The Arithmetic of Morality

I limit my fuel consumption—I ration myself to one trip into town a week and I haven’t taken a ‘joy ride’ since the ‘70s. For what? My neighbour thinks nothing of going into town three times in one day, half the male population drives gas-guzzling pick-ups and never pick up anything, and the other half drive mini-vans because they’re big. I keep myself colder than I’d like and I live in a dark house, while the lights and computers stay on 24/7 in some guy’s place of business and his advertisements light up the world.

Still, it’s the principle that counts. Really? Unless there’s a god, it’s the consequence that counts. ‘Using only what you need’ is right because it’s wrong to take more than you need if that means others will have less than they need. If, however, you take more apples than you need because otherwise they’ll just rot on the ground, what’s wrong with that?

Of course, if enough people decrease their fuel consumption (and a corresponding number don’t increase their consumption), there would be a consequence. Possibly even a moral consequence. (Though that’s arguable: less fossil fuel leads to less carbon emission, which leads to less global warming, which leads to less climate change—tell me when I get to the moral good…)

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