Confessions of a Consequentialist

OK, I admit it, I sometimes jay-walk. In fact a few weeks ago I jay-walked in front of the Oregon Attorney General – I thought he was going to arrest me…

I also roll my bike through stop signs without putting a foot down on occasion.

But I only do these things in specific situations. Jay-walking when there is no oncoming traffic for a significant distance, rolling through the stop sign after slowing down and being sure there’s no cross-traffic that has the right-of-way.

So it was with great relief that I saw this video in which the New York Times’ ethicist, Randy Cohen, is interviewed by Streetfilms.

Among other comments about the ethical implications of various modes of transportation, Cohen, who’s been biking in New York for decades, says he often rides through red lights!

He defines this as the “consequentialist” point of view: if the action has no adverse consequences for you or others, it’s ethical (which is not to say there aren’t circumstances where rolling through a stop sign WOULD decidedly have consequences, and therefore be unethical).

So I may be a scofflaw, but at least I’m an ethical, “consequentialist”, one.

33 Responses to Confessions of a Consequentialist