do so. Yes, it maybe true that at the time of being killed Hitler is an innocent baby, but in the future he will be a mass murderer. Far better to kill him now and prevent future mass murders than to wait until the genocide has already been committed. The silly deontologists would be against killing baby Hitler since they say murder is wrong and no baby is an aggressor. Such rigid thinking may save a baby (and one which will be guilty and deserving of the death penalty in the future), but at the expense of millions of innocent people being killed. Far better to go back in time, kill the one “guilty” baby in order to save the lives of millions.
The point of the would you kill baby Hitler is not meant to be a realistic question since Hitler is already dead and it is not possible to go back in time. The point of such a question is to examine people’s thinking and what they view as the appropriate way to act or not. There are alternative realistic baby Hitler scenarios that punish the innocent for the fear that in the future they may one day possibly turn evil. Saying one would kill baby Hitler is essentially saying, “I will kill an innocent person if I believe doing so will save more lives. I will punish a person not after he is guilty but before. As long as I believe such a person will be guilty one day it is justified to take preemptive measures now instead of waiting until it’s too late.” What is the main problem with the killing baby Hitler scenario? One of course is that hindsight is always 20-20, not to mention killing baby Hitler may result in an even worse dictator taking his place so there is no way to ensure that the Holocaust would be prevented. The main problem however is that is it possible for anyone to become the next Hitler. Everyone is capable of committing horrific acts. Some more likely than others, but it is possible to turn the average Joe into a killing, murderous human being. If one takes to its logical conclusion that it is okay to kill the innocent for fear that in the future they one day may be guilty then one should advocate the extermination of the entire human race. How do you know that in five, ten, twenty years from now I won’t go on a murderous rampage and murder a bunch of people? True, there is no evidence that I am going to, but there is no evidence that killing baby Hitler was going to either at the time he would have been snuffed out (if one traveled through time). If it is okay to kill an innocent who you think may be guilty in order to protect the abstract “common good,” then why not find someone from an abusive family and snuff him out right now since the odds of being a murderer are much higher if one comes from a single parent broken home?
There are plenty baby Hitler laws which are currently on the books and are being enforced daily as a result of consequentialism. Such laws are essentially saying, “I will commit actual violence in order to prevent possible violence in the future. I will certainly kill people in order to prevent something that may occur.” To give just a bunch of examples of baby Hitler laws: The war on drugs. The war on drugs is advocated based on the idea that drug use is more likely to increase crime. So in order to prevent future possible crime, instead of waiting until a person is guilty of committing such acts, the war on drugs violates one of the principles of justice: innocent until proven guilty, which means one must be guilty first and then afterwards punished. The war on drugs commits actual violence against thousands, if not millions of innocent people in order to prevent the next baby Hitler from arising. Other examples include the FDA which denies life-saving drugs to sick people. Instead of allowing people to judge for themselves whether they want to take the risk of using a drug that might save their life or might not, the FDA treats adults like little children who are incapable of making their own choices. Instead of allowing drugs that may (and in many instances do) save countless lives, the FDA prevents such drugs from entering the market for fear they might produce bad results. If sick people need to die in order to prevent possible negative side effects as a result of non-FDA approved drugs, so be it. After all, is isn’t their own lives the consequentialists are gambling with.