Dual Scalar Situationism

Joseph Fletcher once said, “If the ends don’t justify the means, then what does?” Personally I find this to be a very pithy question and for some time now I’ve tended to agree with him on the basic utilitarian premise that consequences are to be considered the determining factor in assigning a moral value to a particular act. In Fletcher’s case the well-being of humanity was to be the end of each action, hence his focus on agape love, while in the case of Bentham, Mill, and other classic utilitarians happiness was the desired result of all our choices.

The problem with these systems in their earliest forms, however, is that they generally tend to stress only one right option in any particular case. “The greatest good for the greatest amount” is said to be the proper goal, which of course leads one to wonder about good acts that don’t necessarily provide the greatest good for the greatest amount, but only some good for some. Obviously it’s quite counterintuitive to consider these lesser acts as morally blameworthy, and one can’t help but notice that the absolute precision needed to achieve the greatest good in each scenario is far too impractical for virtually all of us in our everyday lives. Furthermore, these systems also often fail to take into account the heart and motives of the doer, which is clearly crucial to any moral judgement as we all know deep down. That Mother Theresa did many wonderful things there is no doubt; but if she had confessed before her death that all the good she had done was simply for the sake of recognition and admiration, most of us would be willing to condemn her as a fraud, even though we would still continue to recognize the general goodness of what she did.

Now, there have certainly been many corrections made to utilitarianism over the years as these questions have been seen and addressed by a variety of philosophers, but I’m going to offer some of my own thoughts, however flawed and dependent on others as they might be. As I see it, though, in each case regarding moral acts we make two judgements: one regarding the deed and one regarding the doer. The moral value of a particular act, I say, is based on the consequences of that act (I agree with Fletcher that love and the well-being of humanity are in focus and prefer to avoid using the term “happiness”, as it appears too fleeting and transient), while the moral status of the actor is determined by something intrinsic, such as motive.  In the first case, then, we can say that there is a scale on which a gradation of goodness and badness exists on each side, with morally neutral acts in the middle. The greatest acts which bring the greatest good for humanity are at the one far end, while the worst acts are at the other. Classic utilitarianism would say that only this greatest act on the one end is acceptable in any particular circumstance, as I mentioned earlier; but assuming this gradation of moral value, why should we consider only one option to be the right one? Could it not be that there are a variety of right choices, some better than others, but none morally blameworthy insofar as they remain on the good end of the scale or at least in the neutral zone?

This eliminates the rigidity and impracticality of the classical system by allowing a greater degree of freedom in the choices that can be made but still doesn’t provide criteria for determining the moral status of the one doing the act, which is a key element; but in this case too I think there must be a scale of motivation or something of the sort. The better the motives, the more morally praiseworthy the individual; the worse the motives, the more morally blameworthy. Unfortunately, at this point I haven’t yet determined what constitutes a good motive and what a bad; and explicating the subtle interplay of desire and intention proves to be more difficult than one might at first think. Nevertheless, I believe the general thrust already mentioned still stands: the moral value of an act is determined by its consequences and is to be kept as a distinct judgement from the moral status of the actor, which status is determined by the goodness or badness of his/her motives. This I shall call dual scalar situationism.


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