Where does the balance of the consequentialist lie?

The Isle of Harris lies to the north-west of the Scottish mainland and is part of the Outer Hebrides. It is an island, along withthe attached Isle of Lewis, of significant natural and archaeological interest and beauty. It is also of considerable geological interest because of, unlike the other islands that form the Inner and Outer Hebrides, it was not once part of the Scottish mainland. It ‘drifted’ to its current position over millennia, as a result of the movement of tectonic plates. The only other areas of the world displaying similar rock formation and composition are to be found in New Zealand and South Africa.


The Scottish Parliament recently announced that it had turned down an application to allow mining of a mountain area on the Isle of Harris. The economic, social and political dimensions to the case were considerable and it is unlikely that the recent decision by the Scottish Parliament is the last unfolding drama.


The mountain in question lies in the south-east corner of the island and is composed of rock that is both extremely hard (wearing) and has luminous qualities, ideal qualities of aggregates to be used in the construction of roads and motorways. With the mining completed the mountain would have effectively been removed, leaving an enormous cavity in the ground. The hole would cover a very wide area and the belief/fear was/is that it would then be a convenient site for the dumping of much of Scotland’s ‘undesirable’ waste, which could include toxic waste.


An environmental activist visited the island in 2020 for a holiday and was impressed with the level of opposition to the proposal by Islanders in the north of the island, particularly those who were relatively recent inhabitants of the island. Their opposition was based upon environmental and, and to a lesser extent, economic considerations. The latter reflected concerns over the impact upon tourism of the massive quarrying and then dumping operations. However, when he visited the south of the island the reaction of the locals was far more mixed, with possibly a majority of those he met (in a very unscientific study!) in favour of the proposal. Their reasoning? It reflected the locals’ concern over the significant haemorrhaging of young islanders to the mainland in search of work (although there was a strong argument that the jobs issue could be handled by other approaches). The islands were becoming the repositories of elderly (usually English) people, seeking peaceful retirements and those seeking an alternative lifestyle to the pressures and demands of modern life. In the words of those who supported the proposal, the island was dying as its young people continued to migrate to the mainland.

Source: Fisher and Lovell, 2006



1. Where does the balance of the consequentialist lie?


2. Is it simply a case of counting of people to be affected, both negatively and positively, by the decision, and opting for the decision that affects the larger number of people positively?


3. Or should the decision be based upon the option that affects the smaller number of people negatively?


4. How much attention and weight should be given to the financial implications of the decision?


5. How does one take into account those people who live elsewhere in Scotland or other parts of United Kingdom, who might be affected by a landfill site being located near their homes if the planning application for the Isle of Harris site is refused?


6. Within a utilitarian stance should the views of the indigenous islanders be weighed more significantly than those of the ‘newcomers’?

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