Thursday, February 08, 2007

Why Shouldn't I Kill You

All this suggests that a necessary condition of resolving the abortion controversy is a more theoretical account of the wrongness of killing. After all, if we merely believe, but do not understand, why killing adult human beings such as ourselves is wrong, how could we conceivably show that abortion is either immoral or permissible?
Thus ended the last post in this series - "Abortion: Talking Past the 'Other' ". This diary steps away from abortion - it is about adults killing adults. I want to look at a couple of things before I look at Don Marquis's position on this.
  1. From a Christian perspective, this is really not a question, although its application by Christians has been "interesting" over the centuries. We are all created imago dei - in the image of God - and part of loving God with our all is loving what He loves. That certainly includes our fellow images. A theologian could get much more in-depth than this; but I am a popularizer/apologist and not a theologian. Somebody is welcome to go deeper on this in the comments

  2. From a secular perspective, this is really not a question, although its application by humans has also been "interesting". Everyone "just knows", nearly everywhere on the planet, that it is prima facie "just wrong" to kill someone -- if you kill someone you will have to justify it somehow. Of course, human history proves - right back to the first brothers - that "everybody" is quite capable of providing justifications, before and after the fact, when they want to kill someone.

However, divine revelation only works as a reason in discussions with those that believe in the divine; and the same type of divine as me. The general revelation of natural moral law can only be used if people actually believe that there is a universal moral code embedded in our deep consciences - which many will fight tooth and nail, especially because it implies a creator God.

Even if we agree that me killing you is "just wrong" it is good to examine this beyond the "just know" stage because, as Budziszewski pointed out in What We Cannot Not Know, even if there is a natural moral law that overflows from the character of God into all of His creation - we have to continuously reinforce this deep conscience with good teaching because our surface conscience makes a mess of our deep one. There are

"at least" nine ways surface conscience can be blurred or err (and asks you to compare Aquinas's Summa Theologica, Prima Secundæ Partis, Question 94, Articles 4 and 6):
  1. insufficient experience: we do not know enough to reach sound conclusions;
  2. insufficient skill: we haven't learned the art of reasoning well;
  3. sloth: we are too lazy to reason;
  4. corrupt custom: it hasn't occurred to us to reason;
  5. passion: we are distracted by strong feeling from reasoning carefully;
  6. fear: we are afraid to reason because we might find out we are wrong;
  7. wishful thinking: we include in our reasoning what we are willing to notice;
  8. depraved ideology: we interpret known principles crookedly; and
  9. malice: we refuse to reason because we are determined to do what we want.

We therefore have to be intentional, and educational, about the morality of killing. So, let's look at how Don Marquis reasons out his view of the philosophical, secular reason why it is wrong for me to kill you.

* * * * *
. . . we can start from the following unproblematic assumption concerning our own case: it is wrong to kill us. Why is it wrong? Some answers can be easily eliminated.
  • It might be said that what makes killing us wrong is that a killing brutalizes the one who kills. But the brutalization consists of being inured to the performance of an act that is hideously immoral; hence, the brutalization does not explain the immorality

  • It might be said that what makes killing us wrong is the great loss others would experience due to our absence. Although such hubris is understandable, such an explanation does not account for the wrongness of killing hermits, or those whose lives are relatively independent and whose friends find it easy to make new friends.
A more obvious answer is better. What primarily makes killing wrong is neither its effect on the murderer nor its effect on the victim's friends and relatives, but its effect on the victim. The loss of one's life is one of the greatest losses one can suffer. The loss of one's life deprives one of all the experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments that would otherwise have constituted one's future. Therefore, killing someone is wrong, primarily because the killing inflicts (one of) the greatest possible losses on the victim. To describe this as the loss of life can be misleading, however. The change in my biological state does not by itself make killing me wrong. the effect of the loss of my biological life is the loss to me of all those activities, projects, experiences, and enjoyments which would otherwise have constituted my future personal life. These activities, projects, experiences, and enjoyments are either valuable for their own sakes or are means to something else that is valuable for its own sake. Some parts of my future are not valued by me now, but will come to be valued by me as I grow older and as my values and capacities change. When I am killed, I am deprived both of what I now value which would have been part of my future personal life, but also what I would come to value. Therefore, when I die, I am deprived of all of the value of my future. Inflicting this loss on me is ultimately what makes killing me wrong. This being the case, it would seem that what makes killing any adult human being prima facie seriously wrong is the loss of his or her future.

How should this rudimentary theory of the wrongness of killing be evaluated?
  • It cannot be faulted for deriving an 'ought' from an 'is', for it does not. The analysis assumes that killing me (or you, reader) is prima facie seriously wrong. The point of the analysis is to establish which natural property ultimately explains the wrongness of the killing, given that it is wrong.
    A natural property will ultimately explain the wrongness of killing, only if (1) the explanation fits with our intuitions about the matter and (2) there is no other natural property that provides the basis for a better explanation of the wrongness of killing.
    This analysis rests on the intuition that what makes killing a particular human or animal wrong is what it does to that particular human or animal. What makes killing wrong is some natural effect or other of the killing. Some would deny this. For instance, a divine-command theorist in ethics would deny it. Surely this denial is, how¬ever, one of those features of divine-command theory which renders it so implausible.

  • The claim that what makes killing wrong is the loss of the victim's future is directly supported by two considerations.
    1. this theory explains why we regard killing as one of the worst of crimes. Killing is especially wrong, because it deprives the victim of more than perhaps any other crime.

    2. people with AIDS or cancer who know they are dying believe, of course, that dying is a very bad thing for them. They believe that the loss of a future to them that they would otherwise have experienced is what makes their premature death a very bad thing for them. A better theory of the wrongness of killing would require a different natural property associated with killing which better fits with the attitudes of the dying. What could it be?

  • The view that what makes killing wrong is the loss to the victim of the value of the victim's future gains additional support when some of its implications are examined
    1. it is incompatible with the view that it is wrong to kill only beings who are biologically human. It is possible that there exists a different species from another planet whose members have a future like ours. Since having a future like that is what makes killing someone wrong, this theory entails that it would be wrong to kill members of such a species. Hence, this theory is opposed to the claim that only life that is biologically human has great moral worth, a claim which many anti-abortionists have seemed to adopt. This opposition, which this theory has in common with personhood theories, seems to be a merit of the theory.

    2. the claim that the loss of one's future is the wrong-making feature of one's being killed entails the possibility that the futures of some actual nonhuman mammals on our own planet are sufficiently like ours that it is seriously wrong to kill them also.

    3. the claim that the loss of one's future is the wrong-making feature of one's being killed does not entail, as sanctity-of-human-life theories do, that active euthanasia is wrong. Persons who are severely and incurably ill, who face a future of pain and despair, and who wish to die will not have suffered a loss if they are killed. It is, strictly speaking, the value of a human's future which makes killing wrong in this theory. This being so, killing does not necessarily wrong some persons who are sick and dying. Of course, there may be other reasons for a prohibition of active euthanasia, but that is another matter. Sanctity-of-human-life theories seem to hold that active euthanasia is seriously wrong even in an individual case where there seems to be good reason for it independently of public policy considerations. This consequence is most implausible, and it is a plus for the claim that the loss of a future of value is what makes killing wrong that it does not share this consequence.

    4. the account of the wrongness of killing defended in this essay does straightforwardly entail that it is prima facie seriously wrong to kill children and infants, for we do presume that they have futures of value. Since we do believe that it is wrong to kill defenseless little babies, it is important that a theory of the wrongness of killing easily account for this. Personhood theories of the wrongness of killing, on the other hand, cannot straightforwardly account for the wrongness of killing infants and young children. Hence, such theories must add special ad hoc accounts of the wrongness of killing the young. The plausibility of such ad hoc theories seems to be a function of how desperately one wants such theories to work. The claim that the primary wrong-making feature of a killing is the loss to the victim of the value of its future accounts for the wrongness of killing young children and infants directly; it makes the wrongness of such acts as obvious as we actually think it is. This is a further merit of this theory.

    Accordingly, it seems that this value of a future-like-ours theory of the wrongness of killing shares strengths of both sanctity-of-life and personhood accounts while avoiding weaknesses of both. In addition, it meshes with a central intuition concerning what makes killing wrong.

  • this argument does not rely on the invalid inference that, since it is wrong to kill persons, it is wrong to kill potential persons also. The category that is morally central to this analysis is the category of having a valuable future like ours; it is not the category of Personhood.

Finally, Marquis points out that this is a minimal case - one can choose to protect more life (say in the area of euthanasia) but you cannot choose to protect less.

* * * * *
There is going to be a tendency, knowing what preceded this diary, and the nature of the work this argument came from, for pro-choice folks to want to fight the analysis because they think they are being "led down the garden path". You are of course being led down such a path - that is what a systematic philosophical argument is designed to do. That doesn't mean that each step on the path is wrong because you do not like the garden you are being led to. I ask you to focus your attention on the step we are standing on - arguing against it on the grounds of whether or not it applies to abortion will just turn this diary into another ethics of abortion discussion. I want it to be an ethics of killing discussion.

For the Street Prophets reading this - it may help you do that by knowing that this is the last of this series that will be posted at Street Prophets. If I continue it at all, which is up in the air at the moment, it will be at Brain Cramps for God alone.

I have accomplished what I wanted to at Street Prophets, which is to start a discussion about some deeper underlying principles that surround the issue of killing; and provide some grounding in the future to try to sort through sanctity-of-life issues. At this point, I will just say that this particular view of why it is wrong to kill provides me with an answer to the issues of

  • birth control
  • abortion
  • killing of infants and children
  • killing of human adults
  • killing of non-humans both from Earth and beyond; and
  • active euthanasia

which meets my intuitions on those issues - somewhat like a "unified theory" of killing.

It also provides a theory of killing that is not based on the higher revelation that I have as a Christian - I can come into the public square on issues around the taking of life without being a "bad little theocrat".

Next: "Choose Life"

No comments:

Post a Comment

How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly