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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Trolley cases

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Thanny said...

Whoever put together that "philosophy experiment" which starts by asking if torture is morally wrong isn't thinking too clearly.

If you say that torture is, as a matter of principle, morally wrong, it does not mean you are in any way inconsistent when you choose to torture the guy who planted a nuclear bomb that will kill a million people. Something which is necessary can still be morally wrong.

Take killing babies, for example, which leads to another popular moral conundrum.

Killing babies is, as a matter of principle, morally wrong. But if the Nazis are looking for a group of Jews hiding in a house, and the baby won't stop crying, it may be necessary to kill the baby. That doesn't make it less morally wrong.

Russell Blackford said...

Can something that is necessary really still be morally wrong? That's a controversial claim. Some moral philosophers have doubltless made that claim, but I doubt that it's the common view of either philosophers or people generally.

E.g., with the baby killing example that you give, utilitarians will say that killing the baby is the morally right thing to do in such horrible circumstances. They don't claim that killing babies is morally wrong in principle.

Some deontologists will say it is morally wrong to kill the baby, but they don't say you should do it anyway. They say you are forbidden to do it. You must not do it.

I don't see that there's a lot of room for a view that killing babies is morally wrong in principle (not just in practice, or as a generalisation, or something like that) while also saying that there could be situations where it is what you should do.

But again, some philosophers probably do analyse moral wrongness in a way that agrees with you and disagrees with me. In fact, I think I've had a stray colleague who takes that view over the years. The concept of moral wrongness is, alas, very much contested.