Vol. 16, Issue 27, 2001

Practical Ethics

Table of Contents


Book Review 

Friderik Klampfer
Suicide, Euthanasia and Human Dignity

Kant has famously argued that human beings or persons, in virtue of their capacity for rational and autonomous choice and agency, possess dignity, which is an intrinsic, final, unconditional, inviolable, incomparable and irreplaceable value. This value, wherever found, commands respect and imposes rather strict moral constraints on our deliberations, intentions and actions. This paper deals with the question of whether, as some Kantians have recently argued, certain types of (physician-assisted) suicide and active euthanasia, most notably the intentional destruction of the life of a terminally-ill, but rational and autonomous patient in order to prevent certain serious harms, such as enduring or reccuring pain or the loss of the meaning in life, from befalling him really are inconsistent with respect for the patient's human dignity. I focus on two independent, though interrelated explications of the rather vague initial idea that the patient (as well as the doctor), in intending and bringing about his death, treats his person or rational nature merely as a means and so denigrates his dignity: (i) that in doing what he is doing, he does not act for the sake of his person, but for the sake of something else; (ii) that, by trading his person for pain relief, he engages himself in an irrational and hence immoral exchange. After critically discussing some suggestions about how to understand this charge, I eventually find Kantian objections to suicide and (active) euthanasia, based on the idea of human dignity, less than compelling. For all the paper proves, suicide and (active) euthanasia may still be morally impermissible, but then this must be so for some other reason than the one given above. 

Keywords: suicide, (active) euthanasia, human dignity, reason and value, Kant, D. J. Velleman

Dieter Birnbacher
Predictive Medicine – the Right to Know and the Right not to Know

With the rapid progress of gene technology, predictive medicine can be expected to go on expanding and to develop ever more extensive and more differentiated means of diagnosing genetically and non-genetically caused diseases and disease dispositions of the patient, of his potential descendants and even of his living relatives. This development is mainly beneficent, but partly ambivalent. The contribution explores some of the ethical issues of giving a patient potentially predictive information about his genetically identified dispositions and argues for an asymmetry between the right not to know and the right to know, giving to the first a higher status than to the former. In this context, the concept of patient autonomy is critically examined, drawing on some of the distinctions introduced by the Americnl legal philosopher Joel Feinberg. 

Keywords: predictive medicine, patient autonomy, doctor-patient relationship, right to information, autonomy

Elvio Baccarini
A Liberal Argument on the Topic of Genetic Engineering

What are the conditions, in the context of a liberal theory of justice, that allow genetic engineering to be carried out upon humans? Genetic engineering is legitimate, if and only if, it is used either (i) to eliminate defects that obstruct an individual becoming a citizen, (ii) to eliminate some generally recognized handicaps, and (iii) to add talents without eliminating other talents. In all other cases, genetic engineering illegitimately interferes with the right of individuals not to have their life determined by other people’s desires. On the other hand, cloning is - at least from the standpoint of the right in question - legitimate since the individual would not exist otherwise, and therefore she cannot protest by saying that something has been taken from her. 

Keywords: genetic engineering, cloning, liberal theory of Justice, Bruce Ackerman, autonomy

Snježana Prijić - Samaržija
A Defence of Weak Affirmation Action

I propose a defence of Weak Affirmative Action. In comparison to predominant Strong Affirmative Action program, this proposal satisfies the following desiderata: (i) it is legally justified i.e. it respects the right of each person to equal opportunities and the clause of equal protection of all citizens; (ii) it is morally justified and it does not impose the obligations to compensate past injuries or create a better society to innocent persons; (iii) it respects qualifications as a prima facie reason for awarding, it respects the principle that people should be rewarded according to their individual merits. 

Keywords: strong and weak affirmative action, overt and hidden gender discrimination, the principle of compensatory justice, the compensation of chances 


Mylan Engel, Jr.
The Mere Considerability of Animals

Singer and Regan predicate their arguments—for ethical vegetarianism, against animal experimentation, and for an end to animal exploitation generally—on the equal considerability premise. According to this premise, we owe humans and sentient nonhumans exactly same degree of moral consideration. While Singer’s and Regan’s conclusions follow from the equal considerability premise, many philosophers reject their arguments precisely because they find the equal considerability premise morally repugnant and intuitively unacceptable. Like most people, you probably reject the equal considerability premise. Nevertheless, you’re already committed to the mere considerability premise—the premise that animals deserve some moral consideration, although not as much consideration as that owed humans. I argue that the mere considerability premise entails that vegetarianism is morally obligatory in most contexts and that animal experimentation is almost always wrong. Since you accept the mere considerability premise, you are already rationally committed to the immorality of eating meat and the wrongfulness of most animal experimentation. Consequently, consistency with your own beliefs requires that you stop eating meat and stop purchasing products tested on animals. 

Keywords: moral considerability, practical consistency, animal experimentation, ethical vegetarianism

Nenad Miščević
Imagined Communities and Their Moral Standing: The Example of Nation 

If a belonging is illusory then it cannot bestow obligations upon anyone. Belonging to an "imagined" community depends upon beliefs in a false, "covertly constructed" picture of one's society. To the extent to which nation is such a covertly constructed community, the alleged obligations towards it are illusory and null. It is argued here that mistaken beliefs about moral obligation leads to morally questionable practice, imposing the wrong order of priorities in general, and the wrong choice of the scope of one’s obligation. Further, being born and socialized into an (other-) constructed identity with little chance of exit is conducive neither to dignity nor to autonomy. Finally the cultural and political importance of covert construction can and often does produce dangerous spillover, given the nasty character of founding national myths. The imagined character of national community thus has serious moral consequences that work against pro-nationalist views. This conclusion stands in marked contrast to assumptions in recent "liberal national" literature (Tamir, Miller, McCormick) who find "imagined" belonging not only harmless, but morally appealing and for whom, as Tamir puts it "living within a community where members share an 'imagined' sense of togetherness engenders mutual responsibilities". 

Keywords: nationalism, national myth, constructed identities, obligation

Rory J. Conces
Justifying Coercive and Non-Coercive Intervention: Strategic and Humanitarian Arguments

The world’s political and military leaders are under increasing pressure to intervene in the affairs of sovereign nations. Although the sovereignty of states and the corollary principle of nonintervention have been part of the foundation of international law, there is some latitude for states, as well as collective security organizations, to intervene in another state’s domestic and foreign affairs, thus making sovereignty and the principle less than absolute. In this paper I first sketch a reasonable foundation for the sovereignty of states and the principle of nonintervention. Second, I offer a decision-making procedure for justified intervention. Finally, I argue that there is an important difference between the strategic argument and the humanitarian argument, a difference that may have profound implications for the future use of the latter argument by our political leaders. 

Keywords: just war theory, intervention, sovereignty, strategic argument, humanitarian argument, genocide, Kosovo

Christian Piller
Ways of Being Good

In this paper I investigate the idea that evaluative talk in terms of good and bad needs to be replaced by talk about the particular ways in which something can be good or bad. Starting from Peter Geach’s claim that nothing can be good or bad, something can only be a good or bad so-and-so, I focus on Judith Jarvis Thomson’s work in which we find the most sophisticated development of Geach’s approach. I discuss Thomson’s view that by replacing goodness with ways of being good we can demystify the evaluative domain and, at the same time, show what is wrong with consequentialism. I criticise both of these claims and thereby put also her main thesis that ‘being good’ is semantically incomplete into doubt. 

Keywords: moral philosophy, consequentialism, goodness, queerness objection, Judith Jarvis Thomson, Peter Geach

Charles Sayward
Austin and Perception

Some of Austin's general statements about the doctrines of sense-datum philosophy are reviewed. It is concluded that Austin thought that in these doctrines "directly see" is given a new but inadequately explained and defined use. Were this so, the philosophical use of "directly see" would lack a definite sense and this would correspondingly affect the doctrines. They would lack definite truth-value. Against this, it is argued that the philosopher's use of "directly see" does not support Austin's general thesis that the sense-datum doctrines lack truth-value. 

Keywords: sense-data, perception, direct perception, truth-value gaps, Austin