The Fundamentals of Ethics – Chapter 15: Ethical Pluralism and Absolute Moral Rules

The Fundamentals of Ethics - Chapter 15: Ethical Pluralism and Absolute Moral Rules
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chapter 15 ethical pluralism and absolute moral rules the structure of moral theories all of the moral theories we've considered so far have one thing in common they are examples of ethical monism monastic theories argued that there is one supreme rule that serves as the basis of all morality a supreme moral rule has two defining features first it is absolute that means that we are never permitted to break it if you violate an absolute rule you have automatically acted immorally second this moral rule is fundamental there are no deeper more basic moral rules that justify the supreme rule utilitarians for instance our ethical modest s' they insist on a single ultimate moral rule maximize happiness this rule is absolute every act that fails to maximize happiness is wrong and the rule is fundamental if you ask utilitarians to justify this requirement they will deny that any other moral rule can do so moral questioning like all other lines of investigation must stop somewhere fundamental moral rules mark that stopping point contrast this with the moral rule that forbids children from teasing their unpopular classmates or one that requires surgeons to use anesthesia on patients these rules are not fundamental ones their justification comes from their link with a more general and basic rule such as one that requires us to show respect to others or to avoid inflicting needless suffering almost all of the classic moral theories are monistic they each defend a single absolute fundamental moral rule next my self-interest maximize happiness do it God commands act only on universalizability cetera they then use this fundamental rule as the supreme test of morality the attractions of a monistic theory are clear we naturally seek unification in our thinking and monistic theories provide this they can impose order on morality and organize all moral principles by reference to a supreme moral rule but we have reviewed the most important versions of ethical monism and have found serious problems for all of them what to do there are three options to choose from one we could try to discover a new version of monism that puts forward a supreme moral rule that we haven't seen before – we could stick with one of the theories we have already seen and try to perfect it by defending it against objections or three we could in the monistic assumption that has driven so much moral philosophy this third option is the path of ethical pluralism we will explore its central claims in this chapter and the next ethical pluralism is a family of views that holds that there is a plurality of fundamental moral rules thus pluralists deny that we can systematize ethics under a single rule some pluralists believe there are two basic moral rules others believe that there are three or more there are many different versions of pluralism each one distinguishing itself by the different roles it considers fundamental luckily we can spare ourselves the effort of examining every variation too many to count in any event and divide pluralistic theories into two camps the first is that of the absolutists who think that it is always wrong to violate the fundamental moral rules other pluralists reject this view they think that it is sometimes morally acceptable to break a fundamental moral rule what spend some time with the absolutists first and then turn in the next chapter to their opponents is torture always amoral you might reasonably think that if there are any absolute moral rules than a ban on torture would be among them let's consider a case to help sort things out on the evening of March 1st 2003 CIA officers deployed just outside of the Pakistani camp of Islamabad received a text message I'm with KSM the initials were those of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed mastermind of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center after waiting a few hours so as not to compromise the identity of their informant CIA officers stormed the house and apprehended Sheikh Mohammed he was soon flown to Afghanistan and then to Poland where he was detained in a black site facility a detention center that did not officially exist and that was run without legal oversight over the next two weeks Sheikh Mohammed was sometimes prevented from sleeping for extended periods was slapped was subjected to frigid temperatures and was waterboarded more than 100 times waterboarding is especially terrifying it involves strapping a prisoner to a board and repeatedly pouring water over his mouth and nose to simulate the experience of drowning as water fills his lungs the prisoner almost immediately suffers a gag reflex and is overwhelmed by a feeling that he is about to die waterboarding rarely results in death it is always extremely painful and it does sometimes kill though more frequently results in other sorts of harm lasting psychological damage longer brain damage and sometimes broken bones caused by struggling against the physical restraints in Sheikh Mohammed's case the purpose of such treatment was clear to extract useful information that would lead to the capture of other terrorists and the prevention of their murderous plans despite serious reservations by a number of CIA and FBI personnel the most senior US officials regarded such treatment as morally acceptable their argument was straightforward the waterboarding isn't exactly a noble undertaking it is the lesser of two evils if faced with the choice between torturing a terrorist in order to save the lives of hundreds of innocent people and refraining from such torture at the risk of those many lives it is clear which option is best administration officials repeatedly denied that waterboarding is a form of torture they appeared to embrace the absolutist idea that torture is always immoral but is it despite widespread support for this view it might not stand up to scrutiny perhaps we should accept that waterboarding is torture but insists forthrightly that torture is sometimes morally acceptable especially when many innocent lives are at stake when vividly imagining bouts of torture it can be hard to resist the thought that such actions are never morally acceptable and yet as we shall see it could be very difficult to justify this view preventing catastrophes those who condemn all torture must be prepared to answer the perennial challenge of the ticking bomb terrorists the one who knows the location of a bomb powerful enough to kill thousands of innocent people suppose that we were able to capture such a terrorist and that he refused to reveal the bombs location wouldn't it be acceptable to torture him in order to gain knowledge of its whereabouts we should consider this challenge in its best light so suppose that any torture we inflict will not be lethal and must first be authorized by at least two independent government officials further it will be administered only after the prisoner has been given a chance to cooperate and if he does no torture will occur suppose all of these conditions have been met but the prisoner refuses to cooperate we then begin to torture him by means of an extremely painful technique that will cause no lasting physical damage perhaps a series of sanitized needles inserted very deeply under the prisoners fingernails given the stakes isn't this sort of action justified those who say yes would do so for an obvious reason torture in such a case might prevent a catastrophe and morality should surely allow us to prevent catastrophes the critic of absolutism relies on this font in offering the argument from disaster prevention one if there are any absolute moral rules than we are never permitted to break them to every moral rule maybe permissibly broken since doing so may be necessary to prevent a catastrophe three therefore there are no absolute moral rules this is a very powerful argument its first premise is certainly true since absolute moral rules are by definition those that we are never allowed to break the second premise is also very plausible after all what could possibly be so important about obedience to a moral rule that would allow us to sacrifice thousands of innocent people for its sake this is a very hard question to answer if there is no satisfactory reply the conclusion must be true notice that this argument makes no specific mention of torture it is designed to be a perfectly general criticism of all absolute moral rules but you might be suspicious perhaps torture isn't a good example maybe it's okay to torture people in very unusual cases but that doesn't settle the matter of absolute isms merits since there might be better candidates for absolute rules could it ever be right for instance to rape someone or to deliberately kill an innocent person against his wishes critics of absolutism will say that yes such actions may indeed be morally right though these critics will also admit that any such cases would be extremely rare for instance if someone credibly threatens to detonate a nuclear bomb in a densely populated city and refuses to defuse it only if we authorize the killing of an innocent person than perhaps morally speaking we must agree to his terms we should never celebrate having to torture rape or kill but if doing such actions will prevent a horrible catastrophe then critics of absolutism insists that we may be permitted and perhaps even required to do such things the doctrine of double effect suppose that you are an emergency room physician and are faced with six patients who have just been rushed to your hospital they were all at a dinner party and made the mistake of eating some innocent-looking mushrooms that turned out to be poisonous each of the patients is dying after quickly running some tests you discover that saving one of the patients requires giving him all of the available antidote you also discover that you can save the other five patients by giving them each a fifth of the serum whom should you save assuming that each of these six patients is a good person with otherwise decent life prospects it seems clear that you should save the five it's not that the very needy patient deserves to die rather it is better that only one dies rather than five we reach similar verdicts in other cases imagine that a runaway trolley is headed for five innocent people and that you can pull a lever that switches the trolley to a side track where you guessed it one unfortunate person is trapped shouldn't you pull that lever suppose that an important military operation can be conducted risking only one soldier's life rather than five if the one soldier is just as likely to complete the task it seems clear that the right thing to do is to spare the five and send him out alone reasoning in these cases as in so many others seems to push us directly to consequentialism the mandate here and in the argument from disaster prevention seems clear minimize harm yet we would also minimize harm if we were secretly to abduct a small number of healthy people anaesthetize them and cut them up to distribute their vital organs to those who would otherwise die from organ failure we could minimize misery by culling the population of those whose lives are wretchedly unhappy with little prospect of improvement even if they didn't want to die we could dramatically reduce terrorism if we adopted a policy of reliably executing a terrorist child or spouse in response but these ways of minimizing harm are deeply offensive consequentialist reasoning so powerful in the argument from disaster prevention and in the three initial cases we've considered here seems to have led us astray but if it is so plausible in the earlier cases perhaps we should overcome our queasiness when it comes to the examples in the previous paragraph absolutists reject that thought indeed many people are tempted by absolutism precisely because they see it is the only way to resist consequentialism but to make good on this hope absolutists need to show how they can make sense of these various cases without relying on hidden consequentialist of some the absolutist must be able to distinguish the antidote trolley and military stories on the one hand from the murderous cases just described absolutists have often relied on the doctrine of double effect dde to do this the doctrine refers to two relevant effects that actions can have those that we intend to bring about and those that we foresee but do not aim for the principle says the following provided that your goal is worthwhile you are sometimes permitted to act in ways that foreseeably cause certain types of harm though you must never intend to cause such harms the dde does not say that it is always wrong to intentionally harm others it allows for instance that harmful punishment is sometimes acceptable the dde simply tells us that some harms may never be aimed for even though such harms may be permitted as side effects of one's actions ie as collateral damage which harms are these the ones prohibited by absolute moral rules the doctrine of double effect if true would have two very important implications one it would provide a reply to the argument from disaster prevention and two it would refute utilitarianism and all forms of act consequentialism a reply to the argument from disaster prevention the argument from disaster prevention advises us to impose certain terrible harms in order to prevent even more of them from occurring those who endorse this argument would have a set out to kill innocent people for instance if doing so would lessen the overall number of innocent deaths against this the dde requires that we not aim at certain harms even if that is the only way to prevent disaster after all the absolutist insists that certain acts must never be done whatever the consequences the dde denies that the ends always justify the means certain goals are never to be pursued even if pursuing them will help us minimize harm how the dde threatens act consequentialism if the dde is correct then even if two actions predictably have the same bad results one of these actions might be right and the other wrong and that is something that utilitarians and other act consequentialists cannot allow they determine the morality of an action based solely on its results any two acts with identical results must be morally equivalent by contrast the ddae determines the morality of actions based partly on what is going on in the person's mind if the dde is correct then some intentional harms may be immoral even though causing the same harms while aiming at other goals may be permitted the dde can be used by absolutists in the following way suppose as many absolutists claim that it is always wrong to deliberately kill an innocent person then it is always immoral to intent to kill a healthy patient to save others to aim to kill an innocent child to stave off terrorism and to seek to eliminate the deeply miserable among us since each of these actions involves the intention to kill innocent people it is automatically wrong but by sending a soldier on a dangerous reconnaissance mission knowing that he is likely not to return we are aiming at some morally acceptable military goal rather than the soldiers death in providing the antidote to five patients we know that the neediest patient will die but we would be delighted if he survived we don't intend to kill him in shifting the trolley to a side track we are trying to save five lives even though we foresee that one person will die as a result these examples all involve morally acceptable actions even though we foresee in each case that someone will probably die we are aiming to do good and do not intend to cause harm the dde thus allows us to morally distinguish cases that yield identical results in these cases five lives saved one lost it does so by showing that we can respect an absolute ban on intentionally killing innocents in drawing moral distinctions among cases with the same consequences it directly challenges all forms of act consequentialism distinguishing intention from foresight so the dde does a lot of good work for the absolutist but there is a difficulty with the dde and it must be solved before absolutists can rely on it with confidence the difficulty is that we lack a clear basis for distinguishing between intention and foresight without clarity on this point the dde will either fail to provide guidance about the morality of actions or will give us results that seem deeply mistaken consider this challenge those who secretly abduct and carve up innocent people to distribute their organs could say that they intend only to save many innocent lives they would be delighted if their innocent victims were miraculously to remain alive after the operation therefore they don't intend to kill their victims they merely foresee their death thus the dde does not condemn their actions it is hard to imagine someone saying this with a straight face but explaining precisely what is wrong with such a claim is not easy it requires us to sharply define intention further this definition must clearly distinguish intention from foresight and also help us to see why intending harm is so much worse than foreseeing it can this be done have a look at these attempts a you intend to do X equals you want X to occur as a result of your action but the surgeon carving up the kidnapped victims may not want them to die you may want only to save the lives of the many patients who need these organs so according to a the surgeon does not intend to kill the abducted patients but he surely does and that makes a implausible B you intend to do X equals x is part of your plan of action consider another variant on the trolley case here the runaway trolley is heading toward five people but there is no spur the only way to stop the train is by pushing a huge bystander onto the tracks at the last minute his both will stop the train though he will surely die as a result here again we save five at the cost of one but this leaves an awfully bad taste in the mouth yet if I were to push this guy I could deny that his death was part of my plan my plan was limited let's say to pushing this man and to stopping the train that would be pleased if the man were to escape with only bruises according to B I didn't intend to kill the man but I did so B is problematic C you intend to do X equals you would regret it if X didn't occur as a result of your action consider at the last trolley case again it seems clear that I intentionally killed the man that I pushed to the tracks but I would not regret it if he survived therefore by C I did not intend his death again something has gone wrong D you intend to do x equals x results from your actions in a non accidental way the problem here is that all merely foreseen results will now become results that we intend to produce when the ER doctor gives the serum to her five patience one patient will die the doctor knows this and it isn't an accident therefore by this definition the doctor intends that the one patient will die but that too seems mistaken II you intend to do X equals you must cause X if you are to achieve your goals in the second trolley case it is false that the huge by standards death must occur if I am to achieve my goals all that must occur is that he stopped the train with his body and so with E I do not intend his death and so the dde does not condemn my action but my action is surely condemnable these aren't the only possibilities for defining what it is to intend to do something but it's been a very difficult task for absolutists to provide a definition of intention that manages to track the moral distinctions that we feel so confident about so if you are a fan of the dde here is your task clarify the distinction between intended and merely foreseen results and do so in a way that shows why some intentional harms just by virtue of being intended are morally worse than harms that are foreseen perhaps it can be done but it won't be easy moral conflict and contradiction for those who find ethical pluralism attractive and invitation put together your preferred list of moral rules once you've completed the task consider this question what happens if these roles ever conflict with one another if each of them is absolute then moral conflict leads to contradiction that is a very bad thing consider a very simple case suppose that the correct list of absolute moral rules includes these to keep your promises and don't deliberately harm innocent people now imagine that someone has done you a great kindness as a gesture of thanks you promised to help him whenever he needs it he smiles and then asks you to make good on your word by breaking into his rivals home and beating him senseless the rival would suppose is an innocent he's done nothing to deserve such a beating in this case you are morally required to keep your promise but in doing that you'd also be acting immorally since you would be violating the rule against harming innocence if you instead avoid hurting the innocent rival you will be doing what is required of you but this would also be forbidden since it would involve breaking your promise I where you go your action is both morally required and forbidden that is a contradiction it's a simple case as I've said but it is meant to illustrate a crucial problem for pluralist theories that endorse absolute moral rules when such rules conflict the theory yields contradictory advice and that will sink the view since contradictions are fatal flaws for any theory the argument from contradiction summarizes this challenge 1 if there is more than one absolute moral rule then those rules are bound to conflict at some point – if absolute rules ever conflict then this generates contradiction 3 if a theory generates contradiction then it is false 4 therefore any theory that endorses the existence of more than one absolute moral rule is false premises two and three are true they won't attract any challenges from philosophers the real debate focus is on premise 1 if you believe that there is more than one absolute moral rule then you have to show that the rules will never ever conflict there is a way to do this we will have to assume that absolute moral rules have a certain limitation they forbid us from acting in specific ways but they never require us to act in any way at all we may never do certain things rape torture and terrorize for instance these rules and others can be honored entirely through inaction so long as all absolute rules can be obeyed by doing nothing than absolute rules will never conflict this means that most of the familiar moral rules cannot be absolute since they require us to act in certain ways perform easy rescues prevent disaster protect our children from harm keep our promises if moral rules require us to do things rather than merely refrain from action then they might require us to do incompatible things that is the kind of conflict that leads to contradiction if instead all absolute moral rules can be satisfied merely by sitting on our hands and doing nothing then contradiction can be avoided is moral absolutism irrational many people think that intentionally killing innocent people is never morally acceptable what could explain this presumably the incredibly important value of innocent human life but if this is of paramount importance then why shouldn't we kill an innocent person if we could save more innocent lives by doing so optimists will say that such a thing could never happen but it could in 1961 a man approached the chief rabbi of Warsaw Shimon efrati and asked the question that had been troubling him for many years this man was among a group of Jews who had hidden in the ghetto bunker during World War two trying to avoid the Nazi patrols intent on killing them there was a crying baby in the hideout someone pressed a pillow over the baby's face in order to prevent it from making any more noise and revealing the group's location the baby suffocated and died their hiding place remained a secret you might think that there was no need to kill the baby there must have been some way to avoid killing it while keeping the group's location a secret and saving everyone but a terrible aspect of this story gives us reason to doubt such optimism the case brought to Rabbi efrati was basically identical to a situation faced by the rabbi's own brother in 1943 he and his fellow refugees squeezed themselves into a small bunker in order to escape from the Nazi killing squads one of the refugees was the mother of an infant whose cries threatened to reveal their hiding place members of the group tried all they could to quiet the baby to no avail one of them wanted to smother the baby but the rabbi's brother intervened and prevented it as a result the baby's cries led soldiers directly to the hideout rabbi efrati x' brother along with 19 others were rounded up and summarily executed cases like these can make it seem irrational to defend an absolute ban on killing the innocent since we can sometimes better protect innocent human life by violating this ban that shows that the ban should not be absolute the charge can be put in the form of an argument from irrationality one if perfect obedience to a rule can frustrate the underlying purpose of the rule then the rule is irrational to perfect obedience to any absolute moral rule can sometimes frustrate its underlying purpose 3 therefore absolute moral rules are irrational this may look a bit like the argument from disaster prevention but there is an important difference the charge here isn't that following absolute rules may produce a strophe rather the complaint is that there is something fundamentally inconsistent about the absolutist position it is tempting to defend absolute rules by claiming that they protect all important values such as the value of innocent life but if these values can be better served by violating those rules then the rules should be broken and that means that they aren't really absolute after all absolutists have replied to this challenge by rejecting the arguments second premise to see how they do this consider again an absolute ban on killing innocents it's natural to think that the point of such a rule is to protect innocent life but absolutists deny this if our goal is to minimize the loss of innocent human life than we should sometimes deliberately kill an innocent person since that will best achieve our goal but certain absolutists think that we should never ever kill another innocent human being even if doing so will thereby spare many more innocent people from being killed if the point of a ban on killing innocents is not to save innocent life then what is it the answer is simplicity itself the point of such a ban is to forbid you from killing innocent people the only way to honor that demand is by not killing innocents of course it may be as it was in the case of Rabbi efrati 's brother that by obeying this requirement you thereby open the door to a situation in which many more innocent people are killed but the absolute requirement is not that you prevent the killing of innocence it is that you kill none of them yourself in other words the fundamental rationale for absolute moral rules is to forbid people from acting in certain ways rather than to minimize the violation of these rules how can such a view be defended the easy way is closed to us the easy way tells us that innocent life is of the greatest importance and so must be protected via an absolute rule as we have seen that way won't work because this value can sometimes be better served by violating the rule against killing that's what happens when we must kill one innocent person in order to save many others what we need instead is a defense of this key idea a we are always forbidden to act in certain ways that we are not always required to prevent such acts from occurring absolutists have found a way to defend claim a it is called the doctrine of doing and allowing DDA the doctrine of doing and at the finale of Batman Begins Christopher Nolan's first movie about the comic-book hero Batman and his arch nemesis Ra's al Ghul are having their climactic battle aboard an elevated train the train is about to plunge hundreds of feet to its destruction Batman has finally pinned his enemy and could deal the killing blow but he doesn't instead the last words that Ra's al Ghul ever hears are these I'm not going to kill you but I don't have to save you Batman's words reveal a commitment to a view that absolutists have long relied on this is the doctrine of doing and allowing DDA it is always morally worse to do harm than to allow that same harm to occur it is worse for instance to kill than to allow victims to be killed worse to be a terrorist oneself than to allow others to perpetrate terrorism if it is always worse to do bad things than to allow them to occur then we have a defense of the idea that absolute moral requirements apply only to what we do and not to what we allow or fail to prevent if the doctrine of doing and allowing is true we may be absolutely forbidden from killing torturing or raping even though we are not absolutely required to prevent such behavior the DDA can therefore explain why there is something especially problematic about doing evil yourself it can support the idea that you must keep your hands clean even if doing so lets others cause even greater harm the DDA directly supports principle a and is therefore essential to a defense of absolutism the doctrine of doing and allowing thus allows us to deal with an especially tricky kind of moral dilemma cases in which you are faced with a choice of doing something truly awful or refusing to do so knowing that your refusal will allow a less scrupulous person to take your place and do far greater harm consider the case of certain Nazi military officers who came to view their cause as deeply unjust they had much to fear for if their views became known they would be shot if they resigned or sought to run away and were captured they would also be shot apart from such fears however another consideration kept some of them from leaving their posts these officers often correctly thought that if they didn't follow orders then some true believer with no doubts about the Nazi grama would replace them and that would be even more disastrous by remaining in their positions these officers were aiding in evil cause but they held the view shared by many in situations like theirs that the best way to try to destroy a morally bankrupt institution was to work from within the problem of course is that one must often do evil to remain an insider immoral groups usually test the loyalty of their members and this requires them to do all sorts of terrible things those who end up following orders often justify their cooperation with evil by arguing that any alternative would bring about even greater harm and they may well be right together with moral absolutism the DDA forbid certain actions without requiring that you prevent others from doing them on the safe assumption that Nazi atrocities were evil the DDA would forbid German officers from committing them it would require those officers to step down from their posts even though in doing so they were signing their own death warrant and effectively allowing others to do even greater damage we are sometimes forced to choose between doing actions that will stay in our lives forever and refusing to do so knowing that our refusal will create an opportunity for other people to do their worst in such cases the DDA requires that we have stained from evil even if this means that more people get hurt or that our own life is thereby placed at greater risk for those who favor the DDA some things are more important than minimizing harm to others or even remaining alive preserving our moral integrity is one of them but is the dhih dhih a true it may well be here are two cases that reveal its attractions case one I am morally allowed to eat at a decent restaurant spending thirty dollars on the dinner even though with that money I could have prevented the death of three starving Somali children by sending a check to UNICEF most of us think it acceptable to spend the money on dinner thereby allowing those children to die yet it would definitely be wrong to kill them directly case two I am a soldier on the battlefield and see a fellow infantryman shot at my side I can't tell whether his wound is fatal he is groaning and asking for help it would definitely be wrong to shoot that soldier it would not be wrong to let him die if I had to ignore his pleas in order to obey a command to retreat from the battlefield we are forbidden from doing so in both of these cases though permitted to allow it to happen the doctrine of doing and allowing perfectly explains why this is so but some have had their worries about the DDA consider these two cases case three I am a nurse charged with giving a bedridden patient a life-saving pill every four hours I am an evil nurse however and when the appointed time comes I stand by pill in hand and do nothing thereby allowing the patient to die suppose instead that I had obtained a poison pill and had given him that rather than his real medication he dies as a result if the DDA is true then giving the poison pill is morally worse than deliberately withholding the medicine is it case for I must which man who notices a runaway trolley speeding down the tracks headed for one is in person trapped in a narrow pass I pull a lever and switch the track so that the trolley heads off on a spurt I do this because five people are on that spur and I want to kill as many people as I can they all die now suppose instead that the runaway trolley is headed for the five rather than the one and I just stand there gleefully passing up an easy chance to switch the trolley to the track with only one person on it the DDA says that my action is morally worse than my omission that pulling a lever is morally worse than not pulling it even though both cases result in the same number of deaths and in both I have the same motive intentions and knowledge of the likely outcomes these are all very schematic under described cases some of them are quite outrageous but there is a point on relying on examples like these we can appreciate it by thinking about the nature of scientific experiments the ones that are well designed often place two groups in identical circumstances and change just a single variable to test for its importance for instance we offer a control group a placebo and then test a new drug by seeing how members of a comparison group fare when taking it this allows us to isolate the drugs powers or lack of powers the tests we conduct in ethics are thought experiments we think of different situations that are identical in all respects but one and then ask whether that difference makes any moral difference that is what is going on in the cases just described each case presents two scenarios that are perfectly similar in every way but one in the first scenario the person does something very harmful but in a second the person allows that same harm to occur keeping everything else the same enables us to filter out any distracting irrelevant details that could skew our responses to these cases we can then determine whether the difference between doing and allowing in and of itself is morally relevant the problem for the DDA is that it sometimes seems as it might in cases three and four and other easily constructed examples that the mere difference between doing and allowing has no moral importance at all that is a serious challenge to the DDA but of course your views on these cases may differ from mine and you might feel strongly that doing the harm is in each case worse than failing to prevent it even if that is so however there is another potential problem for the DDA the distinction between doing and allowing is actually very hard to draw consider the classic case of pulling the plug on a patient whose life is being maintained by a ventilator it seems that this is a matter of doing something removing a tube or flipping a machine switch the doctor or nurse is not just standing there Stockstill but many have argued that removing such life support is merely letting nature take its course in other words not doing anything at all but rather allowing some ongoing chain of events to continue on its way before we can apply the DDA we need to have a plausible way to distinguish doings from allowing z' i don't know how to do this in a general way but there are many easy cases ones in which inaction counts very clearly as doing something or an inaction counts as obviously allowing something to occur perhaps this is enough to give absolutists hope that we can someday formulate a criterion that will enable us to distinguish doings from allowing z' once and for all the point of investigating the merits of the DDA is to examine whether the absolutist position can be defended against the charge of irrationality absolutists can defend against this objection if they can show why we must never commit certain harms even if doing so would reduce the number of those harms the DDA is meant to provide this piece of the puzzle it tells us that doing harm is morally worse than allowing that same harm to occur whether the DDA is plausible will depend in the end on whether absolutist can supply a test for distinguishing between doing and allowing and whether the DDA is immune to counter-examples of the sort that cases three and four seek to provide conclusion when I reflect on my own moral views I find it hard to resist the thought that certain kinds of actions just should never be done at the top of my list is murderous terrorism deliberately trying to kill civilians with the aim of inspiring fear and thereby furthering some political goal when I vividly consider such behavior I can't help but feel deeply repelled and outraged I'm inclined to think that terrorism is always immoral but I know enough about myself to recognize my phal ability my sense of outrage is not a surefire test of morality perhaps terrorism in rare cases is morally acceptable ditto for other familiar cases of repugnant behavior rape for instance or torture whether such practices are always wrong depends on whether absolutists can adequately defend against the argument from disaster prevention the argument from contradiction and the argument from a rationality the worry about contradiction is the most serious for any theory that generates contradictions is certainly false so absolutists must show that their favorite moral rules will never conflict the only way to ensure this is to restrict the sort of things that are absolutely forbidden to us there are two ways to do this first we might be absolutely forbidden to intend certain harms and second we might be absolutely forbidden to do certain harmful things but why is it so important to refrain from intentional harms or from doing harm especially if what we intend or do will reduce the harms in question the dde in the DDA are designed to provide an answer the fate of absolutism hangs on whether these doctrines can be successfully defended

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