Morality: Consequentialism and Coronavirus

Morality: Consequentialism and Coronavirus March 27, 2020

We are living in times of moral dilemma. As I have so often stated before, politics is a subset of morality. When we talk about morality, we talk about oughts – normatively what we should, as individuals, do. Politics is this write large over societies and from a governmental perspective.

In these testing times of governmental action in light of a life-threatening pandemic, we discuss whether Reaction A is better than Reaction B.

As I have also established many times before, it appears that consequentialism (whereby, in some manner, the morality of an action is derived from the consequences to that action) is a terrible ethic for theists. Theists generally don’t like consequentialist morality because it has no need for a god, and theists like to think that God is necessary for (objective) morality.

But what is fascinating here is that pretty much every single theist I have come across, including Mitch McConnell, and this guy Republican Lt Gov use consequentialism:

“My message: let’s get back to work, let’s get back to living, let’s be smart about it, and those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves,” Lt Gov Dan Patrick, a 69-year-old Republican, told Fox News host Tucker Carlson on Monday night.

“Don’t sacrifice the country,” Patrick said. “Don’t do that.”

Patrick said he feared that public health restrictions to prevent coronavirus could end American life as he knows it, and that he is willing to risk death to protect the economy for his grandchildren.

“You know, Tucker, no one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’” Patrick said. “And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in.”

“That doesn’t make me noble or brave or anything like that,” he added. “I just think there are lots of grandparents out there in this country like me.”

The idea that the economy is worth saving more than individual lives because it either has greater intrinsic value or because an economic crash would lead to more deaths than the virus itself. Or, more probably, that a crash in the economy will lead to this man losing money on the stock market or similar and this is worse than huge numbers of people dying. Whatever the scenario, we have one consequence being pitted against another.

Let me show you the comments of our favourite rabid, evangelical Catholic:

seriously question why the lives and livelihoods of 100%
of Americans should be upended for, according to the most horrific guesses of the experts,
1% or less of the American population.

Oh, and let’s acknowledge some other hard scientific facts:
1) Everybody dies sooner or later, and
2) Much of that 1% have already enjoyed 70+ years on this
earth and have a relatively short time left anyway.

Here, See Noevo is establishing a consequentialist morality here. There are no two ways about it. He doe sit often and I would like him to admit it and be open with us.

The problem is, for governmental and action-based (think policy) decisions, people invariably use consequentialism. In the basic trolley experiment, some 89% of people would pull the lever based on consequentialist rationale. Yes, this changes with a dollop of psychology but there’s no getting away from the draw of consequentialism.

When making government policy decisions, it is the same. And we have the most pressing one that Trump is obsessed about, which appears to be what See Noevo above is concerned with (not unusual for a thoughtless lapdog of the Orange Mussolini, wanting to outdo Italy in infamy):

Does America:

1) Shut down movement and isolate people in order to stop the spread of the disease and save millions of lives?


2) Try to keep (reopen) the economy functioning by allowing free or limited movement and businesses to remain functioning as normally as possible.

Let’s assume these are his two options [this is broadly the case by his own admission, though he doesn’t verbalise 1), talking exclusively about 2)].

How do differentiate between these two actions without recourse to some form of consequentialism? The calculations would be something like:

1) Millions of people won’t die and there is value to human life since, if we devalued life (further level of consequentialism), society would be unworkable, including for ourselves. Mass deaths and illnesses would actually have a far greater negative effect on the economy, and thus quality and standard of life for all society.


2) Keeping the economy functioning to a) have a strong economy that remains competitive; b) raise tax income; c) not have huge expenditure in rescue plans and welfare payments etc.; and so on.

You could argue that there is a sanctity in human life that requires one to take option 1) (even though this could be seen as consequentialist) but it’s odd that, though this has more of a theistic feel to it, is not the options most (conservative) theists appear to be taking.

Most arguments over policy appear to be very clearly and inherently, perhaps implicitly, accepting or building on a foundation of consequentialism.

Lives vs economy: economy wins, for Trump and many of his supporters, at least.

“We have it totally under control,” Donald Trump said. On the 22nd January. So much so that the States is now the epicentre of the pandemic.


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