Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Consequentialism is evil

One of my many pet peeves is Catholics who don't understand fundamental notions of Catholic morality, like the ends do not justify the means.

Mark Shea:

Consequentialism, for anyone not fully up to speed on basic principles of Catholic moral teaching, is the belief that good ends justify evil means. Despite the fact that this notion has been condemned ever since Paul wrote Romans 3:8, most moderns and postmoderns, including Catholics, deeply believe it anyway.


As a general rule, the way we assuage our consciences when we do evil for a good end is to pretend that the good end cancels out the sin that we do. If the good end we are seeking to achieve actually occurs, then we tell ourselves it was all for the best. So, as kids, we sneak into the piggy bank and steal the money to get Mom a birthday present, and she, being none the wiser, likes the present while never noticing the money is gone. Mission accomplished! Mom is happy, so what’s the problem?

In fact, however, this notion that Truly Evil people are distinguished from us because they desire evil ends is false. That’s because every sin, whether venial or mortal, is committed in the disordered attempt to achieve some good end. Everything from the Holocaust to your hand in the cookie jar is the disordered attempt to obtain some good. And indeed, the more exalted the good end, the more the sinner can feel justified in doing something monstrous to achieve it. For this reason, sins do not become “not sins” merely because we intend some good end. For the simple fact is that everybody, from the kid fibbing about the piggy bank to Adolf Hitler, is seeking some good end. What makes a sin a sin is not that the end sought is not good, but that a good end is sought by evil means. The severity of a sin is measured not by the nobility of the end we seek — Hitler, after all, sought a glorious renewed Germany risen from the ashes of World War I — but by how radically disordered are the means we use to achieve that end (e.g., the death of millions innocent people).


[W]e love to trot out the rhetoric of outrage at this point. “Oh, so poor Hitler meant well because he loved his dog!” we shout. “So I’m supposed to feel sorry for Ted Bundy who was only looking for love, eh?” Note the Manichaean thinking: Truly Evil People can’t possibly be motivated by love. Nor can they possibly be seeking happiness or a good end. They do what they do because they are bad right through. If we entertain the possibility that Charles Manson or Heinrich Himmler sought some good end just as we do, then we (gasp!) humanize the grave sinner — which is as good as saying that they “mean well,” which is as good as saying that what they are doing isn’t even a sin! Why? Because that’s what we tell ourselves to exonerate ourselves of our own sins.