Post Number:#1 May 16th, 2012, 1:05 pm
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy wrote:[Consequentialism] is the view that normative properties depend only on consequences. [...] Consequentialists hold that choices — acts and/or intentions — are to be morally assessed solely by the states of affairs they bring about.
Despite thinking that some variant of utilitarianism is the ethical system which produces the fewest number of counter-intuitive results, I have always found the basic premise of consequentialist theories of morality to be somewhat strange. According to this definition of consequentialism, it looks like moral judgements should be handed out to states of affairs or actions rather than the agents who execute the action that brings about the state of affairs. I think this creates two problems for consequentialism. The first is that actions which accidentally bring about a state of affairs which are worse should seem to be judged as "wrong" actions even if the intent of the person executing the action was to improve the state of affairs. The converse also applies. But this is not the focus of this thread.
The problem that I would to bring attention to is that it is not very clear what is meant by "the consequences of an action". I think it a very good assumption to believe that the universe (at least on the macroscopic scale) is a deterministic one, and I believe that human beings (although they have "free will") are a part of a deterministic causal chain originating in the beginning of space-time and that all future events of the world will be determined by events of the past. Surely, a consequentialist does not want to admit that every action is responsible for all future events after that action takes place; this would be ridiculous. How should a consequentialist reconcile this?
I personally think that consequentialism should consider abandoning placing value on states of affairs and instead focus on the intents of individuals performing those actions, but this is irrelevant and I wanted to know what others thought. Is this a serious problem for consequentialism? Or is it a non-problem and I am just not understanding the language of consequentialism very well?