Category Archives: Normative Ethics

Them trolleys…

Morality: Case of the Reluctant Superman

Suppose that Metropolis is in grave danger of being totally destroyed, say by a meteorite careening down toward it from space. For whatever reason, Superman refuses to save it. I am in a position credibly to tell him: "You son of a bitch! Either you save the city or I'll kill Lois Lane." Am I justified / permitted / required to do that?

For natural morality, we must assume that I do not love the citizens of Metropolis with any special love as myself. It is admitted, however, that I may prefer the city spared so that society and the free market are not damaged and production is not curtailed, which would make me, as a participant in the economy, somewhat poorer.

Natural deontology forbids me to coerce Superman, because I am not allowed to commit an injustice for any personal gain.

Natural utilitarianism enjoins me not to make things worse, but it does not command me to make them better. Therefore, I am not required to bring about the great good of the salvation of Metropolis. I am permitted to walk away with indifference. I am not responsible for the threat to the city, and I am not anyone's keeper.

Deontology then prohibits coercing Superman, and consequentialism does not require me to coerce him. On the whole, coercion is not permitted, and I ought to let the city perish.

Christian deontology similarly forbids unjust coercion, such as threatening an innocent girl with death, in fact even more stringently, since we contrast with hatred not benign indifference but love.

But Christian utilitarianism now bids me to create good, to improve the world, and in particular to avert great evils. Saving Metropolis certainly qualifies as a huge work of mercy. I am now morally required to force the reluctant Superman to act.

The two approaches seriously conflict with each other. To resolve the conflict, we may invoke threshold deontology. Again, it seems to me that each person needs to establish his own personal thresholds upon some serious reflection and soul-searching and then act accordingly with single-minded confidence. In this case, for me, the greater good brought about is high above the threshold for coercing Superman. Consequentialism takes over, and on the whole, Christian morality compels me to threaten Lois Lane.

Natural vs. Christian Morality

The main natural deontological precept says: "Do not hate your fellow man or through that hatred, injure him unjustly."

Thus, do not murder or steal.

The natural consequentialist precept says: "Do not, through your actions, make things on the whole worse."

Thus, don't be a welfarite, develop your talents, contribute to society within the free market as a productive member thereof (and be compensated accordingly), have the correct libertarian ideology and strive to harmonize private individual initiative and the common good.

Do not make society regret that you were born.

The main Christian deontological precept says: "Love your fellow man and do good to him, both through that love and so that your love may increase."

Thus, feed the hungry, instruct the ignorant, and perform other works of mercy.

The Christian consequentialist precept says: "Improve the world by leaving something after yourself; produce more than you consume."

Thus, give to charity, raise good children, deepen and teach libertarianism, save souls.

Landsburg’s Take on Some Utilitarian Dilemmas

Our author is a fanatical consequentialist, saying for example, "I'd cheerfully cut off the ears of a small child to cure malaria." (155) Fortunately, there is an interesting method to his madness. For example, he considers "the Headache Problem":

A billion people are experiencing fairly minor headaches, which will continue for another hour unless an innocent person is killed, in which case they will cease immediately. Is it okay to kill that innocent person? (161)

The first question is: would you as one of the headache sufferers personally be willing to enter into a compact with others likewise afflicted to have one of you randomly sacrificed to the headache god in order to cure everyone's headache immediately? But that depends on whether other people, too, agree to enter this compact. If only I and no one else agrees, the probability of me dying is 100%. If only 1 other person out of the 1 billion agrees, then I have a 50% chance of dying for the sake of curing our headaches.

What's the "rational" decision here? In the absence of coordinated decision-making, I may think it's too risky to agree. But everyone else is in the same position I am. So everyone reasons similarly and declines to enter the compact.

On the other hand, if my decision "determines" everyone's, I may as well say "yes" and magically, everyone will agree, too.

Alternatively, it may be agreed that the compact will come to be in force only if no fewer than 100 million people enter it. In any case, such a compact, when entered into or refused voluntarily, does not seem to me to be morally problematic.

Second, what Landsburg in fact is proposing is that we make him a benevolent despot and force everyone to enter. Even if the answer to first question is "no agreement," he judges that government coercion can in this case produce superior results for the following reason:

First, virtually nobody will pay a dollar to avoid a one-in-a-billion chance of death. (We know this, for example, from studies of willingness to pay for auto safety devices.)

Second, most people -- at least in the developed world, where I will assume all of this is taking place -- would happily pay a dollar to cure a headache. (I don't actually know this, but it seems probable.)

Third, this tells me that most people think a headache is worse than a one-in-a-billion chance of death.

So if I can replace your headache with a one-in-a-billion chance of death, I've done you a favor. And I can do precisely this by killing a headache sufferer at random. (161-2)

Landsburg seems to be able to avoid the charge that he is illicitly weighing utilities interpersonally by saying that he is straightforwardly respecting our own preferences and is simply helping us overcome some coordination problem. And if the answer to the first question is "everyone agrees," then there is no need even for that.

In other words, Landsburg, upon making some plausible assumptions, is initiating a Pareto-superior move, i.e., getting every member of the compact from a worse to better situation unanimously.

At the same time, the answer "yes, it is Ok" to the original question seems somewhat morally controversial. It may be because no man can be a benevolent despot capable to maximizing total utility, and we all understand that and refuse to do an obvious injustice such as killing an innocent person for the sake of an unknown outcome. Again, however, Landsburg's reasoning that the outcome is easily known seems persuasive.

Note that by joining the compact, I impose nothing on other people. I bear the full costs -- the chance of dying by being randomly picked to be sacrificed to the headache god -- myself, yet benefit all other headache sufferers by lowering their probability of dying in like manner. After all, the more people enter the compact, the smaller the probability of each person's getting unlucky. Thus, my entering is a socially virtuous act which again suggests that there is nothing morally problematic about such a compact.

If the answer to the headache problem is that it is Ok to execute the killing, then replace

"1 billion headache-sufferers-for-an-hour" with "all the children sick with malaria now or in the future"; and replace

"killing one innocent person with the headache" with "cutting off the ears of one child with malaria." Then a fortiori (i.e., for an even stronger reason), it is fully permissible to get cutting.

The only issue is whether Landsburg would still cut off the ears even of a child who is not (nor ever will be) sick with malaria; or, which is the same thing, whether he would sacrifice a person who does not have the headache. For such a child / person would obviously not agree to enter the compact of his own free will. The "economic" logic would then break down, and his rights would be straightforwardly violated. Then Landsburg could indeed be accused of playing God, as in weighing lives or at least utilities interpersonally against each other yet without the essentially divine ability to do so competently.

Pure Utilitarianism

In an early article, Robert Murphy objects to the adequacy of utilitarianism:

The fundamental problem with utilitarianism is this: Despite a succession of ingenious proponents, its advocates have yet to explain why the individual should behave morally. The fact that we are all better off if we all behave morally is utterly true and utterly irrelevant. (Such an argument violates the cherished Austrian precepts of marginalism and individualism.)

The truly difficult moral issues resemble the familiar Prisoner's Dilemma; regardless of everyone else's behavior, the individual does better by exploiting others.

It is true that a society suffering from widespread theft would be intolerable, even from a thief's point of view, but any individual robbery has very little impact on the overall level of crime.

The focus of utilitarianism is social. A pure utilitarian has little to say to any individual on why he should not be a thief. But he does recommend a social policy of catching and punishing thieves. (According to pure utilitarianism, then, one would not want exploit others, because he risks being caught and fined or imprisoned.) The utilitarian idea is to structure the incentives of the legal system to minimize the total amount of violence people (including the state) inflict on one another. Utilitarianism counsels rewarding and encouraging good deeds and discouraging behavior that harms social cooperation. And that's it! It thus addresses itself to society and its agent, the state.

Murphy goes on:

Moreover, if everyone agreed with Yeager and other utilitarians that it were foolish to sacrifice oneself in these rare instances, an element of doubt would arise in all social interactions.

Although pangs of conscience might be a wonderful evolutionary byproduct, it would be in the interest of everyone to steel himself against such "irrational" feelings (while still behaving in accordance with them under normal circumstances).

One's very life might one day depend on it.

Here there is a truth-digging game going on between society and individuals. Individual soldiers will want to hide their cowardice and merely pretend to be willing to sacrifice their lives for the cause (thereby getting paid for doing no work), while society has an incentive to detect their cheating and punish them for it or at least refuse to hire them. Utilitarianism thus addresses itself not to the soldier contemplating whether to sacrifice himself for the greater good, but to the general choosing the soldiers who, in his estimation, are most likely to follow orders even unto death.

It does not say to the soldier: "Sacrifice yourself." Rather, it says to the general: "Pick self-sacrificing soldiers." And it is an empirically true statement that people do not always behave selfishly, carefully hiding their egoism until the time comes when they are put to the test, and then to everyone's consternation they up and do their own thing. Sometimes society wins; other times individuals win (perhaps unjustly and wickedly) at the expense of society.

A soldier may indeed be directed to sacrifice himself but not by utilitarianism but by the contract he must have signed with the military before going off to war. He is duty-bound to act as his contract stipulates, including sacrifice himself in certain situations.


Utilitarianism seems to rob the words good and bad of their specifically ethical character. The utilitarian cannot make a distinction between guilt and simple error. The person who robs a bank to achieve happiness has made a mistake in qualitatively the same sense as a person who overcooks a steak.

Once again, we don't care about whether the robber acted virtuously or not. All that pure utilitarianism commands is that the police try to deter and minimize bank robberies as much as possible consistent with other goals. The rule according to which robberies go unpunished results in an unhappy society, despite the benefits to the robbers.

Even individual robbers have an interest in society being tough on crimes. Weak-willed robbers will be deterred and steered into productive occupations, both benefiting society and perhaps saving their souls. Especially competent robbers will still get away with their crimes but will enjoy diminished competition and a productive society, so they can actually spend their ill-gotten money. The losers of a regime that efficiently prosecutes robbers will be the stupid criminals who are neither deterred by the law nor evade detection and capture. But their misery is a utilitarian price we pay for a happy society overall.

Now it is true that utilitarianism ignores the obvious point that the robber commits an injustice. This is not a failure of this ethical theory but merely its limitation. Other theories will need to be brought to bear to complement utilitarianism.

It follows that "we as a society" must calibrate the legal system and other methods of apportioning praise and blame so as to promote general happiness. As David Friedman writes, contrasting the economic approach to law with other approaches, "An economist points out that if the punishments for armed robbery and for armed robbery plus murder are the same, the additional punishment for the murder is zero -- and asks whether you really want to make it in the interest of the robbers to murder their victims." (Law's Order, 8)

As to the fate of the robber's eternal soul utilitarianism is silent.

Pure utilitarianism teaches people how to attain their goals (which may include the goals of others toward whom they feel benevolent).

On the level of the individual, utilitarianism collapses into the virtue of prudence-in-act. (Of course, utilitarianism does not lose its character as social even here, because this is merely a limiting case wherein the society consists of a single individual.)

On the level of society, it also teaches people how to hinder the goals of those whose actions would destroy social cooperation if left unchecked. A utilitarian thus seeks to educate the public about the actual means to their actual ends, enhance their practical wisdom.

In the final analysis, utilitarianism attempts to spread the virtue of prudence far and wide. That does not mean there are no other crucial virtues, such as justice, that would be dealt with by other ethical theories. Utilitarianism is not worthless, merely incomplete.

Population Control, 3

Suppose there is a primitive culture that values children a lot. For example, large families are afforded admiration and respect. HRE the civilized come in and inform them of the global warming issue and tell them of their newfound moral duty to check their procreation. There will be resistance of all kinds. Perhaps by "preference adjustment" HRE mean attempts to change the culture in order to bring the people in line, such as through their "sub-rational" means. In that case I guess it's not so bad.

Population Control, 2

Another issue is the proper advocacy of anti-natalism. Suppose the propagandists tell an African community: "Children are bad." "Why?" they ask. "Because they contribute to global warming." But then children as such would still presumably be good, a great blessing in fact. (It's not like HRE's anti-natalism stems from some pessimistic philosophical doctrine, such as the idea that it is better never to be born.) It's just because of an unfortunate accident, namely, the global warming problem, that children are now a net cost. Moreover, each individual child contributes only a negligible amount of GHG emissions. It's not this child who is a disaster; for example, killing the child would still be morally wrong; it's the overall government policy that is presumably good.

The truthful way to address the community would then be: "It is everyone's moral duty not to reproduce." It's not the private "risks, costs, and benefits" that anti-natalism-for-reasons-of-global-warming must deal with but moral suasion. We are at war with global warming; in war people must make sacrifices; and the government must be continuously reminding them of that fact. "Preference adjustment" seems like petty and intrinsically deceptive brainwashing, or morally objectionable re-education or gaslighting which are unnecessary anyway to the extent that "many of the world's poor are becoming richer." In other words, if the Africans are fuckin' animals and breed mindlessly like rabbits, then it may be a worthy endeavor to teach them some moral restraint, thereby reducing population. But such instruction would be for their own private good, to make the individual Africans wiser and richer, not for the sake of mitigating global warming. It won't do to try to hypnotize an African after his lesson is concluded into believing that he "does not want" children, when he has clearly indicated that he still does, very much.

On the other hand, if this is an enormous and all-encompassing conflict where private self-interest must (according to the authors) give way to the common good, then let the people steel themselves and do their duty to fellow men as they already must.

Now the fact that people ought not to kill does not entail that there should be no punishments for killing. But to most people it does not occur in their everyday lives 10 times per day to kill their neighbors, it's just that their actual utility calculations every time happen to come out against committing the crimes. Moral norms are internalized. That is the most reliable way of preventing anti-social actions. So, while coercive measures may undergird population control, ultimately, there has to be a recognition of the duty to abstain from having children, if, of course, such a duty exists in the first place.

I'm not suggesting that the approach of leaving decisions to procreate to individual moral consciences in the face of an assumed global catastrophe is unproblematic. It leaves the total population numbers centrally unplanned; it encourages free riding on other people's solicitude; etc. That's why I am saying that coercion, such as indeed taxing children, is unavoidable. But I am objecting to "preference adjustments." Look, suppose for the sake of argument that it is true that in 2100 if the world population is 8 billion, then those descendants of ours will endure and prosper and be in fact much richer than we are; but if it is 10 billion, then they all burn and the survivors tumble down into barbarism and total war. Well then, let us restrain ourselves somewhat. But in that case, we have an end; we have selected the means; let's get it done without messing with people's heads.

NPR’s Population Control

A paper hosted by the National Public Radio operates from the premise that because of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, "Earth cannot sustain a significantly larger population of wealthier individuals." Unwilling to keep people in poverty (and arguing admirably that "the world's poor... ought to become richer"), the authors (HRE) suggest lowering the total population.

How? The authors show some unwillingness to use coercive government schemes like "forced abortions and sterilizations." Softer methods are recommended instead, especially government mass media propaganda "to sub-rationally influence citizens by suggesting ideas, role models, and narratives which emphasize and de-emphasize certain risks, costs, and benefits of procreative decisions." That, however, is only for "developing" nations whose people are presumably stupid enough to fall for such propaganda.

The authors' moral scruples are commendable, but I wonder why they are needed. If we are, in fact, all going to fry from global warming, then drastic actions are needed, including possibly brutally coercive policies. For example, there are

instances of interventions aimed at adjusting preferences that would violate autonomy rights. Those that use outright misinformation, deception, or manipulation to accomplish their goals are likely candidates. This could involve anything from concealing informational sources, exaggerating data, withholding important information, preying upon morally problematic biases, etc. ... In addition, subtle forms of manipulation in such campaigns might raise moral concerns if they result in shaming or stigmatization.

But what is the "truthful" propaganda fails to work? What if it is actually the case that the far greater costs of children to the rest of society outweigh the private benefits of these children to their parents? How can considerations as mundane as basic morality stand in the way of achieving a goal as glorious as saving mankind from self-destruction?

For the Western nations, the proposal instead is mostly taxes on children to reduce fertility to "1.4 expected births per woman." Notice that this number, 1.4, is well below replacement levels, so HRE want to save humanity by destroying it. In fact, they believe that "more effort should be directed toward reducing fertility in developed nations than in developing nations, since developed nations will emit more GHGs in the near-term."

The most interesting thing in the paper is the moral principle, "carrots for the poor, sticks for the rich," i.e., "the greater a would-be procreator's wealth, the more appropriate it will be to target that person with interventions to the right on the coercion spectrum." But is it really the case that a person loses his rights to the same extent that he becomes more successful in life? The paper defends this view on the grounds that "since wealth is a fairly reliable proxy for individuals' GHG emissions, and so for their carbon legacy, it is morally justifiable to exert greater pressure on wealthy people's procreative behaviors."

My judgment of this whole business is that the authors exhibit the fatal conceit of daring to invoke "models" that "predict" the states of both the future human society and the weather in 2100 and beyond! Such central planning is uncalled for: the HRE's models are mere computer games, but our authors are playing them with seriousness unbecoming a scholar.

Moreover, if, that is, assuming that this problem is real, it is global in scope, and coordinating "propaganda" or child taxes on such a huge level is a hopeless task.

Thanks to Yuri Maltsev for the link.

States and Acts

For nature, the state is relations, and the acts are duties.

For character, the state is virtues; the acts consist in cultivation of the best self.

For narrow happiness, the state is arts; and acts are "human actions," executions of plans to satisfy desires.

All states are habits (from Latin habēre, to have), but in different directions.

Relations have you (you are in relationships, literally); virtues are you; and you have arts and techniques.

Trolleys and Libertarianism, 2

Note that our 3 conditions,

1. Good outweighs evil;
2. Double effect is present;
3. No violations of rights,

are in full force in the trolley case. 3) exists for 2 reasons:

1. because I have no duty to do the impossible, namely save everyone;
2. because the 1 man presumably does not have a right to a track free of runaway trolleys. He knew the risks when he signed up for the job.

Thus, this case is analogous to Air in a previous post, and switching to track B is morally permissible.

Weighing Lives: More Cases

Philippa Foot presents the following case for our consideration:

... there are 5 patients in a hospital whose lives could be saved by the manufacture of a certain gas, but this inevitably releases lethal fumes into the room of another patient whom for some reason we are unable to move.

His death, being of no use to us, is clearly a side effect, and not directly intended.

Why then is the case different from that of the scarce drug, if the point about that is that we foresaw but did not strictly intend the death of a single patient? Yet it surely is different. The relatives of the gassed patient would presumably be successful if they sued the hospital and the whole story came out.

I agree, it is morally different. Consider then another, my own, case:

6 men are trapped in two adjacent rooms, 1 person in room A, 5 in room B, and are in the process of being rescued. There is only a certain amount of air in both rooms. If I do nothing, the 5 men will surely suffocate from lack of oxygen in B, while the 1 man in A will survive. However, I have the option of activating an air pump that will pull oxygen from A into B, and carbon dioxide from B into A. This'll kill the 1 man in A but allow the 5 men in B to hold out until they are saved. Is it moral to start the pump?

Let's call the Foot's case "Gas" and my case, "Air." As we can easily see, Gas is Air in many various ways. In both cases, saving the 5 is better than saving the 1, and the death of the 1 is a second foreseen but unintended effect. Yet our intuitions want to condemn the act to save the 5 in Gas and approve of it in Air. What's the difference?

I suggest that the difference is the men's relevant property rights. In Gas, the patient rents air from the hospital and is entitled to continue to enjoy its services. We might try a kind of Kantian reasoning here: if a prospective patient were informed that the hospital reserved the right to flood his room with poison gas whenever it was necessary to save a greater number of people, then he would not go to the hospital in the first place. And if this practice became widespread, people would refuse to put themselves in situations in which this dilemma would arise. So, Gas is self-defeating: if everyone were aware of how I made my decisions, there would be no circumstances under which I'd ever make one.

In Air, on the contrary, there is no presumption that either the 5 men or the 1 man own the air around them. I am therefore free to follow the principles of triage as I see fit, including ration the very scarce supply of breathable air so as to maximize the number of survivors. If that means letting 1 die, then so be it.

Here the Kantian reasoning leads to the opposite conclusion: if fully informed of my policy, any Smith would be happy to entrust himself to my tender mercies, since if Air actually occurred when I was in control, the probability of Smith's ending up in B and surviving is 5 times the probability of his ending up in A and dying.

As a result, I think we can formulate a sufficient condition for when an action of weighing lives is moral:

1) The good outweighs the evil, such as in our formulaic examples because 5 > 1 (but what if, e.g., the 1 man is your dear friend?).
2) The deaths of the fewer number are not intended though perhaps are foreseen.
3) No one's libertarian natural rights are violated.

Gas then is 1) and 2) without 3) and is therefore suspect. Here is an example with 1) and 3) without 2):

I stand and watch 1 man die when I could easily save him in order to harvest his organs so as to save 5 men. This seems immoral, and the reason is that double effect is violated.

Even if you do not think it is immoral, my conclusion still stands: the joint condition is merely sufficient; I do not argue that it is necessary, as well.

Trolleys and Libertarianism

Let there be again a runaway trolley, whose driver can steer it on track A, killing 5, or on track B, killing 1.

Suppose the initial position of the switch is track A. If I switch it to B, it seems that I will be "aggressing" or "initiating unjust violence" against the 1 man.

And if the initial position is track B, then by switching to A, I will be "aggressing" against the 5.

Does libertarianism then advocate jumping out of the trolley and, by leaving the choice of the track perhaps to some random number generator, washing my hands of this dilemma?

Perhaps we can reason as follows. Do I have a duty not to kill all 6 people? Well, ought implies can, and since I cannot preserve all 6, it is not the case that I ought to preserve them. I do not therefore have a duty not to kill the man on track B. I can lawfully choose who lives and who dies. Therefore, I do not violate his libertarian rights.

Here is another take on this. I am not responsible for the trolley's uncontrolled running away. If the default direction of the trolley is A, then I am not harming the 5 men; the trolley is. I cannot be blamed for the outcome. By switching from A to B (and presumably making a good decision, as 5 > 1), I benefit the 5 men by sparing their lives against an otherwise unavoidable accident yet harm the 1 man. Is the benefit a positive duty while avoiding the harm a negative one? And if so, doesn't the negative duty have precedence?

It can again be countered that we have negative duties to others not to harm them unjustly, and the harm to the 1 man is not unjust, as is clear from the foregoing.

Now it will be agreed that a murder charge is out of the question if I switch to B. Moreover, the default direction is irrelevant; I still choose where to steer the trolley, and there is no praxeological difference between action and inaction or commission and omission. In the next post we'll consider a few more scenarios to test our moral intuitions.

Ethical Dilemmas

Consider some examples:

(1) A runaway trolley driver can steer it on track A, killing 5, or on track B, killing 1.

(2) In order to survive, person Q needs the entire dose of the drug available at the hospital; but persons P1, ..., P5 at the same hospital can be saved with just 1/5 of the dose each.

(3) A sheriff can save 5 innocent men from a lynch mob by covertly framing 1 innocent man.

(4) An evil tyrant gives you the following choice: either you torture 1 man or he tortures 5.

These can be approached in different ways. First, as illustrating the distinction between rule and act utilitarianism (RU / AU). Here the AU choice is the best, lest we be accused of rule worship. (Update: As I argue elsewhere, these dilemmas, though indeed consequentialist, are not utilitarian, because lives and not pleasures are weighed.)

Second, as negative duties not to harm vs. positive duties to give aid. In (1) the driver can't help but violate someone's rights, and so he might as well minimize the harm done. In (2) the conflict is between different ways to benefit, and so again we want to end up with the best consequences. In (3) the innocent man has a right not to be killed, but then so do the 5 men who would die if he lives. From the point of view of an impartial observer, the sheriff ought to frame, but from the point of view of the sheriff there is a conflict between a duty not to kill and a duty to provide aid. If he acts as a utilitarian, then he'll have to live with an uneasy thought that he was a murderer. The problem with (4) is that it is an instance of blackmail, and we may decide to have a policy not to give in to blackmailers, and therefore refuse to torture (so as not to encourage more blackmail).

Third, as a conflict between duty and supererogation. Society demands that we respect the libertarian rights of others. But benefiting others, doing works of mercy, and so on are supererogatory from the point of view of the rather undemanding moral ideal imposed on everyone by the requirements of social cooperation. The question then is, does it work to "make up" for failing to do your duty with supererogation, as in (3) and (4)? If I am a killer for the Russian Mafia yet donate copious amounts of money to the Church, are my sins forgiven?

Fourth, as illustrating the principle of double effect (DE). In (2) we don't intend the death of Q, and so our decision is moral, according to DE. However, if the scenario instead required us to evaluate chopping Q up and grafting his body parts onto Ps, then we would intend Q's death as an essential means to our end rather than merely foresee it as accidentally accompanying our end. (We surely can't say: "We want to get your body parts, but we don't want to kill you.") Similarly, in (4) we can refuse to torture, justifying this choice by saying that we foresee the suffering of the 5 but do not intend it.

Weighing Lives

There is no moral theory that can satisfactorily tell us how to weigh lives against each other.

I am talking about cases where if A lives, then B dies and vice versa, particularly in regard to the philosophical moral dilemmas like the fat man in the cave, the trolley problems, and numerous others.

Virtues and Evil, 2

Note that pursuing evil ends can be a sign of insanity in two ways.

If Smith thinks that an actually evil end he is pursuing is in fact good, then he is insane for not knowing the basics of morality. That's how the legal system defines insanity, as well.

If, however, Smith does know that the evil end is evil yet for all that proceeds to realize it in action anyway, then he is mad for not being afraid of punishment either in this life (such as imprisonment) or in the life to come (such as hellfire) and so again is a crazy motherfucker.

Re: Why It Is Good to Be Good

I'm rather in awe how much identical stuff I and John H. Riker have discovered independently.

A dominating feature of his work is the idea that one's friends act in the capacity of "self-objects." The ideal existence cannot be the Thomistic contemplation of God or even sciences, because each person, far from being self-sufficient, is in fact "fragile, interdependent, and needing a trustworthy matrix of self-objects."

This makes it particularly aggravating that he does not define or give examples of the work performed by a self-object. My guess is that a self-object does things like: agree with, sympathize with, praise, encourage, argue with, fraternally correct, offer acceptance to, etc. a subject. E.g.:

"And he, like, takes out a handkerchief and blows his nose into it."
"Eww, gross!"
"I go: that's what disposable tissues are for!"
"You don't see that every day."
"I know, right?!"

Read that out loud, and you'll feel a certain communion going on.

His reasons for being ethical is that a bad person cannot do two things: 1) he cannot empathize with other people, therefore have true friends, therefore enjoy and himself supply self-objects relations; 2) he cannot create a self and so find true happiness.

In my terminology, that translates into 1) that a bad person cannot progress from hatred of others to indifference to love for them or himself be truly loved in the nature trinity, 2) that he cannot create his own personality and through that find narrow happiness (such as because such people "have unjust souls that are anarchically controlled by whims"), therefore true happiness when nature, virtue, and narrow happiness are combined.

I was influenced by St. Thomas' description of love as involving union, mutual indwelling, ecstasy, and zeal. I am further in full and passionate agreement with 1 Cor 13. But if we add Riker's insight of what a loving friend does for another, i.e., perform self-object services, than we see exactly what crucial goods a bad person cuts himself off from.

Ethics: Some Definitions

Character = a harmonious union of a number of well-defined and known virtues: courage, prudence, humility, magnanimity, modesty, justice, etc.

Self = a collection and solidification of permanent pleasures, interests, loves, projects, and life's works.

Personality = character + self = the virtue trinity.

Persona = social roles, such as one's job, public accomplishments, objects of pride.

Character is built, self is discovered.

It may be asked, if one (though not the overriding) purpose of life is soul-making, why would not God create us with perfect character and full self-knowledge? Because the process of character-building and self-discovery is everlasting. There is no such thing as a fully completed human soul. Might as well start at zero.

Id = desire (potency) / enjoyment (act) in the narrow happiness trinity.
Ego = intellect + power in the happiness trinity.
Superego = demands of natural law in the nature trinity and self-imposed ideals in the virtue trinity.

Personality grounds pursuit of happiness, because one seeks the happiness made proper to himself by his self. These pleasures will not be undone in the future. But both virtue and happiness trinities are in a flux, at the very least in constant development. So they may be aligned well at t1 and misaligned later at t2. Ideally, the process of harmonizing pursuit of 1st-order pleasures with development of personality (and in addition with improvement in nature such as learning to love) is always proceeding and effective.

The key advantage of getting a self is that without it, commitments to long-term projects are problematic, because of the spiritual chaos in one's heart. It makes no sense for me to embark upon complex and long endeavors, if today I like X, tomorrow I dislike X. I begin a task and abandon it only a little later. I'm a "quitter." So my pleasures are of a primitive kind capable of being immediately satisfied: food, sex, games, and the like.

Moreover, while a long-term goal is being achieved, all one does is pay the costs of it. The revenues lie far in the future. A person without a self, even if he resolved to see a project to its end, may find the present pain unjustified by the future pleasure and again, quit.

Development of self is organic, as change-amidst-permanence, so there is always a core self, even if it grows more interesting and complex with time.

Vertical Splitting and Time

Following St. Thomas, we can construct a very fast and loose hierarchy of life-forms.

At the bottom are single-celled organisms that merely "live."

On the next level are plants who possess only the "nutritive" or "vegetative" soul; they "grow." Moreover, such organisms are multicellular and sport different organs.

Then there are animals like oysters that have senses but are immobile.

Then we have higher animals who "transcend space," i.e., who can move about, like parrots and lions.

Up at the very top, we have humans who as rational animals transcend both space and time, i.e., are 4-dimensional, operating in all 4 periods, past, present, future, and timelessness.

To quote from my book,

... seeking narrow happiness by a vicious person is nugatory. For if later on in life Smith decides to "become a better person," whatever exactly that entails for him, then he may have to reject, abandon, and purge those very desires that he struggled so valiantly to satisfy, making all his previous efforts entirely vain.

In other words, suppose Smith once felt that drinking himself into a stupor and wallowing in his own filth like a pig was a fine way of living. Then he wakes up and tries to pull himself together. Here's the thing: recalling his past pleasures will not be a happy experience for Smith but rather full of shame and pain. The pleasures will be despised, and Smith will want to forget his past. It's as if his past is condemned, and his very life thereby shortened.

Such will be the fate of all people without a coherent self.

Vertical Splitting

This means in psychology that "the only way one can both retain a sense of self-worth and engage in the immoral activity is to split off the part of himself that carries his self-image from the part that is performing the action. When persons engage in vertical splitting they are conscious of what they are doing but disavow its reality or its wrongness." (Riker, 100)

In Summa Against the Keynesians, I make this conflict the centerpiece of the virtue trinity formation, i.e., when a person does not approve of what he enjoys and does not enjoy what he approves of. In the book it may be expressed in a somewhat formulaic manner, but then it is an economics not psychology treatise.

Therefore, when a personality grounds the pursuit of happiness, it must be that one strives for all and only those ends which he morally approves of.

Redheads, 2

This could actually be an exam question in an Intro to Ethics course. The answer is that, on the contrary, it is a reason precisely not to murder redheads.

This is because pleasure after an act is performed increases both its merit and demerit. If you feed the hungry and feel happy afterwards, then by that very fact your holiness is increased. If you murder someone and feel happy afterwards, then, since you rejoice in evil done, this time the happiness increases your guilt and corrupts you still further.

So, if indeed "general happiness" in a community increases after it cleanses all the redheads by murdering them, then this fact intensifies the hair colorists' guilt, and so more punishment is by justice due to them to counteract and negate the alleged happiness.

Murdering Redheads

If a community's murdering all the redheads in it would in fact increase general happiness, is it a reason to go through with the murder, even if it is perhaps outweighed by other, perhaps stronger, reasons?

Or is it no kind of reason at all?