I have been thinking about how the decision to allow a new Rangers FC to remain in the SPL would not come into conflict with the idea that sporting integrity is intrinsically valuable to Scottish football.
The only answer I can come up with is that Scottish football must be drifting towards some kind of utilitarian account of ethics.
When faced with a difficult decision or a troubling moral dilemma, a utilitarian account of ethics will define the right course of action in terms of its potential to create the greatest amount of good outcomes, and minimise the number of bad ones.
Utilitarianism is about deciding which action produces the best outcome for the majority of people concerned, rather than trying to decide whether an action is intrinsically right or wrong.
Now, should the SPL Chairmen decide that the right thing to do would be to allow a new Rangers FC to remain in their league, because the consequences of not making this decision would be financially disastrous for the majority of clubs concerned, they will have done so by adopting a utilitarian style of ethics.
One of the problems with utilitarianism is that its focus on outcomes as justifiers leaves open the possibility that a course of action may be promoted as the one which will lead to the greatest good, and therefore deemed the right thing to do, despite having stemmed from completely selfish motives.
In other words it becomes possible to accommodate a selfishly motivated course of action within what would appear to be an otherwise respectable moral space; and then it begins to seem obvious how the notion of sporting integrity would not come into conflict with a new Rangers FC in the SPL.
The answer is simple: the option of taking a course of action described as ‘upholding sporting integrity’ would be ethically managed out of the picture. On the utilitarian understanding of morality, equating ‘sporting integrity’ with ‘punishing a new Rangers FC’ would completely miss the point.
There would simply be no room for it within this moral space, because punishing a new Rangers FC would lead to an outcome inconsistent with achieving the greatest good for the majority of clubs concerned. So there would be absolutely no option but to eliminate this course of action as a moral contender at all.
And there we have it. No conflict.
But here is the sting with utilitarianism –
If you ethically manage the notion of ‘sporting integrity’ out of the picture, for the sake of the greater good, you need to be mindful that many of the beneficiaries of the greater good may not inhabit the same moral space of reasons and may completely disagree with the decision.
If they decided to remain true to their own moral space and refused to spend their money on their clubs next season, the SPL Chairmen’s decision to act for the greater good, as they calculated it, would turn out to be a serious error of judgement.
It is extremely difficult to predict how people are going to respond to major decisions like this one. It is completely new territory. The drift into utilitarianism may help the SPL chairmen feel better about looking after their short term financial interests at the point of making this decision, but it could end up being a financial and a moral disaster in no time at all.
By which point it would be too late to drift back towards the idea that ‘sporting integrity’ should somehow figure more prominently within their moral space of reasons.
It is one hell of a gamble to take.