We are acting permissibly when we do things like go to the movies once a year, or even once a month. Most of us would find it ridiculous if we were told we actually were not permitted to do these things. I consider anyone who disagrees with this claim to be outside of the accepted norms of morality, and I am not concerned with persuading them in this paper. But if consequentialism is true, then most of these movie watching activities and other similar experiences are actually impermissible because they do not bring about the most goodness in the world overall. The consequentialist view requires that we always maximize the overall good when we act. To determine whether or not an action maximizes the overall good, consequentialists analyze how good the consequences of every action (and potential action) are, as well as how good the act itself is in order to determine each action's permissibility.
The overall good, also known as the best overall states of affairs, is determined by an impersonal and impartial measurement of the world's goodness before or after any given act has been performed. There are many theories that give different accounts of what is good. For example, utilitarianism is a consequentialist theory whereby (according to one form of it) happiness is what is considered good, and therefore, happiness must be maximized. When looking at the outcome of an action and deciding whether or not it is best for the overall good, the analysis might include, among a number of other things, looking at the number of people killed, hurt, or impacted at all, as well as the amount of satisfaction and happiness achieved overall. This is meant to determine the act's impact on the overall (world) outcome.
Imagine this scenario: you are walking outside in the park minding your own business when you are confronted by an evil looking man with bushy eyebrows and a long trench coat. He hands you a device with one button. If you do not press this button, the evil man says, you will receive one million dollars instantly, but everyone else in the world will lose one hundred dollars each. Alternatively, if you press the button, everyone in the world will gain one hundred dollars, except for you who will lose five thousand! "Wow," you think, "I really don't have five thousand dollars to give up, but I could sure use one million!" What do you do? You are torn; the consequentialist in you says push the button because you are required to maximize the overall good, and more goodness will come from it overall since everyone in the world gets one hundred dollars. You losing a measly five thousand dollars is really nothing big in the grand scheme of things; after all, you are only one person. If you do not push the button it will make everyone else worse off, except for you. This seems quite selfish; would this be permissible? A person who does not believe it is required to push the button, and believes that it is permissible to gain the one million dollars and cause everyone else to lose one hundred dollars would be someone who believes in an agent-centered prerogative.
[...] If it is the case that seeing a movie tilts Scale more negatively than going to dinner tilts the scale, then consequentialism requires that you choose going to dinner. In contrast to this impersonal measurement, Scheffler's view incorporates the importance of each agent's personal interests because the permissibility of each action, on his view, depends upon more than just producing the most overall good by some impersonal measurement. Because of this a second scale is now utilized; this second scale, that we will call Scale only weighs your own personal interests, and no one else's. [...]
[...] Most of the time, when you are making a decision about what you are allowed to do next, you consider your own interests as more important and more influential to your decision-making for what you are allowed to do than the interests of everyone else in the world. If you didn't, your every decision would involve considering the interests of millions of other people just as you consider your own and you would be greatly restricted in what actions would be permitted for you to do. [...]
[...] Even if eating a Twinkie was actually the action in your best interests at the time, it seems like it would be quite extreme if the agent-centered prerogatives permitted such a case where you are causing such a great deal of harm to others. Not every view of agent-centered prerogatives must include a limit to the actions an agent-centered prerogative entitles us to when we act. Assuming such a limit is incorporating a restriction on the permissions of an agent-centered prerogative and a restriction of this kind is not necessarily incorporated in all conceptions of agent-centered prerogatives. [...]
[...] For every given action that my view of agent-centered prerogatives permits, it is in a case where the agent could not have done otherwise. Given this fact, I am not relying, as Scheffler is, merely on facts about the way people act. The fact that most people generally do not promote the overall good says nothing about whether or not their actions are permissible. But if it is true that in certain cases agents are incapable of producing the overall good, then it is permissible for them, in those cases, not to promote the overall good. [...]
[...] If the reason you can act on behalf of your own interests is because what you are doing is more important to you than the overall good, this would be the case even if the action's outcome was very bad for the overall good, and the positive impacts on you were insignificant. But if there really were no limits to when we could act in our interests, then we would be permitted to do so no matter how bad that action was for everyone else. [...]
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee