AN EMPIRICAL APPROACH TO MORALITY Essay Research — страница 2

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approach to morality. Social contract theory as developed by Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau takes as its premise that there is an agreement between an individual and society in which the individual agrees to submit to the authority of the government and its laws in return for the government’s protection of the individual’s life and property. These theories were primarily concerned with the moral obligations of citizens and governments. An influential, modern variant of the social contract approach to morality is given in John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice. Rawls (1971, p. 12) considers a hypothetical initial situation in which “no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status, nor does anyone know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and

abilities, his intelligence, strength and the like… [thus] the principles of justice are chosen behind a veil of ignorance”. He then deduces what principles of justice would be agreed to by rational individuals in such an initial situation. Rawls notes that his book is not a complete contract theory, but that the contractarian idea can be extended to an entire ethical system. What are some of the major objections which have been raised against each of these theories? The maximization principle of utilitarianism gives a clear theoretical basis for moral decision making. However, it takes little reflection to conclude that its practical implementation presents grave difficulties. Before deciding upon a course of action, the utilitarian is asked to consider its effects on the

entire population and-although this is not explicitly mentioned-over an indefinite period of time. It is doubtful that many pure utilitarians exist. Practical difficulty aside, the basic objection to utilitarianism is the refusal of most people to agree with the premise that maximization of happiness for the entire population should be the basis for all moral decision making. The hypothetical situation created by John Harris in “The Survival Lottery” (1975) provides an extreme example of the conflict between happiness maximization and individual rights. Two patients, Y and Z, are dying. Y needs a heart transplant and Z needs a lung transplant to survive, but their doctors tell them that since no organs are available they will die of natural causes. Y and Z then insist that

the proper moral decision is to kill one healthy man, X, to save the two of them. However, observation suggests that most members of our society would disagree. Why? Because most would agree with the deontological view that X has a “right” to life which must not be abrogated to increase total happiness. Thus while it is conceivable that a society of humans (or post-humans) might someday exist whose moral sense was in innate agreement with utilitarianism, that is not the case at present. A number of objections have been raised to the version of social contract theory developed by Rawls. By a series of arguments Rawls (1971, pp. 60, 302) deduces that rational persons operating under a “veil of ignorance” would choose two principles. (First) Each person is to have an equal

right to the most extensive system of basic liberties compatible with similar liberty for all. (Second) Economic inequalities are to be arranged to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged. While there is little argument over the first principle, the second principle (which is Rawls’ contribution to the theory of distributive justice) is controversial. The argument for the second principle uses a maximin rule for choice under uncertainty (Rawls, 1971, pp. 150-158). It assumes that rational persons will agree to a system for distributing economic goods whose worst outcome (for any person) is better than the worst outcome of any alternate system. While many persons (particularly those of mature years and conservative instincts) would choose the economic distribution system

Rawls suggests, it can be objected that many others (particularly the young and daring) would not. Unless one defines a rational person as one who follows the maximin rule, the question of whether real persons would agree with Rawls could only be decided by a sociological survey. A more general objection to Rawls, and to any social contract theory based upon a hypothetical or historical agreement, is: Why should such an agreement be morally binding on contemporary individuals who are not choosing a moral system under conditions of ignorance? A basic moral question debated in the philosophical literature is illustrated in an extreme form by Judith J. Thomson in “Killing, Letting Die, and the Trolley Problem” (1976). In this paper the author constructs a series of cases in