A Means to a Moral End?

I’m reading Terry Eagleton’s terrific book After Theory currently, and nearly every other page provides me with something to say to myself “wow, I should blog this quote.” Here’s one of them:

…the modern period has made moral questions hard to handle. It is not only because in a complex society there are too many answers rather than too few; it is also because modern history makes it especially hard for us to think in non-instrumental terms. Modern capitalist societies are so preoccupied with thinking in terms of means and ends, of which methods will efficiently achieve which goals, that their moral thinking becomes infected by this model as well. What it is to live well thus becomes a matter of acting so as to attain a certain goal. The only problem is that moralists continue to bicker about what this goal should be. For utilitarians, we should act so as to bring about the greatest happiness of the greatest number. For hedonists, we should act so as to maximize pleasure, preferably our own. There have been those who held that the aim of human action was to florify the political state. Still others believe that we should act so as to achieve social justice or some other praiseworthy end. In a moral climate where what matters seems to be results, some people might well think twice about trying to help an injured man if they knew that the roof was about to fall in on him and finish him off. Yet a lot of people would help him all the same, and it is interesting to ask ourselves why.

After Theory, 123-4.

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