OK straight up with the definitions first.
Consequentialist Moral Reasoning– locates morality in the consequences of an act (in the state of the world that will result from the thing you do).
Categorical Moral Reasoning– locates morality in certain duties and rights — regardless of the consequences. To put it simply, there are certain things that are categorically wrong even if they bring about a good result.
This is probably the first concept that is discussed in law schools, I know it is in Harvard, from a Youtube video.
The most rudimentary example that is sighted to elaborate these theories is that of a Trolley car on a rail track which has lost its brakes. On your path are five workers who are unaware and cannot move out of the way. However, there is a side track available if you choose to turn the trolley car. On the side track there is one similar worker. Essentially you have a choice to cause death to five persons vs one person. People typically say they would choose to turn the car, thereby causing one death as opposed to five deaths, and portray it as essentially four lives saved. There are arguments to not make the turn, well fortune had the cart on the track of five workers unfortunately, while you took it in your arms to cause death to the one person who was, so to say, not involved in the moment. What would you do if that one person was not a worker but a President, would you turn? What makes one life more important than five or more, who are we to make that decision?
Take Two — you’re not the driver of the doomed trolley this time, but an onlooker. So you feel even more helpless. but you notice, standing next to you is a (healthy not fat) man, leaning over. If you were to give him a shove, it would break the tracks, he would die, but the five workers would be safe. Would it be considered murder? Would you call it essentially four lives saved? Typical arguments here are ‘for some reason it seems more wrong, to push the fat man, pushing felt more physical than turning the steering.’
Different Situation, lets say you’re a doctor, and six patients come to you, they’ve been in a trolley car wreck (LOL). Five are moderately injured, one is severely injured. You can spend all day and save the one severely injured patient, in that time the five would die; or spend the whole day and save five, but one severely injured would unfortunately die.
Take Two — You’re a transplant specialist doctor. Five patients each need different organs to survive; lets say heart, liver, kidney, pancreas, and lung. It occurs to you that in the next room, there is a healthy guy who came in for a check-up! He’s asleep, you could yank out the five pieces, he would die; but you would be saving five lives! How many would do it?
I know you’re gonna have more questions of the premises here, and find loopholes etc. Lets say the situation is as straight forward as its been put, and take the philosophical point. If you read the definitions above and followed the chain of thoughts in the situations above, you would’ve understood which one is the consequential (almost the same as utilitarianism) moral reasoning, and which is the categorical moral reasoning approach. I expect that from my readers.
Categorical approach of ethics says there are certain rules we must follow in life, regardless of the situation, regardless of the consequences. Black and White. Full Stop. STEALING is wrong, I do not care about the circumstances. We must always speak the TRUTH. This is why it is also known as the Divine Command theory, we take these rules directly from the book of God.
Consequential approach to moral reasoning says, hey stealing is usually wrong. But what if I have my mother starving to death, and if I don’t get her bread, she dies. Surely it is good act to save the life of your starving mother. Then I’ll go back to not stealing. The guy at the door is asking about where my mate is at, he is irate and has an axe in his hand. If I speak the truth he’s surely gonna get to my mate and murder him. Should I not avoid telling the truth in such a situation? As you can follow, the consequence here is aiming to justify the act. Utilitarianism weighs up how much happiness (utility) is going to come from an act, vs how much misery would it cause to not do it. You choose the path of most happiness for most people. It’s always ‘it depends’.
Now, the comeback from the categorical POV is, sorry what are you on about!? That person at your door with the axe asking for your mate, you don’t know what your mate has done to this person; You don’t know this person has any intention of killing your mate for sure; you don’t know if this person might actually be seeking to protect your friend from another person/group who are out to kill your mate! In other words, you don’t EVER know the consequences of your actions. Unintended consequences happen ALL the time. If everyone went about stealing, lying, there would be chaos. If we make exceptions to the rules, you get a slippery slope. Everybody will justify their needs; Umm mum’s not starving, but I could do with a little more, stealing from someone who God has given too much of, surely its ok.
Hopefully you’ve followed till here, cuz we digging a level deeper now.
Categorical approach follows a set of defined rules, which are set in a way which everyone should act. And if everyone acts accordingly, consequentially, we will have a morally better society (that’s looking at the consequences!). Divine command theories when seen a level deeper, are rules set by God, so that we have a morally good society (consequentialist).
Other end, consequentialists are situation based, but why. Because, they ultimately believe that you should always do the most loving thing, always do the thing which causes most benefit to most people. Now that sounds like a rule doesn’t it! A categorical rule, regardless of the situation.
JUSTICE is complicated, being a judge is not for everybody. Let’s promise ourselves to, at the very least, not be the quickest to judge, and jump to conclusions. At a time such as this, where information is diluted, distorted, manipulated, and dissolved, let’s take our time before forming strong opinions. There is still so much more to say on this, and there are contemporary cases we could debate on. Write back to me please!
I came across this and I wanna leave you with it (in context to exploring philosophy, thinking and questioning things know already knew (or probably thought so)) — “Once the familiar turns strange, it’s never quite the same again, Self-knowledge is like lost innocence. However unsettling, it can never be unthought or unknown.”