Monday, August 31, 2020

James Rachels' The Elements of Moral Philosophy Chapter 1 notes

Here some notes on James Rachels' The Elements of Moral Philosophy, chapter 1, "What is morality?"

Here's a video overview (not by me):



I think this chapter would have been better called What is it to ‘Think Morally’ or 'Reason Morally'?

“Morality is …” is kinda abstract. 
This is less abstract: Someone is “thinking morallyor engaged in “moral thinking” when:
(1) one is guiding one’s thought by reasons – the best reasons – and
(2) one gives equal weight to each individual who is affected by one’s actions.
Re. (1): reasons include (scientific, empirical) facts and moral principles.

FACTS
MORAL PRINCIPLES
=
WHAT TO DO 

Case 1: Baby Theresa (Google for images and stories) 
  • · What’s her situation?
  • · What did her parents want to do? What were their reasons?
The parents' argument:
(3) If we can (a) benefit someone without (b) harming anyone else by doing action X, then action X is morally permissible.
(4) By kill Theresa and taking her organs we can (a) benefit others and (b) not harm anyone else.
(5) So, killing Teresa and taking her organs is morally permissible.
The argument is valid, in that the premises lead to the conclusion. Is this argument sound or not? 

What did “the critics” say” (p. 2)
(6) “It’s too horrifying to use people as means to other people’s ends.”
(7) “It’s unethical to kill in order to save, unethical to kill person A to save person B.”
(8) “The parents are saying we should kill the baby to use the organs. That’s horrendous!
These remarks are the basis of arguments. Are these arguments sound or not? If any of them are, then argument (3)-(5) is not sound. Let's present these remarks as logically valid arguments. 

Re. Remark (6):
(A) If someone is used as a mere means to another’s end, then that is wrong.
(B) Taking Teresa’s organs would be to use her as a mere means.
(C) So, it would be wrong to take her organs.
Is the argument valid? Are the premises true? (Are they somehow ambiguous or imprecise? What does it mean, according to Kant, to use someone as a mere means?)

Re. Remark (7):
(D) If person A is killed to save person B, then that’s wrong.
(E) To kill Teresa would be to kill her to save others.
(F) Therefore, it’s wrong to kill Teresa.
Is the argument valid? Are the premises true? (Are they somehow ambiguous or imprecise, e.g., does D claim it's always wrong to do this, or just sometimes?)

Re. Remark (8): is that even an argument?

Case 2: Jodie and Mary 
(Google for images and stories) 

What’s their situation? What did her parents want to do? What did the hospital want to do? What were their reasons?

Some might throw up their hands and ask “Whose to decide?!” Asking this kind of question is often a way to avoid thinking about which arguments are best. (Also, it’s often unwise to ask rhetorical questions, since there might be good answers to them).

An argument:
(G) If we have a choice between saving one infant and letting both die, we should save one.
(H) We have such a choice.
(I) So we should save one.
Is the argument valid? Are the premises true?

Some critics say:
(J) If someone is an ‘innocent human life’, then they should never be killed.
(K) Mary is an innocent human life.
(L) Therefore, Mary should not be killed.
Is the argument valid? Are the premises true?

3rd Case: Tracy Latimer (Google for images and stories) 
  • · What’s her situation? (We need to think about the details..)
  • · What did her parents want to do? What were their reasons?
  • · What did their critics say?
Conclusions: Overall, we need to take note of:
  • · Feelings
  • · Require reasons
  • · Getting one’s (non-moral) facts straight: checking up on the empirical / scientific evidence
  • · Impartiality: differences in treatment are justified only by relevant differences in the person/being and in light of general moral principles; otherwise these are unjustified prejudices.

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