Tortured Morality

Oh good – CIA torture is back in the news. Editorial pages and blogs are bound to be full of strong opinions. Unfortunately, it very much resembles five year olds arguing about cosmology. It’s incoherent to have an opinion on this one issue unless it fits in some larger context of morality. Figure out your view of morality and ethics in general and the specifics are not so hard.

I suggest reading the excellent Wikipedia entry on consequentialism.

Consequentialism refers to those moral theories which hold that the consequences of a particular action form the basis for any valid moral judgment about that action…

Consequentialism is usually understood as distinct from deontology, in that deontology derives the rightness or wrongness of an act from the character of the act itself rather than the outcomes of the action, and from virtue ethics, which focuses on the character of the agent rather than on the nature or consequences of the action itself.

There are many flavors to consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics, each having a different view of morality. If you haven’t wrestled with this, thinking it through, then you don’t have a moral philosophy. Without a moral philosophy to underpin your thoughts, your opinion on a specific moral issue simply isn’t intellectually honest. As a bonus, if you have developed a coherent moral philosophy, or are in the process of doing so, you can at least understand the views of those who have a different perspective of right and wrong.


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