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The ethics of killing the dead

 
 
Thomas
 
  2  
Reply Sun 17 Aug, 2008 10:14 pm
@joefromchicago,
joefromchicago wrote:
Now, was Mr. Bullseye wrong to shoot Mr. Gravity?

On a natural law test -- does Mr. Bullseye shock my conscience? -- the answer is yes. The shock is not as bad as if Mr. Bullseye had shot random, non-suicidal people in the street. But it's clear to me that I cannot comfortably state that Mr. Bullseye's shot is morally unproblematic.

As a utilitarian, on the other hand, I can't identify a problem with the act itself, unless Mr. Bullseye's shot adds pain and suffering to Mr. Gravity's short remainder of his life. There is the shortening of Mr. Gravity's life, but it's merely by seconds, and in any event the remaining life is worthless to Mr. Gravity, as judged by his willingness to commit suicide.

Yet on the third hand I can, still speaking as a utilitarian, see problems with a rule stating "it's okay for Mr. Bullseye to shoot Mr. Gravity in this case". For example, the rule might desensitize marksmen from killing humans in other cases, where there is no utilitarian excuse for the act. Also, the rule might be difficult to enforce -- how does the prosecutor tell if Mr. Gravity was falling before or after Mr. Bullseye shot him?

Maybe I'm just rationalizing the results of my subjective does-it-shock-my-conscience test. But this is how I would resolve the conflict between my natural-lawish view and my utilitarian view.
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Sun 17 Aug, 2008 10:38 pm
@Thomas,
I think you have accurately summarized the vast differences between act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism.
0 Replies
 
Huxley
 
  1  
Reply Thu 10 Jun, 2010 06:38 pm
To what degree, relative to Mr. B's other values, does Mr. B hate Mr. G? What does Mr. B strive to make of himself? Further, why are they enemies?
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Thu 10 Jun, 2010 08:33 pm
@Huxley,
Why does that matter?
Huxley
 
  1  
Reply Fri 11 Jun, 2010 08:28 am
@joefromchicago,
Well, if Mr. B were a pacifist and strove to remain as such, then I'd say he acted immorally. If Mr. B was trying to become a kind of warrior, and Mr. G were the same, such that each of them were essentially "In Agreement" on how one treats an enemy, then I'd at least say that what he did was morally permissible. On top of this, if the only reason they were enemies of each other, even with an explicit agreement, was because the two were bored and wanted an enemy to spice up life, then I'd likely still say they acted immorally, as I think there are healthier ways to make life exciting.
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Fri 11 Jun, 2010 08:46 am
@Huxley,
Huxley wrote:

Well, if Mr. B were a pacifist and strove to remain as such, then I'd say he acted immorally.

Why? Because he would be a hypocrite? Why is he morally obligated not to be a hypocrite?
Huxley
 
  1  
Reply Fri 11 Jun, 2010 09:05 am
@joefromchicago,
The immorality isn't causally linked to hypocrisy, I'd say, but causally linked to the virtues Mr. B chooses to follow. He would be violating a virtue (or moral code) of his own making. As he would be violating his morality, I think it necessarily follows that his act is immoral.
chai2
 
  1  
Reply Fri 11 Jun, 2010 09:07 am
@Huxley,
Huxley wrote:

Well, if Mr. B were a pacifist and strove to remain as such, then I'd say he acted immorally. If Mr. B was trying to become a kind of warrior, and Mr. G were the same, such that each of them were essentially "In Agreement" on how one treats an enemy, then I'd at least say that what he did was morally permissible. On top of this, if the only reason they were enemies of each other, even with an explicit agreement, was because the two were bored and wanted an enemy to spice up life, then I'd likely still say they acted immorally, as I think there are healthier ways to make life exciting.


But, as I had given an example of in my post on the first page, until Mr. Gravity hit the ground, he was not dead.

One can't say with absolute certainty that there was no way he could have survived that fall, until he actually hit the ground.

What if, instead of the temporary awning that had been installed in my first post (which Mr. G may have seen), something else happened that caused him not to die.

The driver of an open truck filled to the depth of 12 feet with cotton balls could have been driving around the corner, lost.
He didn't know whether to turn left or right at the stop sign, and, taking a chance, turned right, while Mr. G. preoccupied with jumping, and Mr. B, preocupied with shooting, did not notice.
The cotton ball truck could have been passing directly below him, saving his life.

Mr. Bullseye did not act morally, since he could not have been certain Mr. G. would not survive the fall.
Huxley
 
  1  
Reply Fri 11 Jun, 2010 09:21 am
@chai2,
I don't think that the certainty of an actions outcome is a good reason for moral action. I tend to shy away from interpreting actions as moral/immoral on the basis of the actions outcome (though, sure, it has its place).

Suppose, on the reverse, that Mr. B were trying to save Mr. G. He had an instantaneous change of heart because, hey, life is short, and it's just sad that Mr. G is trying to kill himself. He's far enough away that he likely won't save Mr. G. As I tend to interpret ethical action, I would say that Mr. B would act morally in trying to save Mr. G even if he fails to do so: He desired to be such and such a person (A virtue), he acted in such a way to become such and such a person (an action), and it is on the basis of motivation in conjunction with actions that I attempt to evaluate morality.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Fri 11 Jun, 2010 10:54 am
@Huxley,
Huxley wrote:

The immorality isn't causally linked to hypocrisy, I'd say, but causally linked to the virtues Mr. B chooses to follow. He would be violating a virtue (or moral code) of his own making. As he would be violating his morality, I think it necessarily follows that his act is immoral.

Well, that may very well be true, but if it's his morality, why doesn't he get to create an exception for himself on this one occasion?
Huxley
 
  1  
Reply Fri 11 Jun, 2010 11:13 am
@joefromchicago,
joefromchicago wrote:

Well, that may very well be true, but if it's his morality, why doesn't he get to create an exception for himself on this one occasion?


Again, under the pretense that he is a pacifist, it violates the virtue he set out for himself.

As it is his morality, it is also his body, etc. etc. Things that are ours are not necessarily changed by our whim. People can change, but not a whim. It takes time. If Mr. B (what an unfortunate name for a pacifist Wink) has been acting in such a way that a pacifist acts, then he is a pacifist at the time of this action.

As a note: I use the words "Create, choose" as a metaphorical model, as it works well in describing moral decisions. But I don't find libertarian free-will to be tenable, myself, so a metaphysical reason that he can't make an exception for himself is that he doesn't have the ability to make that choice. (Not to derail, but I look at it more as a "selection between" choices, or even possibly "hard determinism" -- largely, I think it's irrelevant to moral questions. I'm just trying to clarify where I come from)
Huxley
 
  1  
Reply Fri 11 Jun, 2010 11:39 am
I intended to edit, but couldn't find it, sorry:

Also, I realize that this process could be used to answer ANY ethical question, and so it seems a little cheap. I stepped back to this level of analysis because of how unusual the situation is: If they have agreements with each other, if they choose to act in certain ways, etc., seems more relevant to me than the fact that Mr. G is likely to die anyways -- rather, Mr. G is likely to die anyways, so consequentialism has less sway on my judgment than normal. I then think that the important thing is: What is Mr. B's motivation, and what is the relationship/social agreement between the two?
0 Replies
 
Dudley Bowring
 
  1  
Reply Fri 11 Jun, 2010 11:43 am
@joefromchicago,
Now I have to re-think my ethical position regarding movies about zombies.
0 Replies
 
GoshisDead
 
  1  
Reply Fri 11 Jun, 2010 12:14 pm
Further things to consider:
Studies indicate, please don't make me look them up, that many people who jump die of fright well before they hit. Assuming that Mr. G had died before the 40th floor, Mr. B may have been shooting a dead horse. Given the inherent ambiguity of this and general (he may not have died) concerns, the shooting is not the ethical question, the intention of the shooting is, as Mr. B may or may not have killed Mr.G.

Mr. B seeing that Mr. G is going to die anyway and yet shooting him, putting in Mr. B in serious legal jeopardy calls into question, Mr. B's ability to make rational decisions, and could indicate psychological issues that could exempt Mr. B from discussion about traditional ethical evils. This gives us the further topic of ethics concerning the mentally impaired.

However, given that this is a thought experiment and not a real life situation, if one assumes that voluntary life taking is evil then it is evil. a wife poisoning her husband over a period of years is the same as killing someone 2 seconds before they die. All things being static one can afford to deal in absolutes. If the thought experiment is not static then all things must be considered in an ethical question.
Night Ripper
 
  1  
Reply Fri 11 Jun, 2010 12:58 pm
@joefromchicago,
joefromchicago wrote:
Now, was Mr. Bullseye wrong to shoot Mr. Gravity?


Yes just as it would be wrong to shoot him after he hit the ground.
DrewDad
 
  2  
Reply Fri 11 Jun, 2010 01:14 pm
@GoshisDead,
GoshisDead wrote:
Studies indicate, please don't make me look them up, that many people who jump die of fright well before they hit.

I'm wondering how they collect their data for these studies.
GoshisDead
 
  1  
Reply Fri 11 Jun, 2010 01:34 pm
@DrewDad,
good question, now I have to look back up where I read it lol, I asked you not to make me do that.
Huxley
 
  1  
Reply Fri 11 Jun, 2010 01:37 pm
@Night Ripper,
Night Ripper wrote:

Yes just as it would be wrong to shoot him after he hit the ground.


That's an interesting response. In your view, why would it be wrong to shoot him after he hit the ground?
Robert Gentel
 
  1  
Reply Fri 11 Jun, 2010 01:38 pm
@Huxley,
I know you didn't ask me, but one possibility is that it can cause observers to suffer.
DrewDad
 
  1  
Reply Fri 11 Jun, 2010 01:39 pm
@GoshisDead,
I can just see some grad student talking to the ethics review board:

"I have this great idea for a human subjects study...."
0 Replies
 
 

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