My Perfectionistic, Egoistic AND Universalistic, Indirect Consequentialism (And Contrasts With Other Kinds)

A consequentialist assesses the ultimate worth of all the various features of our ethical lives according to whether or not they bring about some specific intrinsic good or goods that the consequentialist judges to be of primary value. All the various valuable features of our lives have their ultimate value with respect to how they contribute in the end to this primary good or goods.

For example, if the consequentialist is a hedonist who thinks that pleasure is the one intrinsically good thing towards which we should aim, then all the other aspects of being a moral person—adhering dutifully to moral principles, having virtuous character traits and dispositions, genuinely caring about others’ well being for their own sakes—derive their morally praiseworthiness from the ways that they eventually, or in general, contribute to increases in pleasure. Utilitarianism is a form of hedonistic consequentialism.

The hedonistic consequentialist judges that if dutifully adhering to moral principles or having various dispositions and traits we consider virtuous or genuinely caring about others for their own sakes led to net losses of pleasure or to net increases in displeasure (pain), then we would not think of dutifulness, virtue, or other-directed motivation as good and desirable things the way we presently do. The only reason why we think so highly of these behaviors, dispositions, and attitudes in the first place, the hedonistic consequentialist argues, is that they contribute to pleasure.

Hedonistic consequentialism, which treats pleasure as the primary good to be maximized, is the most generally known and discussed form of consequentialism, but there is another major kind of consequentialism which I want to advance and that is what we can call perfectionist consequentialism. The perfectionist consequentialist thinks that the intrinsic good that all of our motivations, behaviors, dispositions, calculations, social institutions, formal codes, etc. should maximize is excellence rather than simply pleasure. Creating excellent people is more important than creating maximally pleased people.

Of course, quite often no choice is necessary between excellence and pleasure as being excellent is intrinsically pleasant itself (at least to an extent, even if in some cases, it is manifestly less pleasant overall in someone’s particular situation than being base would be) and often an excellence is an excellence at all to some particular extent because of its contribution to making life more pleasant. So, for a simple example, excellence at preparing delicious meals means excellence at creating pleasurable taste sensations with the food you make.

Consequentialists do not only differ from each other in terms of what good they take to be of primary importance but they also can differ in terms of their views on moral decision-making. There are three more key distinctions worth familiarizing ourselves with and on which I want to stake out clear positions.
The second, and, after the choice of primary good to pursue, the most general of the distinctions between consequentialisms to make is between egoistic consequentialism and universalistic consequentialism.

The egoistic consequentialist assesses all aspects of the moral and non-moral life in terms of how they contribute to his or her own achievement of the primary good towards which his consequentialism aims. So an egoistic hedonistic consequentialist would consider all proposed actions, virtues, proximate goals, etc. according to how well they promise to maximize his personal pleasure. And an egoistic perfectionist consequentialist would consider all proposed actions, virtues, proximate goals, etc. according to how well they promise to maximize her own attainment to excellence.

The universalistic consequentialist, by contrast, judges the value of proposed courses of actions, behaviors, dispositions, proximate goals, etc. by their expected contribution to the greatest number of morally relevant beings’ ability to have the primary, intrinsic good towards which her consequentialism aims. Thus, the universalistic hedonistic consequentialist judges the most moral actions, virtues, proximate goals, etc, to be those which maximize pleasure for the greatest number of morally relevant beings, whereas the universalistic perfectionistic consequentialist judges the most moral actions, virtues, proximate goals, etc. to be those which maximize the excellent thriving of the greatest number of morally relevant beings.

The third key distinction between consequentialists to make is between direct and indirect consequentialists.

A direct consequentialist thinks that not only should all the ethically relevant features of our lives be oriented towards maximizing the intrinsic good, but also that we should conceive of moral decision-making as primarily consisting of calculations by which we determine which courses of actions, which virtues, which proximate goals, etc. can be expected to produce the primary intrinsic good in the most quantities.

In other words, the direct consequentialist thinks that moral thinking requires explicitly thinking like a consequentialist and judging each option for action, virtue, proximate goal to pursue, etc. strictly in terms of how it will create the maximum amount of the primary intrinsic good. So, for the direct consequentialist, the most morally conscientious thinking about ethically relevant actions is explicitly calculative and specifically aims towards the greatest possible creation of the most important good for oneself (if one is an egoist) or everyone (if one is a universalist).

The indirect consequentialist, on the other hand, does not think that it is always ethically best for each individual to explicitly aim for the greatest quantity of the greatest good for himself or for everyone. The indirect consequentialist reasons that wherever the greatest good can be most successfully maximized by individuals not taking on a calculative, explicitly consequentialist attitude, but rather acting out of abstract concerns for duty itself or based on more partial emotions like love or from a devotion to particular intrinsically good things distinct from the primary intrinsic good, people should adopt these other sorts of motivations and means of forming moral decisions instead.

The indirect consequentialist is, therefore, concerned that the primary good is attained as much as possible, but not always that people directly aim for it in those cases in which aiming at it would somehow undermine their ability to actually attain the most successfully.

The fourth major distinction is between act consequentialism and rule consequentialism.

An act consequentist, in the most extreme possible formulation of the type, is one who thinks that we should make each choice based on a consideration of its immediate consequences for creating the intrinsic good. Taking the case of act utilitarianism, which concerns itself with maximizing pleasure, the extreme act utilitarian would always choose actions based on their actual expected pleasure return and based on no further concern for general duties or principles. So, if I were an extreme act utilitarian and I were working for a very wealthy person and I realized that I could steal $2000 from without either she or her dependents ever knowing the money is gone, ever missing it, or ever experiencing any other pain over its loss, I should then steal this money if it would make my life more pleasurable.

Of course, were I simply an egoistic, hedonistic consequentialist, only concerned with my own pleasure in the first place, I would make this choice regardless of whether it would eventually pain the woman from whom I stole, as long as it increased my personal pleasure.

But even were I a universalistic, hedonistic utilitarian who was concerned with creating the maximum pleasure for the maximum number of people, being an extreme act utilitarian would require me to judge stealing the money as morally necessary because it would create the outcome that would maximally increase the pleasure in the world (assuming all things were equal). If I am more pleased to have this $2,000 than the woman who does not even notice it is gone was to have it, say because it substantially improves my life for a month whereas it made no difference to hers, then the total collective pleasure among all the relevant moral beings has gone up and the intrinsically best outcome has, therefore, been achieved.

One might object that the extreme act utilitarian should still not steal the money because her guilty conscience would cause her more pain than the pleasures she can buy with $2,000 can compensate for. But that assumes that the extreme act utilitarian thinks what she does is wrong. But, as long as she considers the matter rationally and applies her extreme act utilitarian moral reasoning properly, she soothes her conscience when she realizes that she is actually doing the best thing for creating the greatest pleasure of the most people (or, if she is an egoist, she has done the best thing for her own pleasure) and that is, ultimately, all that morally matters.

Foreseeing the potential misery that such an ethics would repeatedly lead to, rule utilitarians (and some more reasonable shades of act utilitarians) judge that at least some rules of thumbs or nearly always unwavering principles must guide most of our ethically relevant actions, even when adhering to those rules of thumb or principles leads to short term dissatisfactions. The rule utilitarian reasons that a world in which people generally did not have general principles in place that forbade generally pain-inducing behavior like lying, cheating, stealing, murdering, etc., would be a less pleasurable world in which to live.

The rule utilitarian judges that even though there might be some cases in which one could get away with lying, cheating, stealing, murdering, etc. and both on the short and long term, one’s pleasure or the total pleasure in the world would increase, the principles which rule out these behaviors are themselves more important since were they to deteriorate, the result would be increases in general misery. So, the rule utilitarian upholds the principle and foregoes participating in what are usually harmful actions even when in those cases when refraining from them results in actual reductions in (both short and long term) total pleasure in the world and, even, increases the actual total pain in the world. So, for the sake of the general rule, the rule utilitarian sacrifices the actual achievement of what he takes to be the primary intrinsic good (pleasure). The rule utilitarian judges that overall more achievement of pleasure is possible in a world in which certain kinds of actions are nearly always forbidden and so refuses those actions on principle.

Where do I stand?

I am a consequentialist because I think that the ultimate determinant of the potential ethical value which anything whatsoever has for us, as humans, is the extent to which it will maximize human flourishing. Everything, from our virtues to our governments to our moral rules to our athletic achievements to our reason to our emotions to our interpersonal relationships to our professional relationships to our sexual relationships to our diets to our genes, ultimately contributes in any given instance to increasing or decreasing our total flourishing in power and is ethically assessable as relatively good to the extent to which it provides an increase and relatively bad to the extent to which it provides a decrease.

I am an indirect consequentialist though in that I think that there are many other intrinsically valuable things which it is better to focus on attaining for their own sakes if we are to attain maximal overall power. In other words, I think that in many cases, psychological reality dictates that we will function more excellently by focusing our explicit attention away from our own excellence, abstractly conceived, and towards the various intrinsically good projects in such a way as to treat them as of intrinsic value and primary importance to us.

While in general our maximal individual and collective thriving in power is our good, to attain this, in most situations we must be focused on more proximate ends as desirable in themselves in order to care enough about them that we indirectly make ourselves excellent. Our total power can only grow through the specific powers which embody it and these can only exercise themselves through the pursuit of particular goals which we take to be important enough and desirable enough for themselves that we can have adequate psychological motivation to invest ourselves in them.

I am a rule consequentialist insofar as I think that well-formed moral and legal codes of general conduct in matters of potentially severe interpersonal or civil conflict are both psychologically and socially stabilizing. And I think that the ultimate justification for moral and legal rules is their ultimate contribution to actual human flourishing. Even should adherence to such rules on some occasions lead to net detriments to human flourishing if the consequences of abandoning such rules (or a particular rule) altogether would be more detrimental to general human thriving, it is worth it to us to take the lesser hit and accept some avoidable actual failures.

Yet, even though I accept some degree of rule consequentialism in moral and legal decision-making and, therefore, acknowledge as a basic fact that much of our explicit moral and legal reasoning does concern judgments about greatest consequences (be they for pleasure or for excellence or other intrinsic goods), I also see a great deal of wisdom in incorporating into my moral thinking more Kantian-styled formalistic concerns about avoiding acting in practically contradictory ways.

While Kant would argue that we should never act in ways that involve formal contradictions, even when such actions would increase pleasure or decrease pain, I think that certain practically irrational actions are permissible when they are ultimately, in the total tallying of matters, justified by their contribution to our fundamental human thriving itself. I take it to be a practical and existential contradiction to act in ways that, ultimately, go against our own most fundamental conditions of thriving. That particular formal practical contradiction is the essential one to avoid, even if it means committing other practical contradictions to do it.

Other formally and practically contradictory actions (such as lying, bribery, theft, loan forgiveness, bank bailouts, etc.) are always on their own terms, strictly speaking, irrational actions and unworthy of us insofar as we are rational beings. But insofar as we are more than merely rational beings, sometimes our total functioning in the sum total of all our powers combined, and not just our flourishing functioning as rational, entails that we bite the bullet and do these things for the greater thriving.

Finally, we come to the question of whether I am an egoistic or a universalistic consequentialist. Whose thriving must we maximize and why? Do I only have ethical reason to pursue my own thriving such that it is irrational, even a practical contradiction, to pursue others’ well-being at my own expense? Or do I have a reason to subordinate my own thriving to the general thriving of a larger group of morally relevant beings—be they my community, humanity, other species, etc.?

Ultimately, I think that justifying my interest in a good is going to require, on the most fundamental level, reference to my own egoistic good. My own thriving is the most fundamental, instrinsic, and unavoidably objective good I have. If I do not at least minimally exist in the powers that constitute my being itself, then I literally am no good and can have no goods since I cannot be at all. And I fail to fully be, to fully realize myself precisely to the extent that I fail to thrive in my various powerful functional possibilities and, especially, in my potential for total power maximization with all my particular powers coordinating and amplifying for the greatest possible sum functioning.

So, I think that in the first instance we must be egoistic consequentialists. But I think that examination of the nature of our human powers, and what thriving in them substantively entails, indicates at least two key reasons why maximally fulfilling our egoistic ends of individual thriving necessarily involves contributing to the maximal thriving of others beyond ourselves.

There are two reasons for this. On the purely egoistic level, the development of our own powerful functioning depends to an incalculable extent on others’ flourishing. To maximally realize our potential, we need the conditions of stability and prosperity which others’ thriving creates and sustains for us and we need the cultivation of our powers by those already powerful who can advance us far beyond where we would ever have been in isolation and make it so that our own efforts can attain to even greater extents than would otherwise have been possible.

But not only does our thriving happen to benefit from the powers of others’ nurturing it but our thriving itself in innumerable areas happens in others’ thriving. The doctor has intrinsic powers to manipulate the body in numerous ways as she desires. But her most powerful functioning as a doctor is not to be able to simply manipulate a patient’s body for whatever ends she can but rather to maximally increase the unencumbered bodily flourishing of her patients. Her power functions in the body which is stronger and more capable as a result of her medicinal practice. Every leg she heals walks through her power, every life she saves lives on powered by her interventions in an indispensable way.

Great rulers are only great and only intrinsically powerful through the thriving of those they rule. Comedians can only be powerful if they can increase others’ laughter. Teachers’ powers to inform and engage students are limited compared to their powers to effect the world through their students’ eventual uses of the skills and information they teach.

And, finally, the ways in which we more powerfully thrive remotely, through others, and “outside” of our own bodies and minds when we empower others could be so great as even to justify sacrifice of our own bodies and minds altogether in tremendous deeds of self-sacrifice.  This is because, ultimately, I judge our intrinsic good and intrinsic interest in terms of our powerful functioning, not necessarily in terms of our own experiences of pleasure or our direct experience of our powerful effective functioning as it exerts effects we will never ourselves even know about.

For the above reasons, therefore, I am a perfectionistic, egoistic and universalistic, indirect consequentialist who sees a place for rule consequentialism and stricter, deontological moral formalism and virtue-based thinking in his moral judgments. I take the perfectionist excellence to maximize to be power and our intrinsic incentive to realize it to be the avoidance of the practical and existential contradiction according to our most fundamental nature that occurs whenever and to whatever extent we do not.

Your Thoughts?

The considerations spelled out in the above post should offer a greater context and justification for the ideas in the following, roughly logically ordered, posts. Listed below are some of the most salient posts I have written on problems in value theory, metaethics, moral psychology, practical ethics, and normative moral theory. There are a lot of them but you do not need to read them all to understand any of them whose titles interest you in particular. So don’t avoid all of them for fear you cannot read all of them.

The Contexts, Objective Hierarchies, and Spectra of Goods and Bads (Or “Why Murder Is Bad”)

Goodness Is A Factual Matter (Goodness=Effectiveness)

Grounding Objective Value Independent Of Human Interests And Moralities

Non-Reductionistic Analysis Of Values Into Facts

Effectiveness Is The Primary Goal In Itself, Not Merely A Means

What Is Happiness And Why Is It Good?

On The Intrinsic Connection Between Being And Goodness

Deriving An Atheistic, Naturalistic, Realist Account Of Morality

How Our Morality Realizes Our Humanity

From Is To Ought: How Normativity Fits Into Naturalism

Can Good Teaching Be Measured?

Some People Live Better As Short-Lived Football or Boxing Stars Than As Long Lived Philosophers

The Objective Value of Ordered Complexity

Defining Intrinsic Goodness, Using Marriage As An Example

The Facts About Intrinsic and Instrumental Goods and The Cultural Construction of Intrinsic Goods

Subjective Valuing And Objective Values

My Perspectivist, Teleological Account Of The Relative Values Of Pleasure And Pain

Pleasure And Pain As Intrinsic Instrumental Goods

What Does It Mean For Pleasure And Pain To Be “Intrinsically Instrumental” Goods?

Against Moral Intuitionism

Moral vs. Non-Moral Values

Maximal Self-Realization In Self-Obliteration: The Existential Paradox of Heroic Self-Sacrifice

On Good And Evil For Non-Existent People

My Perfectionistic, Egoistic AND Universalistic, Indirect Consequentialism (And Contrasts With Other Kinds)

Towards A “Non-Moral” Standard Of Ethical Evaluation

Further Towards A “Non-Moral” Standard Of Ethical Evaluation

On The Incoherence Of Divine Command Theory And Why Even If God DID Make Things Good And Bad, Faith-Based Religions Would Still Be Irrelevant

God and Goodness

Rightful Pride: Identification With One’s Own Admirable Powers And Effects

The Harmony Of Humility And Pride

Moral Mutability, Not Subjective Morality.  Moral Pluralism, Not Moral Relativism.

How Morality Can Change Through Objective Processes And In Objectively Defensible Ways

Nietzsche: Moral Absolutism and Moral Relativism Are “Equally Childish”

Immoralism?

Is Emotivistic Moral Nihilism Rationally Consistent?

The Universe Does Not Care About Our Morality. But So What?

Why Be Morally Dutiful, Fair, or Self-Sacrificing If The Ethical Life Is About Power?

A Philosophical Polemic Against Moral Nihilism

Why Moral Nihilism Is Self-Contradictory

Answering Objections From A Moral Nihilist

If You Don’t Believe in Objective Values Then Don’t Talk To Me About Objective Scientific Truth Either

On Not-Pologies, Forgiveness, and Gelato

Yes, We Can Blame People For Their Feelings, Not Just Their Actions

Why Bother Blaming People At All? Isn’t That Just Judgmental?

Is Anything Intrinsically Good or Bad? An Interview with James Gray

My Metaethical Views Are Challenged. A Debate With “Ivan”

On Unintentionally Intimidating People

Meditations on How to Be Powerful, Fearsome, Empowering, and Loved

Is It Ever Good To Be Annoying?

No, You Can’t Call People Sluts.

Why Misogynistic Language Matters

Sex and “Spirituality”

Can Utilitarians Properly Esteem The Intrinsic Value of Truth?

No, Not Everyone Has A Moral Right To Feel Offended By Just Any Satire or Criticism

Moral Offense Is Not Morally Neutral

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • David

    A few questions. They are fairly standard challenges to consequentialism but this post left me with a lot of my usual questions about consequentialist views!

    1. In several places you characterize universal consequentialism as endorsing maximization of the primary good for the maximum number of people. In your case that means maximizing excellence for the maximum number of people. I don’t understand that goal. Are we maximizing the total amount of excellence in the universe (in which case the number of people who achieve a certain level of excellence is irrelevant, except for calculating how to maximize excellence). Do we want as many people as possible to achieve a certain high level of excellence (in which case we may have to make perhaps great sacrifices to overall amount of happiness). Is there some necessary connection (conceptual, causal, otherwise?) between promoting excellence for as many people as possible and maximizing the total amount. For instances where the two goals go apart what makes the best action in that circumstance best?

    2. I am mystified by your defense of rule consequentialism, as I am by all such defenses. How is it relevant – especially for a consequentialist – to invoke how promotion of the chief good WOULD be damaged if adherence to a certain rule eroded, when in this case breaking the rule won’t erode adherence to the extent that would damage the promotion of the highest good compared to alternatives. In fact, breaking the rule in this case represents a net gain in the highest good compared to alternatives.

    I understand your promotion of rule cons. in legal and social reasoning if it has an act cons. defense – not reasoning that way in public does in fact have a net damaging effect on achieving the chief good.

    3. You say that we can be egoistic in the promotion of our own excellence, because what such pursuit actually entails in maximizing overall excellence (for the greatest number?). Sidgwick has powerful arguments at the end of the Methods of Ethics that while we can expect a high degree of coordination between achievement of chief good for oneself, and achievement of the chief good overall, (at least in certain kinds of societies) the existence of conflict between the two is inevitable. Sidgwick makes the case regarding pleasure, but I think any consequentialist account arguing for a coordination between egoistic good and universal good needs to take his arguments seriously.

    If it is possible for egoistic excellence and universal excellence to conflict what is the best thing to achieve and why? (I think that is a different question from how an individual should reason in those cases – how he should reason is what will in fact maximize the good he should maximize, so that if he should maximize universal good and egoistic reasoning is the best way to do that, then he should reason egoistically)

  • http://ethicalrealism.wordpress.com James Gray

    Dan,

    Here are my thoughts.

    But even were I a universalistic, hedonistic utilitarian who was concerned with creating the maximum pleasure for the maximum number of people, being an extreme act utilitarian would require me to judge stealing the money as morally necessary because it would create the outcome that would maximally increase the pleasure in the world (assuming all things were equal). If I am more pleased to have this $2,000 than the woman who does not even notice it is gone was to have it, say because it substantially improves my life for a month whereas it made no difference to hers, then the total collective pleasure among all the relevant moral beings has gone up and the intrinsically best outcome has, therefore, been achieved.

    Part of the problem is that rule utilitarianism becomes act utilitarianism as long as you end up with extremely complected rules.

    We agree that stealing is right when there is no alternative to getting food, etc.

    You are using “direct utilitarianism” here. Indirect utilitarianists would probably argue that stealing is too risky (in general) and your assumptions about the positive consequences will often be wrong.

    Foreseeing the potential misery that such an ethics would repeatedly lead to, rule utilitarians (and some more reasonable shades of act utilitarians) judge that at least some rules of thumbs or nearly always unwavering principles must guide most of our ethically relevant actions, even when adhering to those rules of thumb or principles leads to short term dissatisfactions.

    Or utilitarianism shouldn’t usually be used as a decision procedure. We have to realize that taking risks tends not to be a good idea. Consider the following:

    If I press a button I have a 1:100 chance I will die and a 1:99 chance of getting $1,000,000. Although it will probably do something good to press the button, it probably isn’t worth the risk.

    If someone else would die instead of me, then it looks like egoism will give us the wrong answer.

    While in general our maximal individual and collective thriving in power is our good, to attain this, in most situations we must be focused on more proximate ends as desirable in themselves in order to care enough about them that we indirectly make ourselves excellent. Our total power can only grow through the specific powers which embody it and these can only exercise themselves through the pursuit of particular goals which we take to be important enough and desirable enough for themselves that we can have adequate psychological motivation to invest ourselves in them.

    Lots of things have moral relevance: actions, desires, beliefs, character traits, intentions, etc. This is even true of the consequentialist. I think that virtue is actually the greatest achievement of consequentialism (to be willing and able to be good). I don’t like calling it “perfectionistic” because that sounds like there is a perfect way to do something. There might be unlimited improvement possible within virtue.

    I am a rule consequentialist insofar as I think that well-formed moral and legal codes of general conduct in matters of potentially severe interpersonal or civil conflict are both psychologically and socially stabilizing. And I think that the ultimate justification for moral and legal rules is their ultimate contribution to actual human flourishing. Even should adherence to such rules on some occasions lead to net detriments to human flourishing if the consequences of abandoning such rules (or a particular rule) altogether would be more detrimental to general human thriving, it is worth it to us to take the lesser hit and accept some avoidable actual failures.

    That leads to the question: How complected can the rules be? If they can be infinitely complected, then you end up with act utilitarianism.

    There is a problem in ethics: Harming people seems to be of greater importance than doing good. That is why harming people to benefit others (or oneself) is wrong. I think at least part of the solution is merely to admit that we tend not to know how much benefit will be attained from risky and dangerous behavior. If we harm one person to benefit another, the consequences will probably not be what we expected. Utilitarian decision making requires us to accept (1) that we can’t accurately predict the future and (2) we can’t measure positive versus negative consequences (they are immeasurable).

    That means that indirect utilitarianism is probably correct and rule utilitarianism itself might be insufficient. Decision making should SOMETIMES be instinctual, virtuous, thoughtless, etc. as long as we know it is reliable. The categorical imperative might also be helpful in some situations.

    Yet, even though I accept some degree of rule consequentialism in moral and legal decision-making and, therefore, acknowledge as a basic fact that much of our explicit moral and legal reasoning does concern judgments about greatest consequences (be they for pleasure or for excellence or other intrinsic goods), I also see a great deal of wisdom in incorporating into my moral thinking more Kantian-styled formalistic concerns about avoiding acting in practically contradictory ways.

    I don’t think Kantianism is just about self-defeating action. I think it is about non-hypocritical rationality. It can leave open what can constitute “moral reason” by placing limits on it.

    While Kant would argue that we should never act in ways that involve formal contradictions, even when such actions would increase pleasure or decrease pain, I think that certain practically irrational actions are permissible when they are ultimately, in the total tallying of matters, justified by their contribution to our fundamental human thriving itself.

    I don’t know what this means. I would need examples.

    Killing people willy nilly leads to the self-defeating problem that (if everyone did it) no one would be left. But very few moral rules are like this because we already know that lying, stealing, killing, etc. are wrong in general.

    I take it to be a practical and existential contradiction to act in ways that, ultimately, go against our own most fundamental conditions of thriving. That particular formal practical contradiction is the essential one to avoid, even if it means committing other practical contradictions to do it.

    So, altruistic self sacrifice is out?

    Other formally and practically contradictory actions (such as lying, bribery, theft, loan forgiveness, bank bailouts, etc.) are always on their own terms, strictly speaking, irrational actions and unworthy of us insofar as we are rational beings. But insofar as we are more than merely rational beings, sometimes our total functioning in the sum total of all our powers combined, and not just our flourishing functioning as rational, entails that we bite the bullet and do these things for the greater thriving.

    I don’t understand why they are always irrational. I think they can be very rational once the situation is considered. (Not sure about Bank Bailouts though. That decision was not one I agree with.)

    Ultimately, I think that justifying my interest in a good is going to require, on the most fundamental level, reference to my own egoistic good. My own thriving is the most fundamental, instrinsic, and unavoidably objective good I have. If I do not at least minimally exist in the powers that constitute my being itself, then I literally am no good and can have no goods since I cannot be at all. And I fail to fully be, to fully realize myself precisely to the extent that I fail to thrive in my various powerful functional possibilities and, especially, in my potential for total power maximization with all my particular powers coordinating and amplifying for the greatest possible sum functioning.

    Yes, but if other people die, then they will have no goods either. Why not sacrifice a couple bucks if it can do someone else a lot of good?

    I don’t understand your argument here. I can understand endorsement of “caring for oneself first” insofar as it is practical/pragmatically necessary, but I don’t think I am the only person in the world who matters, and I don’t think caring for myself is the only good thing I can do.

    So, I think that in the first instance we must be egoistic consequentialists. But I think that examination of the nature of our human powers, and what thriving in them substantively entails, indicates at least two key reasons why maximally fulfilling our egoistic ends of individual thriving necessarily involves contributing to the maximal thriving of others beyond ourselves.

    Yes, but that can lead to egoistic families and groups. The Ku Klux Klan agrees to help each other, but they don’t care for outsiders, and that seems wrong. The mafia also comes to mind.

    But not only does our thriving happen to benefit from the powers of others’ nurturing it but our thriving itself in innumerable areas happens in others’ thriving. The doctor has intrinsic powers to manipulate the body in numerous ways as she desires. But her most powerful functioning as a doctor is not to be able to simply manipulate a patient’s body for whatever ends she can but rather to maximally increase the unencumbered bodily flourishing of her patients. Her power functions in the body which is stronger and more capable as a result of her medicinal practice. Every leg she heals walks through her power, every life she saves lives on powered by her interventions in an indispensable way.

    Helping others can be in one’s self interest sometimes, but not in one’s self interest other times. Giving someone an aspirin doesn’t require me to benefit. I should do that even for a stranger just because it is the right thing to do.

    Killing a stranger to get money can be quite beneficial for myself. To benefit from others doesn’t require that I care about everyone. I can care about people of my own group and not people outside of it.

    Great rulers are only great and only intrinsically powerful through the thriving of those they rule. Comedians can only be powerful if they can increase others’ laughter. Teachers’ powers to inform and engage students are limited compared to their powers to effect the world through their students’ eventual uses of the skills and information they teach.

    Not sure how you are using the word “intrinsically here.” I prefer the word “power” to refer to inner power rather than manipulation and influence. One who is only powerful through others isn’t really powerful. The other people are the ones who really have the power.

    And, finally, the ways in which we more powerfully thrive remotely, through others, and “outside” of our own bodies and minds when we empower others could be so great as even to justify sacrifice of our own bodies and minds altogether in tremendous deeds of self-sacrifice. This is because, ultimately, I judge our intrinsic good and intrinsic interest in terms of our powerful functioning, not necessarily in terms of our own experiences of pleasure or our direct experience of our powerful effective functioning as it exerts effects we will never ourselves even know about.

    This sounds like a rejection of egoistic utilitarianism. Universal utilitarians will agree with everything you said here, won’t they?

  • Brian

    Hi Daniel,
    I wonder how your approach deals with moral obligations in relation to animals and people with significant permanent (perhaps, intellectual) disabilities. Is their ‘flourishing’ commensurate with that of typical people such that their relative value can be weighed against each other?
    Brian

  • joemiller

    I have a question regarding this passage: “On the purely egoistic level, the development of our own powerful functioning depends to an incalculable extent on others’ flourishing. To maximally realize our potential, we need the conditions of stability and prosperity which others’ thriving creates and sustains for us and we need the cultivation of our powers by those already powerful who can advance us far beyond where we would ever have been in isolation and make it so that our own efforts can attain to even greater extents than would otherwise have been possible.”

    You wouldn’t happen to hold an anthropocentric position, would you? I doubt that Nietzsche would approve. Does the biosphere’s fundamental role in human flourishing factor into your moral calculus?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      Yes, biodiversity is important to me.

  • http://www.apocalipsa2012.info science

    This post couldn’t be more factual..

  • http://www.mangashare.com/forums/members/338467-jaffersonclinton Ray Ban Wayfarer 2132

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