The Repugnant Conclusion served an important purpose in catalyzing and inspiring the pioneering stage of population ethics research. We believe, however, that the Repugnant Conclusion now receives too much focus. Avoiding the Repugnant Conclusion should no longer be the central goal driving population ethics research, despite its importance to the fundamental accomplishments of the existing literature.
Derek Parfit has famously pointed out that ‘total’ utilitarian views, such as classical hedonistic utilitarianism, lead to the conclusion that, to each population of quite happy persons there corresponds a more extensive population with people living lives just worth living, which is better. In particular, for any possible population of at least ten billion people, all with a very high quality of life, there must be some much larger imaginable population whose existence, if other things are equal, would be better, (...) even though its members have lives that are barely worth living. This world is better if the sum total of well-being is great enough, and it is great enough if only enough sentient beings inhabit it. This conclusion has been considered by Parfit and others to be ‘repugnant’. (shrink)
A set of moral problems known as The Trolley Dilemmas was presented to 3000 randomly selected inhabitants of the USA, Russia and China. It is shown that Chinese are significantly less prone to support utility-maximizing alternatives, as compared to the US and Russian respondents. A number of possible explanations, as well as methodological issues pertaining to the field of surveying moral judgment and moral disagreement, are discussed.
This is a wide-ranging defense of a distinctive version of hedonistic act utilitarianism. It is plainly written, forthright, and stimulating. Also, it is replete with disputable assertions and arguments. I shall pursue one issue here, after sketching the project of each substantial chapter.
For elite athletes seeking a winning advantage, manipulation of their own genetic code has become a realistic possibility. In Genetic Technology and Sport, experts from sports science, genetics, philosophy, ethics, and international sports administration describe the potential applications of the new technology and debate the questions surrounding its use.
Coercive Care: The Ethics of Choice in Health and Medicine asks probing and challenging questions regarding the use of coercion in health care and social services. This book combines philosophical analysis with comparative studies of social policy and law in a large number of industrialized countries and proposes an ideal of judicial security on a global scale.
This is a short reply to Professor Reichlin’s comment on my book Setting Health-Care Priorities. What Ethical Theories Tell Us. The version of prioritarianism I rely on in the book is defended as the most plausible one. The general claim that there is convergence between all plausible theories on distributive justice is also defended with regard to assisted reproduction, disability, and enhancement.
Total views imply what Derek Parfit has called ‘the repugnant conclusion’. There are several strategies aimed at debunking the intuition that this implication is repugnant. In particular, it goes away when we consider the principle of unrestricted instantiation, according to which any instantiation of the repugnant conclusion must appear repugnant if we should be warranted in relying on it as evidence against total theories. However, there are instantiations of the conclusion where it doesn't seem to be at all repugnant. Hence (...) there is nothing repugnant about the repugnant conclusion as such. The faults with total views have nothing to do with large numbers or with the conclusion as such. It is possible, if you like, to correct these putative faults even if you adopt some total view (different from utilitarianism). (shrink)
Coercive Care asks probing and challenging questions regarding the use of coercion in health care and the social services. The book combines philosophical analysis with comparative studies of social policy and law in a large number of industrialized countries.
This volume presents a comprehensive statement in defense of the doctrine known as classical, hedonistic utilitarianism. It is presented as a viable alternative in the search for a moral theory and the claim is defended that we need such a theory. The book offers a distinctive approach and some quite controversial conclusions. Torbjorn Tannsjo challenges the assumption that hedonistic utilitarianism is at variance with common sense morality particularly as viewed through the perspective of the modern feminist moral critique.
Collectivities, just like individuals, exist, can act, bear responsibility for their acts and omissions, and be guilty. It sometimes makes sense to hold them responsible for what they do, or don't do, and to punish them for their misdeeds. With respect to many collectivities there is no practical purpose in holding them responsible, since there is no way that we can bring them to justice. But there are exceptions from this rule. In particular it is plausible to assume that sanctions (...) against entire nations or peoples or populations living in open and democratic states may be an effective means to setting them straight where, collectively, they act wrongly. The best present example of this seems to be the Israelis. (shrink)
Donald Davidson brought to our attention deviant causal chains as a problem for causal theories of action. Consider Davidson's own example: " A climber might want to rid himself of the weight and danger of holding another man on a rope, and he might know that by loosening his hold on the rope he could rid himself of the weight and danger. This belief and want might so unnerve him as to cause him to loosen his hold, and yet it (...) might be the case that he never chose to loosen his hold, nor did he do it intentionally. " The loosening of the hold on the rope is an action, according to a simple causal theory of action earlier developed by Davidson , if we can describe it in a way that renders it intentional under that description. Is there a way of describing the climber's loosening of his hold of the rope as intentional? Did he intentionally loosen his hold? Well, his loosening his hold is both rationalized and explained causally with reference to the beliefs and desires held by the climber. But there seems to be something wrong with the causal chain.Is there a simple fix? Could we not say that even if the loosening of the hold on the rope is caused by a desire held by the climber it is not caused by any proximate desire of the climber ? Or, to give a new twist to this well-known argument, could we not say that the loosening of the hold on the rope is not caused in a way that is responsive to the desire? This latter idea has recently been suggested by Markus E. Schlosser as a simple solution to the …. (shrink)
Ought we to improve our cognitive capacities beyond the normal human range? It might be a good idea to level out differences between peoples cognitive capacities; and some people's reaching beyond normal capacities may have some good side-effects on society at large (but also bad side-effects, of course). But is there any direct gain to be made from having ones cognitive capacities enhanced? Would this as such make our lives go better? No, I argue; or at least there doesn't seem (...) to be any evidence suggesting that it would. And it doesn't matter whether we consider the question from a narrow hedonistic perspective, from a more refined hedonistic perspective, from a desire-satisfaction view, or from some reasonable objective list view of what makes a life go well. Only an extremely perfectionist – and implausible – view of what makes our lives go well could support any direct value in cognitive enhancement. Finally, our sense of identity gives us no good reasons to enhance even our capacity to remember. So, cognitive enhancement as such would not improve our lives. (shrink)
A simple hedonistic theory allowing for interpersonal comparisons of happiness is taken for granted in this article. The hedonistic theory is used to compare utilitarianism, urging us to maximize the sum total of happiness, with prioritarianism, urging us to maximize a sum total of weighed happiness. It is argued with reference to a few thought experiments that utilitarianism is, intuitively speaking, more plausible than prioritarianism. The problem with prioritarianism surfaces when prudence and morality come apart.
Many moral theories incorporate the idea that when an action is wrong, it is wrong because that there was something else that the agent could and should have done instead. Most notable among these are consequentialist theories. According to consequentialism an action A is wrong if and only if there was another action B that the agent could have performed such that, if the agent had performed B instead of A, the consequences would have been better. Relatively little attention has (...) been given to the question of how to understand the meaning of ‘could have’ in this specific context. However, without an answer to this question, consequentialist theories fail to yield determinate verdicts about the deontic status of actions in real scenarios. It is here argued that the following conditional analysis provides the required answer and gives us the most plausible version of consequentialism: the agent could have done B instead of A if and only if, there is a decision such that had the agent made this decision, then she would have done B, and not A. Such a conditional analysis has been universally rejected as an analysis of the general meaning of ‘could have’, but we show that in the specific context of specifying the meaning of ‘could have’ in a consequentialist criterion of right and wrong action, all the standard objections to it fail. (shrink)
The article provides answers to comments in this journal on my recent book, Setting Health-Care Priorities. What Ethical Theories Tell Us. Did I address all of the relevant theories? Yes, I did. Was my argument underdeveloped in any respects? Yes, at least in one as I should perhaps have discussed contractual ethical thinking more carefully. I do so in this response. Moreover, the critical comments raised have helped me to clarify my argument in many ways, for which I thank my (...) critics. (shrink)
Most people (including moral philosophers), when faced with the fact that some of their cherished moral views lead up to the Repugnant Conclusion, feel that they have to revise their moral outlook. However, it is a moot question as to how this should be done. It is not an easy thing to say how one should avoid the Repugnant Conclusion, without having to face even more serious implications from one's basic moral outlook. Several such attempts are presented in this volume. (...) This is the first volume devoted entirely to the cardinal problem of modern population ethics, known as 'The Repugnant Conclusion'. This book is a must for (moral) philosophers with an interest in population ethics. (shrink)
Moral relativism comes in many varieties. One is a moral doctrine, according to which we ought to respect other cultures, and allow them to solve moral problems as they see fit. I will say nothing about this kind of moral relativism in the present context. Another kind of moral relativism is semantic moral relativism, according to which, when we pass moral judgements, we make an implicit reference to some system of morality (our own). According to this kind of moral relativism, (...) when I say that a certain action is right, my statement is elliptic. What I am really saying is that, according to the system of morality in my culture, this action is right. I will reject this kind of relativism. According to yet another kind of moral relativism, which we may call epistemic, it is possible that, when one person (belonging to one culture) makes a certain moral judgement, such as that this action is right, and another person (belong to another culture) makes the judgement that the very same action is wrong, they may have just as good reasons for their respective judgements; it is even possible that, were they fully informed about all the facts, equally imaginative, and so forth, they would still hold on to their respective (conflicting) judgements. They are each fully justified in their belief in conflicting judgements. I will comment on this form of moral relativism in passing. Finally, however, there is a kind of moral relativism we could call ontological, according to which, when two persons pass conflicting moral verdicts on a certain action, they may both be right. The explanation is that they make their judgements from the perspective of different, socially constructed, moral universes. So while it is true in the first person's moral universe that a certain action is right, it is true in the second person's moral universe that the very same action is wrong. I explain and defend this version of ontological moral relativism. (shrink)
Given a reasonable coherentist view of justification in ethics, applied ethics, as here conceived of, cannot only guide us, in our practical decisions, but also provide moral understanding through explanation of our moral obligations. Furthermore, applied ethics can contribute to the growth of knowledge in ethics as such. We put moral hypotheses to crucial test in individual cases. This claim is defended against the challenges from moral intuitionism and particularism.
A member of Jehovah’s Witnesses agreed to receive blood when alone, but rejected it once the elders were present. She insisted that the elders should stay, they were allowed to do so, and she bled to death. Was it all right to allow her to have the elders present when she made her final decision? Was it all right to allow her to bleed to death? It was, according to an anti-paternalist principle, which I have earlier defended on purely utilitarian (...) grounds. The thrust of the present argument is that the principle stands even in cases with context-sensitive preferences. However, my utilitarian argument to this effect must now rely on something other than J.S. Mill’s standard presumption that in most cases the individual makes the right choices for herself. A reference to the general trust in the system of healthcare is essential to the utilitarian defense of the anti-paternalistic principle. (shrink)
Being targeted by Nir Eyal's ingenious argument,1 I am pleased to have the opportunity to respond. It is fairly obvious that my utilitarian argument accomplishes what it is supposed to accomplish, namely a defence of the idea that the notion of informed consent should take roughly the form it takes in Western medicine. But does it fly in the face of commonsense moral thinking? I will argue that it does not.My argument is based on hedonistic utilitarianism.2 This means that it (...) is an instance of the general pattern of argumentation that Eyal presents. It takes slightly different forms in its defence of the place of informed content in research and in the clinic. For reasons of space I will focus exclusively on the clinic.The thrust of the argument is as follows. In many cases, we should allow people to refuse treatment for the simple reason that they presumably know best what is in their interest. As J S Mill used to argue, each person has a privileged position with respect to her own life, which, as it were, she experiences from the inside, and from which she cannot walk away. …. (shrink)
Particularism is in vogue in ethics today. Particularism is sometimes described as the idea that what is a sufficient moral reason in one situation need not be a sufficient moral reason in another situation. Indeed, it has been held, on particularism, what is a reason for an action in one situation might be a reason against the same type of action, or might not be a reason at all, in another situation. However, this description is insufficient. Even a generalist, such (...) as a utilitarian, may admit that, what is in one situation a sufficient reason for the rightness of an action may, in another situation, be a sufficient reason for its wrongness. For example, the fact that if I shoot at a certain person, I kill him, may, in one situation, be a sufficient reason not to shoot at him. It is sufficient for the wrongness of shooting at him if, in the situation, shooting at him suffices to guarantee that welfare does not get maximized. He is killed, say, and deprived of future pleasure, with no positive ‘side-effects’ whatever. (shrink)
If there is such a thing as objectively existing prescriptivity, as the moral realist claims, then we can also explain why—and we need not deny that—strong internalism is true. Strong conceptual internalism is true, not because of any belief in any magnetic force thought to be inherent in moral properties themselves, as Mackie argued, but because we do not allow that anyone has ‘accepted’ a normative claim, unless she is prepared to some extent to act on it.
The repugnant conclusion is acceptable from the point of view of total utilitarianism. Total utilitarians do not seem to be bothered with it. They feel that it is in no way repugnant. To me, a hard-nosed total utilitarian, this settles the case. However, if, sometimes, I doubt that total utilitarianism has the final say in ethics, and tend to think that there may be something to some objection to it or another, it is the objection to it brought forward from (...) egalitarian thought that first comes to mind. But if my argument in this article is correct, then it is clear that the repugnant conclusion should be equally acceptable to egalitarians of various different bents as it is to total utilitarians. (shrink)
There are genuine moral conflicts. sometimes by doing what we ought to do we do what we ought not to do. "pace" bernard williams the existence of such conflicts is compatible with the truth of moral realism. we realize this when we understand that ascriptions of rightness, wrongness, and obligatoriness are "de re" rather than "de dicto".
Should we change the human genome? The most general arguments against changing the human genome are here in focus. Distinctions are made between positive and negative gene therapy, between germ-line and somatic therapy, and between therapy where the intention is to benefit a particular individual (a future child) and where the intention is to benefit the human gene-pool.Some standard arguments against gene-therapy are dismissed. Negative somatic therapy is not controversial. Even negative, germ-line therapy is endorsed, if the intention is to (...) cure a certain individual (a future child). In rare cases, positive therapy on somatic cells may be warranted. Germ-line therapy may become a valuable method of preventing harm, through genetic vaccination. If safe methods evolve, it is harmless (though vain), to try to achieve more ambitious goals. Prospective parents should not be prevented from exercising this harmless kind of parental authority. (shrink)
Aims The aim of this study was to examine if it is plausible to interpret the appearance of shame in a Swedish healthcare setting as a reaction to having one's honour wronged. Methods Using a questionnaire, we studied answers from a sample of long-term sick-listed patients who had experienced negative encounters (n=1628) and of these 64% also felt wronged. We used feeling wronged to examine emotional reactions such as feeling ashamed and made the assumption that feeling shame could be associated (...) with having one's honour wronged. In statistical analyses relative risks (RRs) were computed, adjusting for age, sex, disease-labelling, educational levels, as well as their 95% CI. Results Approximately half of those who had been wronged stated that they also felt shame and of those who felt shame, 93% (CI 91 to 95) felt that they had been wronged. The RR was 4.5 (CI 3.0 to 6.8) for shame when wronged. This can be compared with the other emotional reactions where the RRs were between 1.1 (CI 0.9 to 1.3)–1.4 (CI 1.2 to 1.7). We found no association between country of birth and feeling shame after having experienced negative encounters. Conclusions We found that the RR of feeling shame when wronged was significantly higher compared with other feelings. Along with theoretical considerations, and the specific types of negative encounters associated with shame, the results indicate that our research hypothesis might be plausible. We think that the results deserve to be used as point of departure for future research. (shrink)
Why should we respect the privacy of donors of biological material? The question is answered in the present article in general philosophical terms from the point of view of an ethics of honour, a libertarian theory of rights, a view of respect for privacy based on the idea that autonomy is of value in itself, and utilitarianism respectively. For different reasons the ethics of honour and the idea of the value of autonomy are set to one side. It surfaces that (...) the moral rights theory and utilitarianism present conflicting answers to the question. The main thrust of the argument is that there is no way of finding an overlapping consensus, so politicians have to take decisions that are bound to be controversial in that they can be questioned on reasonable philosophical grounds. (shrink)
Moral realism does not imply any interesting moral statements. However, There are pragmatic consequences of our acceptance of moral realism. If we accept moral realism we have good reasons to be concerned about moral arguments, And we are able to account for moral fallibility. If, On the other hand, We accept moral irrealism, A concern for moral arguments and moral consistency seems completely arbitrary, And we have difficulties to account for moral fallibility. We may even come to think, When accepting (...) moral irrealism, That our lives lose much of their meaning. (shrink)
I conclude that the explanatory view of consequences is a fruitful one.This view accounts for our common sense view that actions are, in some sense, ‘sufficient’ for their consequences. It shows in a concrete and illuminating manner that we are or may be responsible for a vast number of events no matter how ‘innocently’ our actions may be described. It allows for the fact that individuals lack responsibility for consequences of collective actions, thereby explaining a generally felt ‘double effect’ built (...) into our social morality. It brings into light and explains the fact that some degree of determinism seems to be presupposed if people are ever morally responsible for any events whatsoever. Finally, the explanatory view of consequences yields precise and attractive interpretations of the open and the closed views of responsibility. (shrink)
The doctrine of methodological individualism is clarified and different versions of it are distinguished. The main thesis of the article is that methodological individualism is either a false doctrine or else a doctrine compatible with functionalism, structuralism, and Marxism. Positively it is maintained that, for all we know, collective entities such as power structures may shape our beliefs and values; these beliefs and values may explain some of our actions and expectations. These actions and expectations, together with similar actions and (...) expectations of other people, caused in a similar fashion, may in turn constitute social phenomena. This means that, for all we know, in our best explanations of some social phenomena we may well need to have recourse to collective entities. (shrink)