Minimizing Harm: Three Problems in Moral Theory

Dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2002)

Distance and morality. I argue that in "Faminine Ethics: the Problem of Distance in Morality and Singer's Ethical Theory" Frances Kamm fails to produce a pair of cases in which a moral difference is present that is not attributable to factors other than distance. I also point out that Kamm's attempts at explaining why distance could possibly matter in morality fall far short. I conclude that there is no reason for us to believe that distance matters in morality and offer an explanation for why it might nevertheless appear to us that it does---there are numerous factors, normally correlated with distance, that are of great moral significance. In the process I offer a few methodological remarks. ;The problem of numbers. I argue that John Taurek's conclusion in "Should the Numbers Count?" remains a viable alternative to the standard view of the role of numbers in morality. I claim that Taurek brings up valid concerns regarding the standard view, and that the objections that have so far been raised against Taurek's position are by far insufficient to remove it from contention. I then point out and try to address several problems, including the problem of very large numbers, which should be a concern to anyone who is sympathetic to Taurek's views. I do not claim to have the answers, but I suggest a direction in which one may look for a solution. ;The return of the trolley. I examine several purported solutions to the Trolley Problem and find them all severely deficient. In light of the systematic failure of efforts to solve the Trolley Problem, I suggest that perhaps no solution has been found because there is no solution to find. I proceed to give a positive argument for the claim that diverting the trolley is not morally permissible and try to give an explanation of how the intuitions of the majority could have been so deeply mistaken. Since my proposed "solution" relies heavily on the making/allowing distinction, I conclude with a discussion of that distinction and a defense of its moral significance
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