Monday, September 30, 2013

John Mikhail @ Balkinization, links to various responses to his book defending a Chomskian, innate, but also Rawlsian, logical and non-conflicted, "moral cognition" and "moral grammar". He links also to his reply,  all hosted by The Jerusalem[!] Review of Legal Studies. 

Two conversations with Mikhail, podcasts, at Philosophy Bites. The first centers on a discussion of the Trolley Problem, in this case using a choice between being asked to switch a train from one track to another or to kill one person and distribute his internal organs to five dying patients.  Mikhail says the reason the first is seen as acceptable by most people and the second not is that in the first the death is seen as a "side effect". 

The trolley problem has morphed to include many variations, and even its earlier forms included discussion of “the doctrine of double effect” and of intentionality, treating the act of killing to save lives as an unintentional consequence of a moral act. Utilitarianism doesn’t need to nit-pick about intention; it’s simple enough to say “I chose to kill 3 people to save 10”. But the focus on intention denies full moral existence to those who’ve been killed, and I know of no study asking people to imagine themselves as the fat man and asking if they’re able to intuit a moral difference between being pushed by a man’s hand or by a turnstile with someone’s finger on the switch. 
Regarding the changing intuitions of the actor, Stanley Milgram’s 1963 experiments showed that proximity, of authority to subject and of subject to “learner”, was the main factor in affecting the level of obedience to the command to cause harm. An anthropologist will know why a guillotine is not like an ax and why a governor is not called an executioner even if the man who bears that title is only following orders. Again, such data are treated as irrelevant to philosophy, because once the point of view is chosen it can’t be changed. Rather than seeing the inevitability of competing perspectives of the actor and his victim, the moral issue to be faced is defined only through the experience of one of them and not the other. Philosophy searches for truth and perspectivism just doesn’t fit the bill.
The doctrine of double effect goes back to Aquinas, and the Church is an authoritarian institution. Philosophy qua philosophy is always authoritarian. Democracy on the other hand is a means for society to negotiate problems that have no absolute solution.

related: see previous post

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