First some definitions. Ethics are a set of moral principals that govern behavior. Deontology defines ethical behavior as that which follows a moral code without regard for the outcome. Teleological ethics judge the final outcome, not the methods used to get there.
I'm sure this all sounds obscure, but I've seen two good examples this week of teleological ethics and judging by my reaction to them, I think I know where I stand.
According to the email, 25% of the $20 t-shirt price goes to fund "translational women's cancer research." That's a buzzword for a branch of research that seeks to bridge the gap between academic research and having an impact on women's lives. A worthy cause indeed.
However, I emailed back with my normal arguments about how this contributes to a malaise about the truth of breast cancer, how the emphasis on breasts is harmful to those of us who had them removed, how saving a woman's life should be more important than "boobies." The woman who wrote me responded with empathy, but this was her final line.
The Noreen Fraser Foundation and Threadless collaborated on this design, which we believe lends an irreverent note to a very serious discussion. The tee itself is intended as an attention-getter; the funds raised by the tee are destined for a worthy nonprofit.So, I wonder, is this ok? Does the harm this does outweigh any potential good money raised by the sales of these t-shirts might do?
2. The Atlanta anti-obesity billboard campaign has made national news. Here is one of the billboards.
I've been involved in discussions with people on facebook and I see one of two responses. On one side, there is outrage that children are being shamed this way and that this emboldens bullies and prejudice against obesity. The other side points out the health crisis of obesity and says that bold action needs to be taken to get people's attention. Basically, that since I am talking about it here, it's a good campaign because it started a conversation.
I'm sure you can identify my bias here. Neither of these "ends justify the means" arguments sit well with me. Harming people in pursuit of helping them makes me squirm. The phrase DOING GOOD BADLY keeps coming to mind.
What do you think?