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Examples of Post-Morality Dilemmas

May 6, 2018

1) Thompson’s Violinist:

“You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist’s circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. If he is unplugged from you now, he will die; but in nine months he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you”

Question: Are you obligated to keep the musician alive, or do you cut him loose and let him die because you want to?

Thompson, who has several excellent thought experiments to her name, says no. Not because the violinist isn’t a person with rights, but rather because he has no right to your body and the life-preserving functions that it provides. Thompson then expands her reasoning to argue that a fetus also lacks the rights to another person’s body and can be evicted at any time.

What is missing in this moral dilemma? Obviously it looks like a nice post-morality justification for abortion, which was the pragmatic goal of Thompson. But it misses something that anyone who is not part of this post-morality sect would see as crucial to moral goodness. Namely that you have been arbitrarily hooked up to this violinist, while a woman is only in very rare circumstances arbitrarily “hooked up” to a baby. Most of the time she is responsible for the emergence of that baby in her womb. In that she had knowledge of the consequences of her actions in having sex. But this argument falls on death ears to the post morality cult, because for them the notion of responsibility for your actions has been discarded. To suggest she be responsible for her actions is crazy, for she is obviously just an innocent victim of a causal chain of actions committed by her brain against her will…

2) The life you can save – Peter Singer

This experiment was written by famed utilitarian thinker Peter Singer in 2009.

Imagine that you are walking down the street and notice a child drowning in a lake. You can swim and are close enough to save her if you act immediately. However, doing so ruins your expensive shoes. Do you still have an obligation to save the child?

Singer says yes, you have a responsibility to save the life of a dying child and price is no object. If you agree with him, it leads to his question.

Question: If you are obligated to save the life of a child in need, is there a fundamental difference between saving a child in front of you and one on the other side of the world?

In The Life You Can Save, Singer argues that there is no moral difference between a child drowning in front of you and one starving in some far off land. The cost of the ruined shoes in the experiment is analogous to the cost of a donation, and if the value of the shoes is irrelevant than the price of charity is too. If you would save the nearby child, he reasons, you have to save the distant one too. He put his money where his mouth is, and started a program to help people donate to charities that do the most good.

So here is a post-morality justification for guilt tripping people into giving their money away to “benevolent” strangers. Now I am not personally against charity when it is something people choose to do. I am against it when people are made to feel compelled to do it. And I don’t think the compulsion works if you are not a member of the post-morality tribe. For as I showed in my previous post, this relies on the point regarding the notion of identifying with some external object due to having no internal identity. If you have a morality centred around your own identity then obviously you are more likely to feel more connection to people closer in time and space to you than people further away. Furthermore you are likely to see your own actions as being important as the source of the goodness for you and your community, not just some faceless other person who you are supposed to trust in line with a supposed universal and objective ideological faith that all people are the same.

Then we could get into the corruption in many supposed charities and the fact that motivation is also crucial to morality, if your motivation, is just that you feel obliged by guilt, in the long term that is not a good or sustainable morality for people to live by. For if your motivation is guilt you are externally motivated to do the act, not internally motivated. This means that you must get some compensation elsewhere in life to keep you motivated to do it. Thus your reward will be some materialistic thing nothing to do with the act. Thus it indirectly supports and promotes an unhealthy consumerist society reliant on perpetual economic growth that actually perpetuates the inequalities and divides between rich and poor people in the world. All of these messy complicated details of reality can be ignored for those of the post-morality faith. They don’t exist because they rely on the notion of internally valued goods, and moral identity and personhood. Concepts that the post-morality society has thrown on the scrapheap.

3) The Veil of Ignorance, John Rawls

Justice is blind, should we be? 

This experiment was devised by John Rawls in 1971 to explore notions of justice in his book A Theory of Justice.

Suppose that you and a group of people had to decide on the principles that would establish a new society. However, none of you know anything about who you will be in that society. Elements such as your race, income level, sex, gender, religion, and personal preferences are all unknown to you. After you decide on those principles, you will then be turned out into the society you established.

Question: How would that society turn out? What does that mean for our society now?

Rawls argues that in this situation we can’t know what our self-interest is so we cannot pursue it. Without that guidepost, he suggests that we would all try to create a fair society with equal rights and economic security for the poor both out of moral considerations and as a means to secure the best possible worst-case scenario for us when we step outside that veil. Others disagree, arguing that we would seek only to maximize our freedom or assure perfect equality.

Notice here that the post-morality feature being drawn upon is the one that says we are blank slates with no identity or tradition extending into the past of any relevance to our moral decisions. This whole context that created our identity can be discarded. We should act as if all people are the same etc.. It kind of assumes the morality it wants to prove and so there isn’t really much more to say about it. Only, once again, notice how this post-morality approach gives people a much simpler yardstick for judging moral problems, and allows them to ignore all the messy details of reality. It has simplicity going for it, which is probably what attracts so many to this ideology originally. And once you are in it, its difficult to leave, because of the sea of shame and guilt tripping you will face.

The alternative approach for justice is to establish some core principles and then to work around them. This is the way we have gone traditionally to avoid the relativistic slippery slope of the “post-morality” consensus. Tradition and the past is not something we can just totally dissociate ourselves from, without a huge and fatal cost. We need a moral core to ourselves and our identity, formed based on our past experience and based on internalising our cultural traditions etc.. Without this we do become something like the empty vessels that certain elites want us to become, easily manipulated, hopeless, directionless, consumption driven. This only shows how it is one narrative choice among many, and we can choose to reject it. And for the sake of any free future for humanity I think we must reject it. And the rejection takes us back to where we started, for we start from accepting free will, then from there everything else can flower.

And our justification for accepting free will? Well, it works like this. If denying free will is just based on one choice of narrative, namely, the determinist thesis. Then accepting free will is merely choosing another narrative. We have this choice, and as a form of pascals wager, it makes sense to choose it, given the choice. Because the determinist thesis is geared at helping the minority elite to control us all. While the free will thesis is geared at the majorities freedom. We can in fact use a form of John Rawls argument, and say, blind to the situation, we are more likely to belong to the majority so we should choose the narrative that is to their benefit…

Note: 

This post refers to thought experiments I found on the following website:

http://bigthink.com/scotty-hendricks/seven-thought-experiments-thatll-make-you-question-everything

 

 

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