This question stems from a discussion I heard with regards to LGBTQ rights in Arab and Muslim communities:

  • Arab progressive: LGBTQ rights are very important, and I respect LGBTQ people and think they should be defended against oppression and bigotry, but now is not the right time to bring up this question amongst Arab and Muslim societies. I know my family and community very well, they are simply not ready to address this question. Bringing up the question of LGBTQ rights at this point in time is useless.

  • Western progressive: This is unacceptable. Just because you're afraid of confronting your angry uncle or you bigoted neighbor doesn't mean that it is OK to trample on the rights of LGBTQ people. There is no such thing as a right time to defend a cause and a wrong time to defend a cause. If a cause is just, then it should be defended all the time, and the sooner the better.

I am trying to find an ethical, rational justification for the first stance. At first glimpse, this seems like a straightforward case of consequentialist ethics vs. deontological ethics, and so whatever arguments can be deployed in favor of consequentialist / utilitarian approaches can be used to argue for the first stance.

But I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around this notion of "time phased" consequentialism: This action should be taken in the future because its consequences in the future will be better than its consequences in the present. If that is the case, how do we decide when the consequences become good enough to justify taking the action? Is it based on probability of success? On number of people effected?

Trying to answer these questions lead to slippery slopes that seem to ultimately justify the second deontological stance through proof by contradiction.

So is there anyway to justify the first stance using consequentialist ethics (again I'm assuming a deontological approach is a no starter) ?

  • 3
    I would parse it differently. An action should not be taken in the present if its consequences will be worse than the consequences of not taking it, and doing something else instead. Perhaps, because of a backlash that may obstruct implementing other, more practical measures. To take an extreme case, concerns about oppression and bigotry fade when one is facing stoning to death. But your concern about the indefinite postponement is valid. The question is what is offered as the practical alternative now, as a stepping stone. To soften the mores first, as it were.
    – Conifold
    May 16, 2019 at 6:46

1 Answer 1


So is there anyway to justify the first stance using consequentialist ethics (again I'm assuming a deontological approach is a no starter) ?

In the middle eastern countries you can get executed for being a member of that group and it's because the government is strongly tied to their religion, so for many tolererance may be a matter of eternal punishment as they believe for going against the religion. Taking a bold step in protest most likely will just get you killed unlike in the western countries where we have certain human rights. The first stance might be suggesting that there first need to be more fundamental changes that can at least protect your rights to make this issue less risky and more open to support from others.

An analogy would be seeing a loved one in a burning house. The first instinct may be to rush in immediately to save that person, but taking a few moments to plan an escape route, even if the victim has to endure more pain, will have better consequences if it means you can both escape alive.

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