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Deconstructing Mr. Farah

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Deconstructing Mr. Farah

The Fallacy of a Utilitarian Ethic

by John J. Parsons, Oct. 20, 2005

Popular Christian journalist Joseph Farah (of worldnetdaily) appears to have recently endorsed the dubious policy that the torture and interrogation of POWs is sometimes appropriate - if by so doing the "greater good" is thereby promoted.

In his recent article, "Christian Wimps," Farah first quotes from a Christianity Today commentary by Gary A. Haugen:

    "We read credible reports – some from FBI agents – that prisoners have been stripped naked, sexually humiliated, chained to the floor and left to defecate on themselves," he writes. "These and other practices like 'waterboarding' (in which a detainee is made to feel as if he is being drowned) may or may not meet the technical definition of torture, but no one denies that these practices are cruel, inhuman and degrading."

Farah then goes on to make the following outrageous statements:

    Let me introduce myself: I, Joseph Farah, hereby deny that these practices are cruel and inhuman.

    I would suggest that in wartime conditions, the interrogation of prisoners who may have information that could save the lives of millions may by necessity involve such practices.


In philosophy, pragmatism is the doctrine that practical consequences are the criteria of knowledge and meaning and value. A proposition is considered "true" (or "meaningful" or "intelligible") if it works or provides useful benefits; otherwise it is "false."

Did you catch that?

In other words, only practical outcomes matter. There is no longer the need to establish any sort of "correspondence" between language and reality to establish truth claims (which are now considered outdated relics of earlier philosophical yearning), since truth is now cynically regarded merely as "tool" to manipulate the world or as a type of propaganda.  Welcome to the world of Postmodern despair.

When applied to the realm of the ethical, pragmatism becomes "utilitarianism," the doctrine that the moral action is one which results in the "greatest good for the greatest number."  In other words, just as in the realm scientific reasoning, moral reasoning is to considered to be another "means to an end." 

In today's postmodern world of philosophical hypocrisy, if you happen to have faith that there is a rationally discernable moral good (or a transcendent basis for values), you will often be caricatured as being somewhat "medieval," since by contemporary philosophical fiat (and by serious question begging), any appeal to inviolate standards of duty, ethical intuitions, and the commandments of God to perform certain actions (and refrain from others), are tacitly assumed by the faux intellectuals of our day as being impracticable.  When seriously questioned about this circularity in reasoning, there is often a mere restatement of the mantra that moral decision making is to be considered solely on the basis of a (controlled) "consensus" of what is considered the "greatest good" for (secular) society. Sadly, we see the outcomes of this specious style of reasoning everyday in the world of our corrupt social systems.

Consider a classic example used to justify the intuitive appeal of utilitarianism. Suppose twelve people are out to sea on a ship, but a storm rises and the ship begins to founder. Luckily, there is a lifeboat at hand, but unfortunately, it is designed to safely hold no more than eleven people. At first all twelve try to get into the lifeboat, but sure enough, it likewise begins to founder. It soon becomes evident that the lifeboat can remain afloat only if one person is thrown overboard.  But who should it be - and for what reason?

Utilitarian reasoning will attempt to solve the problem by determining the relative worth of the persons involved, understood in terms of their social utility. In the end, throwing the least desirable person overboard becomes an actual moral imperative, since by this action the greatest good for the greatest number of people will be served...  In fact, it would be considered immoral if one of the socially "useful" persons altruistically decided to give up their life for the sake of the undesirable, since this would impugn the supposed calculus for good that the system is predicated upon.

Though prima facie this line of thinking may seem to be plausible, in light of recent policies that wink at the torture of "terrorists" in order to serve the "greater good" (i.e., the safekeeping of present-day American culture), I think it is fair to question whether this pragmatic/utilitarian way of thinking is to be accepted in an unreflective manner. This exhortation should especially be heeded by those who profess to serve the Living God, the Father, Creator, and Savior of all mankind.

An advocate of a utilitarian ethic claims that an act is right if it is useful; but "useful" for what? Or useful to what end? If someone argues that by "useful" he means "bringing about a desirable or good end," he is merely begging the question, since he has yet to define what he considers to be a "good end." Here we have multiple options, based on the agenda of the one who is arbitrating the meaning of the good.... The Nazis had one view of a "good end," and by means of their odious "Final Solution" rationalized their vision of das Vaterland as the summum bonum to which the individual must be sacrificed. The American ideal of a society that is enabled to pursue personal fulfillment and a hedonistic lifestyle is another vision of a good end.  And so on.

In a worldview devoid of appeal to transcendental value, all the utilitarian has recourse to is some sort of probability calculus to determine the distribution of perceived good among a given population.  This approach is almost absurd in its audacity and foolishness, since it ascribes idealized powers to reason to perform such calculations in a dispassionate way -  while it disingenuously pretends to be able to transcend such limitations.

In the last analysis, the utilitarian principle is nothing less than a sophistical means to justify the "might makes right" fallacy: If more people prefer some outcome and think that it is useful to their goals, then it is ipso facto right - even if that happens to violate the rights of others who are relegated to minority status (or deemed to be "undesirable"). In practice, utilitarianism becomes a consensus-based "bully ethic" that enjoins a Socrates to quickly quaff the hemlock for the sake of the body politic.  The individual, and the individual's passion for the truth, is invariably considered undesirable for the sake of the collective. The LORD Jesus was crucified by a group of craven utilitarians.

Without the admission of moral absolutes such as "do not torture others," "do not rape women," "do not commit genocide," etc. etc., we do not have an overarching framework for intelligible discussion about the sanctity and worth of individual human life, and we are therefore confronted with raw appeals to force and to the dishonest appeal to promote the "greater good" at the expense of the sanctity of the individual (i.e., consensus thinking). In practice, this amounts to the "Nazification" of ethical reasoning that is used to justify euthanasia, abortion on demand, and other means of social engineering.

Practically speaking, if someone (such as Mr. Farah or another pragmatist) would not strongly agree with the statement: "It's always wrong - in any conceivable state of circumstances - to torture a child to death," then the moral discussion is OVER, and the person withholding assent has revealed that he or she is incapable of making genuine, God-fearing decisions. Further appeals to the consequences of belief will not suffice, since we are referring to an a priori framework for understanding the nature of the good.

Joseph Farah and all those who support utilitarian thinking are in serious error, since they want to justify sinful means (i.e., torture) to promote what they believe to be a greater good (i.e., the perpetuation of American secular culture). However, we know that the LORD God of Israel does not promote or endorse sin, regardless of any supposed benefit given to the world at large.

I realize, of course, that from the pragmatic, world-weary point of view, all this might seem idealistic or unrealistic, but it is frankly the clear teaching of the Mashiach and Master of the universe Himself, who plainly told us to love our enemies and to do good to those who persecute us and abuse us. Pragmatists like Mr. Farah would have us forego the such words of the Master for the sake of their own ideas of what constitutes the greater good for the world. The choice of whom you will believe is ultimately yours.

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