From Hobson's Choice
Morality is a code of conduct derived from a belief system or philosophy. In some cases, it is based on the strict application of rules; in other cases, it is based on the presumed consequences of one's actions.
Some Basic Concepts in Morality
In philosophical discussions of morality, an extremely basic question is whether or not one believes that moral codes can be based on rules, and if those rules ought to be standardized. The concept that morality ought to be based on outcomes is known as "consequentialism"; consequentialism is contrasted to views of morality that reject any a priori consideration of consequences. Typically, consequentialism is contrasted to one's peculiar notions of what the alternative is; for example, Cummiskey contrasts consequentialism with the concept of universal human rights, while John Rawls seems to imply that the difference between consequentialism and non-consequentialist morality is one of time horizon. Rawls' position is that consequentialism needs to consider the outcomes of any code of justice (or morality) over all conceivable time; if this is done, then moral codes will not be contingent after all, since the very concept of rights depends on principles that are immutable.
Examples of this sort of moral dilemma include:
- national governments suspending property rights for some public benefit, such as land reform;
- monetary authorities inducing inflation to avert a recession;
- privatization schemes designed to make an economy more productive;
- a therapist having sex with a patient to achieve some breakthrough.
The first one is the crux of most ideological disputes since the US Civil War, and certainly was part of the political debate about the abolition of slavery. Generally speaking, most debates of this character have tended to accord a much lower weight to property accumulated long ago than to that achieved recently (hence, slaves were "made" property long ago under undeniably immoral conditions; likewise, most cases of land reform have applied to land alienated from the majority population under legally (not to mention morally) dubious conditions, such as warlordism. But the experience of early revolutionary Russia (War Communism), followed by the New Economic Policy (NEP) is a good example of the disastrous consequences of an arbitrary disregard for property rights per se.
The second example was a standard policy prescription that in a few cases was taken to extremes. In Germany during the 1920's, the Reichsmark was deliberately inflated as a strategy to defeat the French occupation of the Rhineland. The policy had the collateral benefit of stimulating stupendous investment in capital equipment. The distortions of ownership and state power caused by this contributed to the Nazis' rise to power. This event is especially interesting because it (a) is very widely misunderstood, particularly by non-Germans; and (b) it can be used to illustrate the reason why "discretionary" or "contingent" morality is flawed.
According to Keynesian theory, it could potentially be advantageous under some conditions to hyperinflate the currency. According to the most robotic application of the theory, this could be done endlessly, provided the rate of inflation increased continuously. However, it was noticed that this implied that some people would constantly be deceived about the future rate of inflation, and lose money as a consequence. Hence, some economists argued, monetary policy would lose all effectiveness whatever since savers and borrowers would soon make accurate predictions about the future value of money.
Starting in the early 1970's,..Lucas launched the rational expectations revolution, which demonstrated that the public's and the market's expectations of policy actions have important effects... The theory of rational expectations made it ..clear why there could be no long-run trade-off between unemployment and inflation, so that attempting to lower unemployment below the natural rate would lead only to higher inflation and no improvement in performance in output or employment. Indeed, one implication of rational expectations in a world of flexible wages and prices was the policy ineffectiveness proposition, which indicated that if monetary policy were anticipated it would have no real effect on output...At comparatively low rates of inflation (<5% annually) expropriation of property—the "collateral damage" of inflation—is not a very urgent consideration, but it's not likely to be a very effective stimulus either. At rates sufficiently high that changes can decisively influence the state of the economy, and also have a devastating effect on innocent people, inflation is a moral issue indeed. At the time of the German inflation, it was widely thought that the victims of inflation were inheritors of large fortunes, and that inflation had a socially leveling effect. As we now know, the effects of arbitrarily suspending individual rights for the greater good merely led to these same rights being held in disrepute; the "social" benefits are lost as people learn to avoid the wealth transfers.
The same problem arises for cases where a country privatizes parts of the economy nationalized in the past; in many cases, the sale of nationalized utilities is used to finance tax cuts on the wealthiest segments of the population. The rationale for such giveaways is that it makes the country's economy more "competitive," although the actual effect is to transfer national wealth to the affluent minority, or to foreigners. As test of consequentialist morality, it is a failure since the suspension of the rights of the citizenry (as the majority non-affluent understand them) is supposed to serve the general good, but likewise causes the commons to fall into disregard. The cost of social capital is so severe it surely offsets any market advantage it was supposed to achieve.
Finally, we have example four, in which a therapist has sex with a patient to achieve a breakthrough. As is well-known, this is a violation of professional ethics; yet this is treated favorably in the novel The Prince of Tides (Pat Conroy). Technically, Dr. Lowenstein is not Wingo's therapist, but his sister's; nevertheless, a premise of the story is that Lowenstein helps her actual patient (and her patient's brother) by having sex with him. It's conceivable that a therapist could indeed develop a level of self-mastery so total that she could do this as an effective part of therapy, and objectively know when to stop when the patient ceased to "need" sex—conceivable, in the sense that such self-mastery doesn't defy the laws of physics. But it is a logical impossibility that a "discipline" of "applied" sexual therapy could be developed and then transmitted to students of psychology so that it was used effectively and professionally, even if it were possible to screen students for such treatment. Also, the acid test would be if such a therapy were available to really unattractive patients. Since no moral methodology of applied sexual therapy could ever exist, it follows that no moral practice of applied sexual therapy could ever exist.
Morality differs from ethics in so far as morality is an abstract conception of correct conduct derived from philosophical principles or (in a less formal sense), from the practical implications of a belief system; ethics is a system of boundaries within which one may behave. In a sense, morality is the absolute center of the target of righteous conduct; ethics is a circle around the center, within which one's behavior is "good enough." But both ethics and morality have similar foundations, and may be construed as identical: as a code of conduct which, if faithfully followed, achieves the most desirable outcome possible for all possible time.
- ↑ See Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, "Consequentialism"
- ↑ David Cummiskey Kantian Consequentialism Oxford University Press (1996), p.3
- ↑ John Rawls, A Theory of Justice Oxford University Press (1975). Apologies for the lack of a specific page cite; my copy, published in 1994 (Belknap, Harvard, 20th printing), has "The Original Position" begin on p.118, where it explains the thought experiment that forms the basis of Rawls' theory of justice.
- ↑ This essay is not about Germany's experience with hyperinflation. However, the incident is commonly misunderstood. Hyperinflation has the effect of pushing the LM curve to the extreme right, causing a boom in capital investment; in effect, hyperinflation creates a period of varying, but finite, duration during which investment cannot lose money, so demand for investment goods is unlimited. When the period came to an end, Germany had a huge bulge of capital investment that swiftly changed hands, and created a new class of parvenus with little experience with governance. Terrified of the ascendant Communists, they turned to the hard right to not only protect them from expropriation, but also from obsolescence. Hence, Nazi measures to restrict market entry for most industries.
- ↑ Frederic S. Mishkin, [Monetary Policy Strategy] MIT Press (2007), p.3
- ↑ What actually happens is that, initially, when the rising rate of inflation takes people by surprise, the "most surprised" people pay a "tax" on money held as cash or in low-yield bonds. People on fixed incomes are simply stuck as their incomes vanish; in countries where inflation is fact of life, they are likely to become politically mobilized, so that in subsequent cases of hyperinflation, they will be prepared with cost of living increases.
Initially, inflation transfers money to entrepreneurs, who are now practically guaranteed that their investments will be profitable. Hence, the initial impact is a virtuous redistribution of funds from consumption to productive spending. Subsequently, people learn not to be victimized, anticipate the inflation, and thereby reduce the effectiveness of inflation as a virtuous transfer. This stimulates the financial sector, since liquidity is now very expensive, and spending once transferred virtuously into production later flows viciously into finance. Disinflation reverses everything, except that the people who lost their incomes remain poor.
- ↑ I have been advised by several therapists that such violations are endemic to the psychiatric profession; and that this is generally overlooked. I am likewise advised that there is no pretension that sex in therapy is supposed to serve the patient's needs; it's regarded more as a fringe benefit to the therapist.
- David Cummiskey Kantian Consequentialism Oxford University Press (1996)
- John Rawls, A Theory of Justice Oxford University Press (current version published 1975)
- The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
James R MacLean (02:03, 7 January 2008 (PST))