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Rachels ch. 1 what is morality

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Lesson 1 Ethics

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Rachels ch. 1 what is morality

  1. 1. What Is Morality? James Rachels & Stuart Rachels
  2. 2. The Problem of Definition  There are many rival theories, each expounding a different conception of what it means to live morally, and any definition that goes beyond Socrates’ simple formulation (“how we ought to live”) is bound to offend at least one of them.  Rachels proposes a ‘minimum conception’ of morality: a core that every moral theory should accept, at least as a starting point. First, some moral controversies. . . .
  3. 3. First Example: Baby Theresa  Anencephalic infants: ‘babies without brains’ o Cerebrum, cerebellum, and top of skull are missing o Have a brain stem, thus autonomic functions (breathing, heartbeat, etc.) are possible o Usually aborted in the US; otherwise, half are stillborn and usually die within days
  4. 4. Full Detail – Florida1992, anencephalic (without a brain-no cerebrum or cerebellum, but does have a brain-stem, so autonomic functions like breathing and heartbeat go on) – Most detected and aborted – Of those not aborted, are still born� – 300 a year born and usually die in few days – Can know these babies not live long and that they will have no conscious life – Parents volunteered her (and doctors agreed) for organ transplants (kidneys, liver, heart, lungs and eyes) for other children who would benefit from it (2000 need transplants a year, never enough available) – Florida law prohibits removal of organs until donor is dead – Taking organs out would kill her – When Teresa died after 9 days, her organs had deteriorated and were worthless
  5. 5. Baby Theresa’s parents volunteered her organs for transplant. BUT. . .  Florida law forbids the removal of organs until the donor is dead.  Baby Theresa died after nine days. Her organs were too deteriorated to be harvested or transplanted. ? Should she have been killed so that her organs could have been used to save other children? (Thousands of infants need transplants each year.)
  6. 6. Surprisingly few ethicists sided with the parents and physicians.  “It just seems too horrifying to use people as means to other people’s ends.”  “It’s unethical to kill person A to save person B.”  “What the parents are really asking for is, ‘Kill this dying baby so that its organs may be used for someone else.’ Well, that’s really a horrendous proposition.”
  7. 7. The Benefits Argument  If we can benefit someone without harming anyone else, we ought to do so.  Transplanting the organs would benefit the other children without harming Baby Theresa. ∴Therefore, we ought to transplant the organs.
  8. 8. What about Baby Theresa’s life?
  9. 9. The Argument That We Should Not Use People as Means  It is wrong to use people as means to other people’s ends.  Taking Theresa’s organs would be using her to benefit other children. ∴Therefore, it should not be done.
  10. 10. How is Baby Theresa being ‘used’? ? Vague sense of ‘use.’ What does it mean? Violating Baby Theresa’s autonomy? Baby Theresa has no autonomy to violate. She has no preferences about anything, nor has she ever had any.
  11. 11. The Argument from the Wrongness of Killing  It is wrong to kill one person to save another.  Taking Theresa’s organs would be killing her to save others. ∴So, taking the organs would be wrong.
  12. 12. However. . . ? Shouldn’t there be an exception to the rule? Baby Theresa is not conscious; she will never ‘have a life’; she is going to die soon anyway; and taking her organs would help other babies. ? Should we regard Baby Theresa as already ‘dead’? Perhaps we should revise our definitions of ‘death.’
  13. 13. Second Example: Jodie and Mary  Conjoined twins, joined at the lower abdomen; spines fused; one heart and one pair of lungs between them.  Without an operation to separate them, both twins would die within six months.  This would save Jodie, but Mary would die.  The parents refused permission for the operation, but courts okayed it.  Jodie lived, and Mary died.
  14. 14. Full detail – August 2000, woman discovered carrying twins joined at lower abdomen (spines fused, had one heart, and one set of lungs between them). – Jodie the stronger was providing blood for her sister – Some sets of conjoined twins do well (grow to adulthood and marry and have children themselves) – W/o intervention, Jodie and Mary die in 6 months – Only hope was to operate and separate them – Save Jodie, but Mary would die immediately – Parents refused permission to operate as this would hasten Mary's death and believed that "if it is God's will that both our children should not survive, then so be it" – Hospital believed it had an obligation to save one of the infants and got the courts to agree to operation to separate them – Jodie lived and Mary died
  15. 15. The Argument That We Should Save as Many as We Can ∴There is a choice: save one or let both die. ? Isn’t it plainly better to save one? Not from the parents’ perspective.
  16. 16. The Argument from the Sanctity of Human Life  All human life is precious, regardless of age, race, social class, or handicap.  The prohibition against killing innocent humans is absolute.  Mary is an innocent human being. ∴Therefore, she should not be killed.
  17. 17. However. . . Mary would not be ‘killed’ during the operation but merely separated from Jodie. Her death would be due to her body’s inability to sustain her life. Perhaps it is not always wrong to kill innocent human beings. . . o If the innocent human has no future because she is going to die soon no matter what. . . AND. . . o She has no wish to go on living (perhaps because she has no wishes at all). . . AND. . . o This killing will save others who can go on to lead ‘full lives.’
  18. 18. Third Example: Tracy Latimer  12-year-old victim of cerebral palsy, killed by her father with exhaust fumes while the rest of the family were at church.  Tracy weighed less than 40 lbs. and was described as “functioning at the mental level of a three-month-old baby.”  Robert Latimer was sentenced to 10 years in prison. ? Did Mr. Latimer do anything wrong? Wasn’t killing her an act of mercy?
  19. 19. Full detail – Was a 12 year old in Saskatchewan who had cerebral palsy (brain disease that leads to muscle malfunction) – In 1993, her father (Robert Latimer) killed her (piped in exhaust fumes into pickup cab) – She weighed less 40 pounds – Had mental level of a three month old baby; nutrition via feeding tubes, rods in back, bedsores, "leg cut and flopping around" – Had major surgery on back, hips, legs and more surgery planned – Difficult to control her pain – Mother was relieved to find Tracy dead – Local jury and judge wanted to be lenient (one year in prison and one year probation), but Supreme Court overruled and sentenced him to mandatory 25 years in prison. – Still in prison
  20. 20. The Argument from the Wrongness of Discriminating against the Handicapped  Handicapped people should be given the same respect and the same rights as everyone else.  Tracy was killed because she was handicapped. ∴Therefore, killing her was wrong.
  21. 21. However. . . Tracy was not killed because of her cerebral palsy but because of her pain and suffering and because there was no hope for her.
  22. 22. The Slippery Slope Argument
  23. 23. Beware of slippery slopes! ! This kind of argument is all too easy to abuse. If you are opposed to something but have no good arguments against it, you can always make up a prediction about what it might lead to; and no matter how implausible your prediction is, no one can prove you wrong.
  24. 24. Reason and Impartiality  Moral judgments must be backed by good reasons.  Morality requires the impartial consideration of each individual’s interests.
  25. 25. Moral Reasoning  We cannot rely on our feelings, no matter how powerful they might be.  Our feelings may be irrational and may be nothing but products of prejudice, selfishness, or cultural conditioning.  Our decisions must be guided as much as possible by reason.  The morally right thing to do is always the thing best supported by the arguments.
  26. 26. How can we tell if an argument is really good?
  27. 27. The Requirement of Impartiality
  28. 28. The Minimum Conception of Morality
  29. 29. The Conscientious Moral Agent. . .  Is concerned impartially with the interests of everyone affected by what he or she does.  Carefully sifts facts and examines their implications.  Accepts principles of conduct only after scrutinizing them to make sure they are justified.  Is willing to “listen to reason” even when it means revising prior convictions.  Is willing to act on the results of this deliberation.
  30. 30. Study Questions for Ch1, Rachels: What is Morality? • 1. What does Rachels think about the relationship between morality and feeling? Do you agree with him on this? Why or why not? • 2. According to Rachels, is morality a matter of personal taste? Why or why not? Do agree with him? Explain. • 3. According to Rachels, what determines if an act is right or wrong? • 4. Describe the three cases Rachels analyzes in chapter one (e.g., Baby Teresa, Jodie and Mary, and Tracy Latimer) and identify and assess some of the moral principles that might be applied in these cases.

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