Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 January 2017
Texting while driving is morally equivalent to driving drunk. In this dialogue, I illustrate why moral arguments from analogy are a valuable part of moral reasoning by considering how texting while driving is, morally speaking, no different from drunk driving. 1
1 For helpful feedback on this first foray into dialogue form, I want to thank Dr Ruth Swartwood, who gave me the idea for the setting and tone of the dialogue. I want to thank my students over the years for helping me refine this argument by raising worthy objections to it. In my Ethics classes, I often put the texting while driving analogy to them and then ask them to think of objections to it, and I then try to defend the argument against those objections. (I call the exercise ‘Stump the Chump’ – they try to stump me as a way to practice evaluating arguments from analogy.) All the objections I cover here are ones my students have raised in class over the years, and all the replies are elaborations on responses I've offered to them in class.
2 As I write this, my daughter is three years old. So, this is an exercise in preparation rather than a report of a real conversation. Of course, as will become clear, the problem of texting while driving may become obsolete by the time my daughter can drive (if, for example, people no longer text with their phones or if cars drive themselves). But, as the articles listed in the next note indicate, this is currently a very live moral issue.
3 For a representative but informal study, see <http://www.caranddriver.com/features/texting-while-driving-how-dangerous-is-it-the-results-page-2>. For a review of some of the literature and a more controlled experimental study, see Drews, Frank A. et al. , ‘Text Messaging during Simulated Driving’, Human Factors 51 (2009), 762–70CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed. For some alarming statistics about the frequency of teenagers texting while driving, see Olsen, Emily O'Malley et al. , ‘Texting While Driving and Other Risky Motor Vehicle Behaviors among US High School Students’, Pediatrics 131.6 (2013), 1708–15CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed. For some general statistics about the fatalities caused by distracted driving, see Fernando, Wilson, A. and Stimpson, Jim P., ‘Trends in Fatalities From Distracted Driving in the United States, 1999 to 2008’, American Journal of Public Health 100.11 (2010), 2213–19Google Scholar.
4 For some famous and/or interesting examples of moral arguments from analogy in the philosophical literature, see Thomson, Judith Jarvis, ‘A Defense of Abortion’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 1.1 (1971), 47–66 Google Scholar; Norcross, Alastair, ‘Puppies, Pigs, and People: Eating Meat and Marginal Cases’, Philosophical Perspectives 18.1 (2004), 229–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Nathanson, Stephen, ‘In Defense of “Moderate Patriotism”’, Ethics 99.3 (1989), 535–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Gomberg, Paul, ‘Patriotism Is Like Racism’, Ethics 101.1 (1990), 144–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar. And, since it's hard to find much that all philosophers agree upon, for a philosophical argument against at least some uses of arguments from analogy, see Kagan, Shelly, ‘The Additive Fallacy’, Ethics 99.1 (1984), 5–31 CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For an example of a non-philosopher apparently making an argument from analogy, see <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sanjeev-k-sriram/dr-america-antivaxxers-ar_b_6587538.html>.
5 Another way of defending the use of invented examples is by drawing an analogy to examples that could physically happen but are just very, very unlikely to happen to you. Suppose someone wants to argue that killing a person in self-defense is, at least sometimes, permissible. To do so, ask if you would be willing to kill a tiger that was about to maul you. Now, even if you are unlikely ever to be in a position to be mauled by a tiger (and even if you've never even seen a real tiger), you can still use this to think about whether your views about killing a person in self-defense are consistent and justified. All the tiger example needs to help you do that is to be sufficiently clear and compelling when you entertain it. And invented examples can be as clear and compelling as actually possible but unlikely examples, like the tiger case.
6 For evidence that texting using handheld devices impairs you more than using in-vehicle voice-operated systems (but that voice-operated systems still impair you), see Owens, Justin M., McLaughlin, Shane B., and Sudweeks, Jeremy, ‘Driver Performance While Text Messaging Using Handheld and In-Vehicle Systems’, Accident Analysis and Prevention 43 (2011), 939–47CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed.
8 The reader will want to try to think of a bunch of different analogies for different conclusions about assisted suicide and then evaluate them all.