This week, our honorary president Chris Eddy returns to this topic. He says:
“Consequentialism is a theory about what counts as a justification for any proposed course of action, specifically that, in all situations, endorsing one proposal in preference to another can be justified only in terms of the reasonably foreseeable consequences of each. The Consent Principle does not deny the consequential theory of justification, which is common sense, but sets a logical limit to the kinds of proposal that can be justified to responsible agents.
Whoever proposes a course of action thereby implicitly undertakes to justify it, and to justify, I argue, is not merely to rationalize, i.e., to give one’s reasons for making a proposal, but to give reasons why others should consent to it, so that no action can meaningfully be justified if there is anyone for whom consenting to it would entail a contradiction. E.g., you could not meaningfully consent to the proposal “that you be raped”, since “rape” is a type of act which could occur, by definition, only without your consent. The Golden Rule implies the Consent Principle by its use of the word “would” (in “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,”) which invokes the idea of will or consent.
This is ground I have covered on previous occasions; in this evening’s talk I shall concentrate on exposing the weaknesses in the arguments that are routinely trotted out in support of Unlimited Consequentialism, i.e., the use of consequential reasoning without the logically (and therefore universally) binding limits imposed by the Consent Principle.
Unlimited Consequentialism is one way of arguing that “there can be no absolute values”, which is to say, that no type of action, however horrific, – e.g., torturing a child to death, – ought to be regarded as forbidden absolutely (i.e., unconditionally). If there were no absolute values, then there would be no logical basis for claiming that any value was necessarily preferable to any other, and Unlimited Consequentialism, on this assumption, provides the dodgy rhetoric with which coalitions of the willing, like Bush and Blair or Al-Qaeda, rationalize the opportunistic exercise of power in support of what they think of as their interests. I shall argue that Unlimited Consequentialism has a greater affinity with fascism, communism or the cynical authoritarianism of a Putin or a Museveni than with democracy, and that this gives us a good consequential reason for rejecting Unlimited Consequentialism.
Consequentialists associate the belief in absolute values with traditional religion; e.g., Richard Dawkins, the militant atheist and consequentialist, argues that, (1) if there is no God, then there can be no absolute values, and (2) there is no God, so (3) there can be no absolute values. To tease the Humanists I shall argue that (1) there are absolute values (in the sense that certain types of action are impossible to justify on any condition), and therefore, (2) if Dawkins’s first premiss is right, there must be some kind of God, i.e., a Being which performs at least some of the functions traditionally attributed to God.”
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