There was a bright green sheet of paper in my faculty mailbox announcing the “Spring Speakers Series.” Being somewhat of an academic myself, I immediately wondered if it should have been worded “Spring Speakers’ Series,” but then I decided that I was being a bit too anal. (We academic types are allowed to be anal, but we are not supposed to say it.) The description I read next made me want to distance myself from being an academic.
The speaker, a published author and supposedly a reputable professor of philosophy, was promoted as being: “…a leading consequentialist, interested in the practical and theoretical issues raised by and addressed within a consequentialist normative approach.” Try posting that at Wal-Mart and see what response you get.
My imagination started working as I visualized the people who might possibly be motivated to attend this lecture, the title of which was, “Why Equality Has Nothing To Do With Social Justice.” I can’t recall knowing or having ever met anyone who is a consequentialist or who has ever expressed an awareness of the possibility. But I will admit to being curious, although not curious enough to want to attend a lecture about it.
I was curious enough to look up “consequentialist” in my dictionary. It wasn’t there. “Consequential” was there and had several definitions. “Following as an effect, result or outcome;” “following as a logical conclusion or inference;” “of consequence or importance;” and finally “self-important: pompous.”
If you add “…ist” to most nouns, you denote a person who practices, is concerned with, or subscribes to that which precedes the “…ist.” This consequentialist speaker could well be pompous or self-important if his description is any indication. More than likely the speaker is a combination of all the above.
If an apologist is one who apologizes, and an artist is one who practices art, and a machinist is one who works with or makes machines, then a consequentialist must be someone who thinks a lot about consequences. Perhaps if this speaker had thought more about the consequences of his description, he would have written it differently and in a way that hopefully attracted some people to voluntarily attend his lecture rather than just the philosophy students who are probably required to attend. Or perhaps he is only a consequentialist when it comes to the actions of others.
Perhaps all of this makes me a consequentialist since I am philosophizing about the consequences of the speaker's description of himself. And maybe we all are consequentialists in our own way without being aware of it. Now all we have to do is figure out a way to get paid to talk about it – and that is a consequence worthy of contemplation.