Consequences over Ethics

Published: 2013-01-17

When people judge a certain deed, situation, or statement, they consult their ethics. And for most people, their ethics is a colorful jumble of inconsistent views, that are treated independently from each other. This, for example, allows good Christs to feel charitable while they at the same time disallow colored people to enjoy equal rights. And people mostly don't even reflect on that. When asked, they say something just is good or bad, as if it was a quality of the thing itself.

I am still trying to free myself from any form of ethics. And by that I don't mean that I can do whatever I like. Instead, when judging something, I try to think in terms of consequences. And I do this very selfishly. So I ask: What consequences does this have for me in the long run? This disallows me to kill other people, because I do not want the consequence of going to prison. I try to consider all types of consequences, such as reputation (which itself is only a means to gain other benefits), amount of comfort, or amount of money. There also is a difference between actual gain or loss and perceived gain or loss. So the same amount of money is of different value for different people. And then everything only comes with a certain probability. For instance, if I want to kill you, I might succeed doing so with only a certain probability. And whether I go to prison or not depends on me being caught for it or not.

Because everything is only "good" or "bad" in relation to some mostly arbitrary ethical standards, I propose dropping that question altogether. Instead, the question to ask is: Are the perceived gains (considering their probability) for doing it higher than the perceived losses (also considering their probability)? In the movie Fight Club, they turn this into a formula:

In that scene, the narrator explains the formula his company applies when deciding whether to call back a defective car or not. One can generalize the formula such that it applies to all cases, by considering all perceived gains and perceived losses with their corresponding probability. So the general formula would look something like this:

gainperceived * probabilitygain   >   lossperceived * probabilityloss

Of course the complete formula that considers many psychological details of the human decision making process that is the state-of-the-art in decision theory is way more sophisticated (and thus complex). The above formula is just a crud approximation to illustrate my point. Which is that there exists a formula that accurately captures the human decision process that is (mostly subconsciously) taking place. And our society is built upon this very formula. Because you cannot force people to believe in God. Nor can you even only teach them a proper conscience (because by applying inconsistency, they can get around it). But you can make people use the formula. Actually, if there is something evil to be done (whatever evil means anyway) and the disparity between expected gains and expected losses is high enough, eventually there are people willing to do it. I don't say that everybody will do anything. There are things for everybody which they won't do (because of their context, the perceived losses are too high). But which things they won't do is different for everybody. And so for anything eventually there is somebody willing to do it.

This may first seem frightening, but I think this formula is already in place and well-working. At least most of the time. Actually, the counter examples illustrate that ethics don't work either. Whenever there is something in this world which is "obviously bad" (or say it is perceived so by a vast majority), and there are still people doing it, it's because the formula isn't working. This is true from whaling to environmental pollution, from banks to politics.

And since this formula is already at work in the back of our head and in our subconsciousness anyway, why not put up with it, and drop moral and ethics altogether. Forget moral, ethics, and religion. Forget conscience and the greater good. Why keep on pretending? Just use the formula. You already do so anyway!

I'd love to read your response.
Mail me: moc.sthgisni-edamdnah@jrelsseor