Most university students would see recollection and retreat courses as no more than just another requirement to graduate. Personally, they were six units of my college life that I just wanted to get over with, so I didn’t necessarily have my hopes up on the impact scale. That was until our retreat lecturer raised a question that forever changed the way I look at life.
In my CSR class, we recently discussed frameworks that highly influence people’s ethical decision-making: the Consequentialist Framework; the Virtue Framework; and the Duty Framework. These ethical frameworks identify three kinds of people in the world — the consequentialist, the virtuous, and the dutiful. Still, some people stand between the lines. They can live according to two frameworks, even three. You may wonder how they differ from each other. Well, it’s pretty self-explanatory, but allow me to get into detail.
The consequentialist mainly focuses on future advantages and consequences of a course of action. They are particularly significant when it comes to making decisions that involve a lot of people. So, think of entrepreneurs and business managers who first weigh the pros and cons before they fully dive into something. The Consequentialist Framework focuses on desirable outcomes and considers the best consequences. More than the business perspective, this framework also applies to individual decision-making processes. In some cases, they describe speculative people who are quick to jump to conclusions and judgments. If you are someone who prefers to be a few steps ahead of a situation, then you’re likely within the pragmatic road. However, the logical path is not always the best one. Consequentialists sometimes categorize actions to be ethical, even when they involve atrocity. Because as long as it results in a good outcome, the Consequentialist Framework deems it ethical.
Religious practitioners are generally virtuous in nature. If you’re one who attends church, you would know how important character is in that community. Christians universally agree on specific sets of acceptable ethical and moral standards. People who live according to the Virtue Framework bring focus on character traits — developed through Christian teachings — and use them as motivators in given situations. They are also no stranger to disputes, as disagreement often arise from clashing virtuous traits. For example, a lot of conservative Christians lean toward the pro-life philosophy, which is against abortion. On the other hand, many have become more liberated and advocate women’s personal autonomy by being pro-choice. The Virtue Framework is not strictly only applicable to religious individuals. In fact, virtues are something inherent to our upbringing or our environment.
Natural-born leaders, I suppose, are dutiful. They treat obligations as their highest priority, and give importance to moral rules or duty regardless of outcome. Tf you’re a K-Drama fan, then you might be familiar with that one scene in Descendants of the Sun where Kang Mo-yeon treats a wounded soldier who is ironically from the opposing troop. She does this because a doctor like her has an obligation to save people’s lives — regardless of who they are. Robin Hood is another example of a dutiful individual. We stereotypically know him as the guy who steals from the rich and gives to the poor. However, Mises Institute says that the original version is the exact opposite. Robin Hood robs ANYONE who steals from the poor, and returns the loot to its rightful owner. The virtuous would argue that stealing is bad, and especially that two wrongs do not make a right. The consequentialist would probably take some time and weigh the pros and cons of the situation. Anyhow, Robin Hood’s priorities lie within serving the common good, so he acts according to his obligation as a fully-capable young man in his community.
In a nutshell, consequentialist aims to do the most good; the virtuous person aims to improve character, and the dutiful one intends to do what is right.
When I was younger, I used to bask in the warmth of the realization that I’ve contributed to someone’s comfort, especially when I see how happy I’ve made them. Call it what you may, but it definitely screams savior complex. I thought it was totally fine. I mean, what’s the harm in feeling good about yourself for doing what is right? Clearly, there must be some gray area where it’s acceptable to satisfy yourself and contribute to the common good. In case it hasn’t clicked to you yet, I used to be some sort of “egoistic consequentialist.” I would offer a helping hand to people who needed them — but — I was also guilty of sometimes extending a hand, because it just felt good to do so. It was vanity disguised as charity, as much as I hate to admit.
I didn’t think recollection and retreat classes would make an impact on me. That was until our retreat lecturer made me realize that “kindness” can be born out of greed. He asked, “Are you kind because it feels good, or because you sincerely want to impact someone’s life?” That question loomed over my head whenever I gave alms, supported charities, or even when I did something the least bit helpful. It was even further rubbed down into me when we discussed these frameworks in class. For what it’s worth, it really encouraged me to evaluate myself even more.
Before you hate me, I wasn’t as bad as you think I was. It’s just that there were really times I know I did it for myself — and I acknowledge them. As the saying goes, “Even at our best, we are only out for ourselves.” In fact, this view is something that researchers have worked on. Seventeenth-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes believed that human beings always acted out of self-interest. On one occasion, he was seen giving money to a beggar, and he said that he did it to relieve his own discomfort of seeing the man in need. Egoism may be a strong motivator of human behaviors. But Claire Andre and Manuel Velasquez highlight ethics and its assumption that human beings are actually capable of acting out of concern for others. Dr. C. Daniel Bateson of the University of Kansas conducted several experiments to examine how people respond to those in need. In the end, he found that the presence of empathy result in genuinely altruistic motivations to help that is not derived from self-interest.
Self-satisfaction on personal conduct is not entirely wrong yet, if the end-goal is to serve yourself, then the intentions are tainted. From what I learned in my CSR class, this is a very “PR-centered” outlook. Empathy is a virtue that is essential to make better decisions. The ends don’t always justify the means. So, the pragmatic Consequentialist Framework can potentially do more harm than good, which is why it needs a bit more virtue injected into it.
The frameworks mentioned — Consequentialist, Virtue, and Duty — are deeply embedded and incorporated in our lives that they lead the ship that keeps us in line with our priorities. They are useful in their own way, yet none of them is perfect. With that, I aspire to be a little bit of everything. Life is not black and white, and the best things are often within the grey areas. At the end of the day, I am only working to be the best version of myself. I want to be consequential, as much as possible, because I believe it is salient in survival. I always strive to strengthen my virtues because it’s what makes a community. At the same time, I also want to be a bit more dutiful and do my share for the common good.
Fortunately, I grew up and began to see more of the world. I learned that the helping hand should be extended towards those that need help and not the ones who provide them. To be fair, the Consequentialist Framework is the most pragmatic of all. It’s straightforward and logical. A lot of us may think that it is the most practical way to live, but it is also important to remember that anything in excess is not good. Balance is the key, even in ethics. I still identify as a true-blood consequentialist — except, a little more virtuous and dutiful at the same time.
Green, J., Ginberg, M., et. al. A Framework For Making Ethical Decisions. Brown University, 2013
Lorenzetti, J.P. Ethical Frameworks for Academic Decision-Making. Faculty Focus, 2010
Machan, T.R. What’s Wrong With Taxation?. Mises Institute, 2002
Parrish, P. Robin Hood: Man of the People or Destructive Theif?. Foundation For Economic Education, 2017