Friday, July 15, 2016

Consequentialism and Aggregate Happiness Calculation

From guest blogger, Jimmy.

When faced with the problem of helping an old lady cross the street, and she gets hit by a car, one may feel blameworthy. But what I want to examine is, was it the best thing to do, factoring aggregate happiness and all?  

I believe it still is the best thing to do, instead of just standing there, not helping while fully capable.  It's true, you have to do the best you can do, and one didn't know a car would come.  It would be foolhardy to quickly run across the street and see if any cars are coming. One should be brave and trust that cars may stop when supposed to.  Furthermore,  that being able to trust, is an action onto itself. That trusting is taking into account the whole moral community-the lady, cars, other pedestrians, into account.  Now one is taking into account the aggregate happiness for everyone,  not just the old lady. Yea, its a terrible thing that happened,  but what if the lady got hit without you there? Then that would be even more sad.  So at least pedestrians and cars will look around and see that a positive action-helping the old lady-was preformed, and they will see how kind you were.


Hannah Blum said...

Hi Jimmy,

I thought this was a very interesting perspective to take on consequentialism and the dilemma of the old lady crossing the street. The way you incorporated virtue ethics as an ideal way of acting was interesting because we had never mentioned exactly what the intentions of helping were. By explaining that knowing as much information as you can you would choose to cross the street and knowing that a car could come was brave, you explained the mindset of the person helping the lady cross the street. They weren't being selfish or weak, they were being brave and helpful.

I also thought it was interesting to think about your trust of the entire moral community. Looking at morals and your decisions this way hasn't really been brought up, but it shows your hope for the moral community that the general population is moral and won't drive recklessly or endanger another part of humanity.

I wasn't sure if you were trying to say this, but it seems that you believe in Virtue Ethics and doing what a virtuous person would do with as much knowledge as you can have about the situation. I think this is great and an admirable position to take.

Kendra Van Lanen said...

Hi Jimmy and Hannah,

It is Kendra here and I am joining in the conversation about this dilemma. I think that this dilemma showcases why consequentialism just does not cut it when determining morality of an action. Leaving morality up to the external environment can enable anything to happen. That is just not accurate when determining the morality of an action because each time that action is preformed, something new and unexpected could happen. This means that there would be no moral truths.

I think it is that you have to consider the person's intentions and make sure they are genuine and then decide whether or not they are acting morally. Either Deontology and Virtue ethics do a better job of discussing morality even though there are plenty of differences between the two. But that is a topic for another blog post.

Patrick said...

Hey Jimmy,

I agree, completely agree. I imagine a world where most people are too afraid to help others because they could be liable for unforeseen consequences. I love the quote by Edmund Burke that the only necessity for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Fear is paralyzing but it takes bravery to take a stand against that fear and try to make the world a better place, but what if we fail? What if we make the world worse instead? How could we know unless we try. If everyone stopped trying to do the right thing because they fear they'll make the wrong decision the world will never get better than it is right now. It'd probably get even worse. As long as everyone tries to do the right thing. eventually someone will make the right call and make the world a little bit better.