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February 08, 2009


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I have a question about case B. Does Bert know that the pill has these effects? That he knows this is suggested, but not entailed, by the sentence 'Bert is so eager to have a biological son that he gladly takes the pill'.


Yes. You should assume that all the agents are fully informed.

I am inclined to think that Abe, Bert, and Carl all acted impermissibly in these three cases.

However, judgments of permissibility are not the only sorts of moral judgments that we are capable of making! Although all three acted impermissibly, there are also important moral distinctions that can be drawn between them.

In particular, it seems to me that what Abe did was very significantly worse than what Bert did, while was Bert did was very slightly worse than what Carl did.

What Abe did was monstrous almost beyond belief. He murdered his own son -- thus compounding the crime of murder with the ultimate betrayal of his parental obligations. The only good feature of his act was that it prevented five other such monstrous crimes from being committed by others; but as all right-thinking deontologists know, this good feature is not in any way a justification (or even an excuse) for crimes of this sort.

What Bert did is a lot less bad. He deliberately brought into existence a child who has a life that is a lot less good than another child whom he might have created. This is wrong, but it is not murder, and it is not a betrayal of any pre-existing parental obligations.

What Carl did is in turn a little bit less bad than what Bert did. Carl's act is just like Bert's, except that it has the additional good feature that it prevents five other bad acts of this sort being committed by others. This good feature does slightly mitigate the act's badness -- although (as with the monstrous crime of murdering one's own child) it does not amount to a full-blown justification (or excuse) for the act.

I feel compelled to link here:

Ralph and everyone else,

I ask that you respect the request that I made in the post above: "Please don’t say in the comments what your response was or why responded as you did. I don’t want this to influence other people’s responses."

I'll have another post on what the poll results are and what, if anything, I think that those results establish. At that time, you can say whatever you want (within reason).

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