untitled

suppose an ER doctor has to perform an operation on a person who murdered his wife (an assassination, say), otherwise the person dies.i submit that the doctor is not guilty of murder if he lets the person die, and he is morally innocent (no matter at what distance in time the 2 events occur). i also claim that another doctor who has no business with the person is guilty of murder if he lets him die.
i am not using ‘murder’ in a strict legal sense,although i think the law should reflect this distinction of moral status between the two doctors (to the extent to which their motivations are determinable:if the first doctor lets the person die without knowing that he is in the presence of the assassin of his wife, then the doctor is guilty).
i have offered no argument for these claims, i am only submitting them to your intuitions.what is the point of all this?its only that judgments like ‘murder is murder anyway you look at it’ are too hasty, and that people’s feelings should count perhaps more in ethics.but i am also open to the suggestion that this example shows nothing of the kind.maybe it doesn’t show anything,that’s also possible.in that case, i apologize for wasting people’s time.

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3 Responses to untitled

  1. David says:

    Hey Juan,

    So much seems to depend on the details here….

    Suppose I’m an ER doctor, and the man who murdered my wife 30 years ago comes in with a gunshot wound. I know the man served 25 years and was on parole when hit by a stray bullet in a drive-by gang shooting. I let him die. Hard to believe that I am “morally innocent” in this case, no matter how much we might sympathize with my anger, resentment, etc.

    In fact, I’m inclined to think that it’s morally wrong anytime an ER doctor deliberately lets a patient die for personal reasons. We can’t have ER doctors deciding who they will and will not save. That being said–and now I’m going to try to bring this back to my earlier distinction between action-appraisal and agent-appraisal–we might not condemn the doctor as harshly when we find out that the personal reasons that led him to act immorally were that the man on his table had murdered his wife.

    • juan says:

      ok, David, we can draw that distinction indeed
      but take the following case:somebody intentionally kills Pol Pot.somebody else kills a totally innocent person.now, according to one description of the facts, their actions are equally immoral,but they are not equally blameworthy.according to another,their actions are not equally immoral(one is ‘killing PolPot’ the other ‘killing x’,where x is a random innocent person), and again they are not equally blameworthy.in the former case, we would be describing the action in both cases as ‘killing a person’, where it doesn’t matter which person you killed (but that would enter into judgments of blameworthiness, of course).

      i think that in any of these two ways you look at this, a just law should follow the person-appraisal, as you call it,not the action-appraisal.i think that according to a just law, the guy who kills Pol Pot should not do time.he would be a hero.it doesn’t matter that in one view he perfomed the immoral action ‘killing a person.’he should not serve a sentence for that. in the same way, i think the doctor should not go to jail for letting the assassin die,no matter the circumstances and how much he stayed in prison.again, the doctor’s action can be described as ‘killing a person’, or ‘killing the person who assassinated my wife.’ it shouldn’t matter that on the first account he is guilty of murder or whatever,maybe he is.what the law should take into account is the second.
      so what im saying is that even if you are correct that person-appraisal is distinct from action-appraisal,the former should be what matters in policies and legislation (and i think it actually does),and also in our moral judgments of people.maybe you are right that the doctor is not innocent morally, but only his blameworthiness is relevant to me.

  2. Lime says:

    The doctor should do whatever brings about the greatest good for the greatest number.

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