Philosophers divide ethical theories into either teleological or deontological approaches. Teleology focuses on outcomes whereas deontology focuses on the process. This is an oversimplification. But the divergent approaches are best demonstrated by Ayn Rand whose most common aphorism was, “The end does not justify the means.”
Rand preferred a deontological approach based on the Kantian Categorial Imperative. Because God never stops laughing, the cornerstone of the atheist Rand’s entire philosophy was based on an ethical theory Kant based on Christian morality. Ayn Rand defended capitalism on deontological grounds. She argued redistribution of wealth was tantamount to theft. Because theft is wrong, redistribution is wrong. Her ethical defense of capitalism was reinforced by the Social Contract theory of Robert Nozick in Anarchy, State and Utopia.
Their defense of capitalism contrasted with the teleological arguments of socialists, Marxists and Communists that focused on the redistributive outcomes of social welfare policies. They also contrasted economic theories that demonstrated market economics increased national wealth. Rand and Nozick were philosophers. They rejected the cost benefit analysis arguments developed by social scientists. They rejected economic theory even when it supported their ideas. Although this is not entirely true of Nozick, who references economists frequently in his scholarly work.
Nozick and Rawls both lamented the dominance of utilitarian theories of ethics and governance in their day. Utilitarianism dates to the 19th Century when Jeremy Bentham and James Mill developed a theory based on producing the greatest good for the greatest number of people. The basic idea was reconfigured into cost benefit analysis and a variety of different approaches focused on outcomes.
Their key argument was right decisions were quantifiable. If all the variables were capable of measurement, it was possible to determine the right decision based on expected outcomes and results. John Stuart Mill provided a deontological twist to utilitarianism in his short treatise called On Liberty. In this work, he argued it was necessary to consider the quality of the good or happiness. Freedom of Thought and Expression were so important, there were no outcomes capable of trumping these fundamental rights.
Teleological theories face a fundamental problem. It is difficult to fully predict human outcomes. Human freedom means outlier events are common. A model can account for a variety of events but fails to fully predict the randomness to human behavior. Models predict expected behavior. The second problem relates to focus. A predictive model often fails to foresee possible outcomes because the researcher is focused on related possibilities. They fail to account for collateral damage because they are focused on an entirely different outcome. Finally, the teleological approach places undue value on an outcome. Their focus on a desired outcome allows them to devalue the collateral damage they produce in achieving a goal.
“The end does not justify the means” reminds us to focus on the approach rather the outcome. The uncertainty of achieving the desired outcome makes it even more important to focus on the approach or process to get there. This brings us to the institution of democracy. Ayn Rand did not talk much about democracy. She was focused on capitalism, the unknown ideal. But the political process is a process. And capitalism is an outcome of the political process. Her focus was on public policy outcomes. This is the same trap idealists face today. They focus on how to achieve their policy goals without addressing the proper means to achieve them. To Objectivists who fail to value the institution of democracy I say, “The end does not justify the means.” Democracy is not a political end. It is the moral compass to achieve political ends. This is the Democracy Paradox.
jmk, carmel, Indiana, email@example.com