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Responses to Commentators on Intricate Ethics1

  • F. M. KAMM (a1)


Some of the commentators on Intricate Ethics (IE) complain of my method. One finds the main ideas ‘Kammouflaged’ because the relevant causal distinctions are so fine-grained and the cases that illustrate them so numerous (Richardson, p. 82). Some say that they do not have the intuitions about many cases that I have, that I concoct dubious and ad hoc distinctions and invest them with moral significance; I am Ptolemaic in that new crystalline spheres and epicycles are constantly being added in an attempt to fix the appearances (Norcross, p. 74).



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2 Very briefly, I also note that Norcross thinks that the answer to question I is yes because he thinks that several properties that I claim are essential to letting die but not to killing could also be construed as essential to killing, unless we give weight to the doing/allowing distinction. The latter is a distinction that he finds metaphysically and morally problematic. First, he thinks that when an agent kills, as well as when he lets die, there is, at least potentially, a threat already present. This is because the killer could still present the threat. I had said, however, that the presence of (at least) a potential threat in the case of letting die requires an accomplice to the non-aider who would still bring the threat about initially but in Norcross's case the agent himself would have to bring about the threat. So the potential threat could exist, at least to begin with, without the agent who would let die but not without the agent who would kill. Second, Norcross thinks that when an agent kills, as well as when he lets die, his victim only loses out on what he would have gotten from the agent's help; in the case of killing, this help is the agent refraining from killing. However, I would respond, in order to help his victim in this way, the killer must first present at least a potential threat from which he could refrain. But then this threat will be directed toward what his victim would have had independently of the agent's refraining, and this is what the victim will lose if he is killed. By contrast, the person who lets die need not present the initial threat to what someone had independently of him and so in not being aided, the victim loses out on only what he would have had with the agent's help. Finally, Norcross thinks that a potential killer is imposed on in being required to refrain from killing just as a person is imposed on in being required to refrain from letting die (i.e., in being required to give aid). But, I claimed, the killer is being imposed on defensively, to prevent his first imposing on someone else by killing. The person who lets die would be imposed on defensively only if letting someone die was also an imposition on the victim. Letting die, like killing, will determine that someone dies, but that does not mean that we impose on someone whenever our self-regarding conduct results in his life being shorter than it could otherwise be. (If it meant this, would we also impose on a potential killer, if we merely refrain from giving him what he needs in order to kill someone?)

3 This is the part of my argument concerning killing and letting die that deals with what I called the ‘exportable’ essential properties of killing and letting die. I also said that essential properties of either killing or letting die that could never be present in (exported to) cases of the other type of behavior might also be used to show that there is a moral difference between killing and letting die per se.

4 In Rachels’ ‘Active and Passive Euthanasia’, New England Journal of Medicine 292.2 (1975), pp. 78–80.

5 In her ‘Euthanasia’, Philosophy & Public Affairs 6.2 (Winter 1977), pp. 85–112.

6 We could also imagine the Extra Push Case as not involving a trolley that might jump over the person. Rather, unless we gave an extra push (or made the push extra hard), the trolley would merely drag the person it hit onto the loop as it headed to the five. The extra push would change the impact on the one so that both person and trolley remain stationary.

7 In his original comments delivered at the APA, Pacific Division, March 2007. My page numbers throughout Section 2(a) only refer to that original document.

8 Insofar as it involves choices about to which track to send the trolley, it is similar to but more complicated than my Double Track Case discussed in my Morality, Mortality, vol. 2 (New York, 1996) and in IE.

9 Note that, even now, when Otsuka no longer argues using the Five Loop Case, he agrees (in correspondence) that ‘the Rescue Test can still be deployed against my claim that the agent intends the hitting of the one in the Loop Case’.

10 In discussing my Store Cases I and II in IE, I try to distinguish between refusing to act unless we achieve two goals and refusing to act unless a potential bad effect of our achieving our one goal will be defeated. I shall return to the second of these cases below.

11 Otsuka thinks that in both the Five Loop Case and the analogous variant of his Six Behind One Case, ‘the agent does intend the hitting of the one’. (I disagree.) But he does not think that the agent intends the hitting of the one in his original Six Behind One Case. This is what led him to conclude that he could not infer that an agent in the original Loop Case intends to hit the one on the basis of his views about the Five Loop Case. Hence, he dropped the Five Loop Case as an argument against my view that the agent in the Loop Case need not intend to hit the one. (My remarks here are based on Otsuka's correspondence.)

12 I also noted in chapter 4 of IE, that it might be possible (unrealistically) to construe the intentions of the person who redirected the trolley in the Loop Case as follows. He intends merely to get the trolley away from hitting as it was headed independently of his actions. He does this, however, only because he foresees that the one will be hit by the looping trolley and so save the five. That is, he sees the eventual death of the five as a bad side effect of his completely achieving his very limited goal (of getting the trolley away from hitting as it was headed independently of his actions) and that bad side effect would rule out pursuing his goal, because the death of one person is not justified by the achievement of his limited goal alone. However, the one's death can be compensated for by the good effect of the five eventually being saved. I made this point when considering whether the greater good that we cause must always be intended if it is to be able to justify our causing a lesser evil as a side effect. My answer was ‘no’, because a merely foreseen greater good side effect could also outweigh a lesser evil.

13 In her ‘Self-Defense’, Philosophy & Public Affairs 94.6 (1991), pp. 283–310.

14 See IE, chapter 5, for more on this. Norcross similarly misses my emphasis on modality when he describes my view. He incorrectly says (p. 72): ‘It turns out that the exact details of the causal processes leading to the greater good and lesser evil are crucial for determining when harm is permissible and when it isn't.’ It is important to distinguish actual causal processes from necessary (required) ones.

15 This case builds on (a) my case (IE, p. 124, n. 9), where turning the trolley away from the five would just send it in a circle back to where it started, were it not that letting one person on the circular track stops the trolley and (b) Derek Parfit's suggestion that turning the trolley causes the person to fall from the bridge.

16 Similarly, in Norcross's case (p. 75) in which we speed up a trolley, speeding up the trolley, independent of its effect of hitting the one person, has no relevance to saving the five. However, we could imagine a revised case in which only if we speed up the trolley would it jump over the five. Its speeding would also make it hit a person after it jumps whom it would not otherwise have hit. His being hit, while not necessary to stop the trolley from hitting the five in the front, does mean that it cannot loop back to hit them from the rear, as it otherwise would have. In this Speeding Trolley Case Revised, there is an independent point to speeding up the trolley – getting it to jump over the five – even if this point would be defeated by the further consequence of looping were the one not hit.

17 ‘Evil*’ is my phrase for ‘evil or involvement leading to evil’.

18 p. 124, n. 9 (also described herein in n. 14).

19 He attributes the case to J. M. Fischer.

20 Philippa, Foot's‘The Problem of Abortion and the Doctrine of Double Effect’, Oxford Review 5 (1967), pp. 515; reprinted in Killing and Letting Die, ed. Bonnie Steinbock and Alastair Norcross, 2nd edn. (New York, 1994), pp. 266–79.

21 See his ‘Action, Intention, and Consequences: The Doctrine of Doing and Allowing’, Philosophy & Public Affairs 18.4 (Autumn 1989), pp. 334–51.

22 In her ‘The Doctrine of Double Effect and the Problem of Abortion’.

23 In her ‘Killing, Letting Die, and the Trolley Problem’, The Monist 59.2 (April 1976), pp. 204–17.

24 So, contrary to what Norcross says (p. 79), I am not concerned, per se, ‘with how many links there are in the causal chains connecting such harms and benefits to each other or to an agent's actions’.

25 Richardson mistakenly describes my view about the cases a bit. Contrary to what he says, I do not think that in the first case, the greater good is wholly causally downstream from the death of the one. I think a component of the greater good – the five being saved from one threat – is present independently of the one being hit, but another component, saving them from the organ disease, is yet to be produced by this bad event.

26 See my ‘Failures of Just War Theory: Terror, Harm, and Justice’, Ethics 114 (July 2004), pp. 650–92.

27 Richardson actually speaks of bombing another military facility. But this could confuse the contrast between the cases, so I have substituted a non-military building.

28 It is interesting to note, however, that discussions of the Trolley Case tend to contrast it with the Bridge Case (where the person's fall is a means to stopping the trolley). They focus less on cases where a bomb that would stop the trolley kills a bystander. I think this is a mistake.

29 Though he wonders why, if inviolability is a good, consequentialism cannot take it into account (p. 81). I see it as a status already had by persons, not something that is brought about, and I think of consequentialism as trying to bring about good states of affairs.

30 Richardson has two complaints about my ‘non-simple’ view of inviolability as non-subordination. One is, essentially, that it excludes from the category of subordination many cases where harm to someone causes a greater good. A second complaint is that I ‘stretch’ (p. 89) my account to include too much in the category of subordination, as in my Trolley Tool Case. I am more sympathetic with the latter concern.

31 I shall return to the Tractor Case below.

32 When Richardson attempts to summarize in his own words my Principle of Productive Purity, he says. ‘One cannot justify harming someone, or involving him without his consent in a project that foreseeably will harm him, on the grounds that doing so is causally necessary to producing the greater good; however, one can justify doing these things on the grounds that doing so is causally necessary to sustaining the greater good’ (p. 84). This is a misunderstanding. Not anything that causes harm to sustain a good is permissible. Richardson's misunderstanding may arise because he separates (1) The distinction between producing and sustaining the greater good, and (2) The distinction between being caused by a component of the greater good that is working itself out and being caused by something that is merely causally productive of the greater good. I emphasize that a bad effect that will occur as a result of a greater good working itself out may sustain that good rather than produce a further part of it. Hence, distinction (1) and (2) work together.

33 Thomson, J. J., ‘The Trolley Problem’, The Yale Law Journal 94.6 (May 1985), pp. 13951415.

34 There are other cases, however, which suggest that sometimes the additional track can make a difference to what we should do. For an example, see the Component Case in IE.

1 F. M. Kamm, Intricate Ethics [IE] (New York, 2007).


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