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November 13, 2006

Noblesse n'oblige pas: A Review of the President of Good and Evil

Re: RICHARD A. COUTO -- NOBLESSE N'OBLIGE PAS: A REVIEW OF THE PRESIDENT OF GOOD AND EVIL BY PETER SINGER -- LOGOS 3.4 FALL 2004:

In his World War I essay, “Politics as a Vocation,” Weber argues that an ethic of ultimate ends “just does not ask for consequences.”  “The believer in an ethic of ultimate ends feels ‘responsible’ only for seeing to it that the flame of pure intentions is not quelched.”  He dealt with the complexity of Christian pacificism and rejected it.  The ethic of responsibility requires “one has to give an account of the foreseeable results of one’s actions.”  Thus it prohibits blind allegiance to radical Christian pacificism, or any ultimate end, because of its foreseeable adverse consequences.  Responding to aggression by turning the other cheek would abrogate the ethic of responsibility for the ethic of ultimate ends. Intentions cannot outweigh the consideration of the foreseeable consequences of our actions in the vocation of politics. 
There is a counterpart to this mix of intention and consequences in the ethic of everyday life.  The strictest ethical test is to judge our actions for their consequence on others and to judge others’ actions towards us by their intentions. In contrast, the laxest is the opposite—a stress on good intentions and denial of the consequences of our actions.
.... the President’s instinctive ethical judgments yield an unreflective ethic of privilege—ultimate values sincerely held but insufficiently thought out and without responsibility for the consequences of actions taken on their behalf.  The ethic of privilege offers a truly disturbing invitation to escape from the freedom to reflect on the consequences of our actions in the presidential election of 2004 and from the responsibility for our actions. 
Unfortunately, the ethic of privilege is what it is because it is not available to ordinary people.  The only parts of the ethic of privilege that ordinary people share are the opportunities to distinguish themselves from others—including gays and lesbians—in terms of good and evil and not to ask or reflect on the foreseeable consequences of that action.

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