Inconsequentialism

‘Beggars… should be entirely abolished.’ So said the sage often characterised as the philosopher against pity. Do you not just feel your righteous indignation mounting it’s colossal moral horse? How dare one so offend against so vulnerable a group?  This, however, is the wrong question.

How dare one be so small as to fail to understand the true nature of the statement in inverted commas? The proximal issue here, of beggars or pity, I will dispense with quickly in my capacity as a sage’s apologist: does one wish beggars to persist in their straits? I find it uncontroversial that there is nothing but compassion in wishing the abolition of such a thing. Did you imagine abolition to involve banning the practice of begging, without reference to the poor people? Or some Wahnsee solution? Then look to the smallness of your own souls. And pity? The best that can be said is that it allows for recognition of help needed. But it only arises where there is witnessed pain, squalor, diminishment. And does one enjoy feeling it? If so… well, partake of the pun, the smallness dwarfs the previous.

The distal issue… It is something between a human’s nature, and whether intentions or consequences matter in morality. The opening quote forces an assumption, noticed or not, about intention and it is, I think, telling, that in general the assumption is negative. Again, the best that can be said is that life experience, experience of people, makes such an assumption natural. The worst is that that experience comes about because the more common human nature is negative: that, uttered by most, the opening quote would be a statement traducing beggars, not the unacceptable nature of there ever being reasons to beg.

Consequences matter. They are, perhaps, paramount. It would be a strange flavour of insanity to say an inadvertent action which happened to save a life was not a good thing. But it would also be distinctly odd to say that such an inadvertent action lent anything to the moral character of the actor. And since it is character, or nature, I am primarily concerned with here, that is the focus. The point, though, is not to laud the hapless who may mean well, but forever fail to translate their intentions into the desired outcomes. It is to highlight why, as in the original quoted example, the same words may disturb or delight, once we understand the intent behind them.

The aforementioned sage’s words come from a place, a nature, of compassion. Insofar as they partake of hatred they simply hate the violence inflicted upon and degradation of such persons, and states of affairs resulting in persons reduced to such a status. Even viewed less favourably it could be dislike of being made to feel pity for, perversion aside, such a feeling is not enjoyable: but even here, dislike of such a feeling is at least in good taste.

Still, the majority exegeseis renders the compassionate words hateful. And this eclipses intention in morality, sadly, since that was the point I wished to stress. It mostly reminds us that majority moral character is dismal.