There is no possibility for human action without moral consequences.
Philosophers throughout time have examined the motivations behind human actions and their consequences. One of the philosophies that developed to answer these questions is Utilitarianism. Utilitarianism concluded that all human action has a moral value based on the moral consequence (pleasure/good, pain/bad) that it produces. Based on these criteria, is there possibly human action without moral consequences?
The answer to this question can be found in this argument:
Utilitarianism, along with other philosophies, is aware of the moral consequences of human action for the individual, as well as for the community. In fact, these philosophies either take this idea for granted, or use this idea as the foundation.
Lets Start with John Stuart Mills argument.
Mills argued that "the rightness or wrongness of an act depends not on any intrinsic worth, but on the results it produces or tends to produce." (512.1.8-10), and through his principle of utility one can act upon something without a moral consequence and it will create happiness. For example
(1.) Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce reverse of happiness. (513.2.1-3)
(2.)By happiness are intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure. (513.2.4)
(3.)pleasure and freedom from pain, are the only things desirable as ends; and that all desirable things are desirable either for the pleasure inherent in themselves, or as means to the promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain.(513.1.
(4.)Hence, true happiness according to principle of utility has no moral consequences
In sum, Mill"s argued that true happiness has no moral consequences, and depending on the human action one try"s to gain the desired end (happiness) through pleasure and freedom from pain.
Some may argue that motives do not always have the same moral value as human action; however, it is important to remember there are motives that can be seen as “good” and others as “bad” and even morally neutral motives. (Bentham (132.2.1-7) For example, my motive to drink coffee this morning is not necessarily bad or good. What makes this motive a negative or positive one comes from something else. The moral importance of motives really comes from the effects, as in the actions that follow or are supported by motives. Motives that are not supported by actions do not have as much moral weight because their effect stays in the mind. Although, the effect of motives that are not put into action is mental, it can increase or decrease the happiness of the individual.
1. I want to bake a chocolate cake for my daughter’s birthday.
Motives for human action are neither inherently good nor bad, and are sometimes neutral. However, when these motives are not made into action, they can also have moral consequences.
As Stated by John Stuart Mills
As an addition to his principle of utility Mill"s also distinguished the fact that there are two qualities of pleasure, He distinguished higher from lower pleasures: some kinds of pleasure, those involving our more elevated intellectual faculties are more valuable than others. (512.2.20-23) However even though they have value it does not mean there is a moral consequence. For example
(1.)If I am asked what I mean by difference of quality in pleasures, or what makes one pleasure more valuable than another, merely as a pleasure except its being greater in amount, there is but one possible answer.(514.2.1)
(2.)Of two pleasures, if there be one to which all or almost all who have experience of both give a decided preference, irrespective (without regard) of any feeling of moral obligation to prefer it, that is the more desirable pleasure.(514.2.3-4)
(3.)Whereas, if one of the two is by those who are competently acquainted with both, placed so far above the other that they prefer it, even though knowing it to be attended with a greater amount of discontent. This is considered to be the undesired pleasure. (514.2.4-5)
(4.)Hence, if one were to prefer both items without any discomfort, or moral obligation, then that is the desired outcome. If one were to feel discomfort than it is not a desired outcome. (514.2.5-6)
In sum, Mills argued that there are different qualities of pleasures, if one were to prefer both items without any discomfort then that would be a desired outcome, if one felt discomfort towards one item then it is an undesired outcome, Human actions depend on desires, and actions could be made without moral consequences.
We have seen that human actions have moral consequences. We have also seen that the motives behind these actions (realized and unrealized) can have moral consequences. In this third part, we move from the fact that all human action has moral consequences to the fact that sometimes the motive can be “good”, but the action resulting from it can be bad, or vice versa. Martin Luther King explained it best when he was describing the professional, “good”, conduct of the police officers in their interactions with protestors: “…it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends.” (King (11.4.5-9)
Even Socrates was the victim of the effect of the Oracle’s words. We do not know what the intention of the Oracle (or the gods) was, but there was an undeniable effect that took place in Socrates mind. It caused him to begin challenging all the “wise-men” in Athens. This action turned out to have a negative moral consequence. He had made so many enemies that he was eventually put on trial and condemned to death. Socrates’ intention in response to the Oracle was honest: he only wanted to clear up any false idea of his wisdom, but his action had negative and fatal moral and physical consequences for him.
“Accordingly I went to one who had the reputation of wisdom, and observed to him – his name I need not mention; he was a politician whom I selected for examination – and the result was as follows: When I began to talk with him, I could not help thinking that he was not really wise, although he was thought wise by many, and wiser still by himself; and I went and tried to explain to him that he thought himself wise, but was not really wise; and the consequence was that he hated me, and his enmity was shared by several who were present and heard me.” (Plato (3.7. 1-19)
The dilemma for MLK and everyone else is to determine whether these moral consequences are good/bad, bring
happiness or unhappiness.
Bentham proposed that causation and rightness govern us in all we do, in all we say, and in all we think; every effort we can make to throw off our subjection will serve, but to demonstrate and confirm it (128.1). Even though we try to deny causation and rightness control over our minds it seems to seep further and further into our lives, showing our true desires. Bentham suggests that we follow the principle of utility, which will aid in showing our true desires, without moral consequences.
(1.)Bentham states that one should follow his principle of utility due to the fact that is the utmost moral principle, The principle of utility is meant to approve or disapprove of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency which it appears to have augment, or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question. (128.3.1)
(2.)Utility is also meant to promote or to oppose happiness.
(3.)The principle of it will not shut down every action it will allow people to decide what is a good argument and what is considered to be a terrible argument.
(4.)Hence, the principle of utility is the foundation of the present work; then it must be the proper principle to follow (128.2.1)
(5.)Even though, it is the utmost moral principle, people base their actions on decisions made, and not on moral consequences.
In sum, Bentham argues that one should believe in principle of utility due to the fact that it"s the foundation of present work, plus it will aid in approving or disapproving every action of the government.
I can see where the argument that there are human actions which are neutral, as in neither good nor bad, comes from. However, the problem with this idea is that by themselves, actions may hypothetically be neutral, but their effects are never neutral. Humans take actions to produce effects or consequences that they desire. If the effects that they desire do not appear, then they can become unhappy: therefore, the action that they took had a negative moral consequence. Whether there is an intention behind the action, there is always an effect on the individual and/or others, whether it is happiness/unhappiness or good/evil.
King, Martin Luther, Letter from Birmingham Jail
Mill, John Stuart, Utilitarianism
Plato, Apology (Translated by Benjamin Jowett)
Bentham shows that causation and rightness govern our actions and if we are to follow his principle of utility, we can break from causation and rightness and achieve happiness granted the fact there is no moral consequences.
Mills took Bentham principle of utility a step further just by adding the simple fact that human desires also play an important role in human action, and when desire is broken down into higher and lower pleasure we see that the most preferred will be the one to which all or almost all who have experience of both give a decided preference, irrespective of any feeling of moral obligation to prefer it, that is the more desirable pleasure. notice the fact he said "irrespective of any feeling of moral obligation" break it down and you get something along the lines of when considering a human action, desire should not regard moral consequences. hence the fact that it is possible for there to be human action without moral consequences.