Some Moral Dilemmas, Part 2
Posted by Michael Dickens on September 14, 2009
9. Tom, hating his wife and wanting her dead, puts poison in her coffee, thereby killing her. Joe also hates his wife and would like her dead. One day, Joe’s wife accidentally puts poison in her coffee, thinking it’s cream. Joe has the antidote, but he does not give it to her. Knowing that he is the only one who can save her, he lets her die. Is Joe’s failure to act as bad as Tom’s action?
Not quite, but for practical purposes, yes. Tom was more capable than Joe of preventing the death, but Joe is still entirely capable of preventing the death so he is still responsible.
10. A madman who has threatened to explode several bombs in crowded areas has been apprehended. Unfortunately, he has already planted the bombs and they are scheduled to go off in a short time. It is possible that hundreds of people may die. The authorities cannot make him divulge the location of the bombs by conventional methods. He refuses to say anything and requests a lawyer to protect his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination. In exasperation, some high level official suggests torture. This would be illegal, of course, but the official thinks that it is nevertheless the right thing to do in this desperate situation. Do you agree? If you do, would it also be morally justifiable to torture the mad bomber’s innocent wife if that is the only way to make him talk? Why?
It is indeed justifiable, in order to save as many lives as possible. Ironically, I argued the exact opposite point in this debate, but for a different reason — I argued that torture was not the only option. If we assume that torture is the only option, then it is justified. If there is another option which is as likely to work, it is not. Suffering should be minimized as much as possible.
11. You are a psychiatrist and your patient has just confided to you that he intends to kill a woman. You’re inclined to dismiss the threat as idle, but you aren’t sure. Should you report the threat to the police and the woman or should you remain silent as the principle of confidentiality between psychiatrist and patient demands? Should there be a law that compels you to report such threats?
It depends on the nature of the confidentiality. It should be well known to the patient beforehand that the psychiatrist may break confidentiality for information about potential danger. If the patient does not already know, then it is justified to break the agreement in order to protect the woman. But from the psychiatrist’s perspective, it may be a bad business decision since it will reduce trust in him or her.
12. Jim has the responsibility of filling a position in his firm. His friend Paul has applied and is qualified, but someone else seems even more qualified. Jim wants to give the job to Paul, but he feels guilty, believing that he ought to be impartial. That’s the essence of morality, he initially tells himself. This belief is, however, rejected, as Jim resolves that friendship has a moral importance that permits, and perhaps even requires, partiality in some circumstances. So he gives the job to Paul. Was he right?
Jim’s job is to be impartial. Ceasing to be impartial for an effectively arbitrary reason is not justified. Unless by “his firm” it means Jim actually owns the firm, which I suppose it does. In that case, he can do whatever he wants. He can fire everyone except for his friend if he wants to.
13. A friend confides to you that he has committed a particular crime and you promise never to tell. Discovering that an innocent person has been accused of the crime, you plead with your friend to give himself up. He refuses and reminds you of your promise. What should you do? In general, under what conditions should promises be broken?
Honesty is important. Justice at this level of extremity is more important.
A long time Governor of a Southern State is elected President of the United States on a platform that includes strong support for laws against sexual harassment. After he is in office, it comes out that he may have used State Troopers, on duty to protect him as Governor, to pick up women for him. One of the women named in the national press stories as having been brought to the Governor for sex felt defamed because she had actually rebuffed his crude advances, even though he had said that he knew her boss — she was a State employee. She decides to clear her name by suing the now President for sexual harassment. The Supreme Court allows the suit to proceed against the sitting President. Because the sexual harassment laws have been recently expanded, with the President’s agreement, to allow testimony about the history of sexual conduct of the accused harasser, the President is questioned under oath about rumors of an affair with a young White House intern. He strongly denies that any sexual relationship had ever taken place, and professes not to remember if he was even ever alone with the intern. Later, incontrovertible evidence is introduced — the President’s own semen on the intern’s dress — that establishes the existence of the rumored sexual relationship. The President then finally admits only to an ambiguous “improper relationship.” So the dilemma is: Is it hypocritical of the President and his supporters to continued to support the sexual harassment and perjury laws if they do not want him to be subject to the ordinary penalties for breaking them?
It is indeed hypocritical. The President has to obey the law just like everyone else. I don’t see the dilemma here.
Or, are the political purposes of the President’s supporters in keeping him in office more important than this?
They can’t really be linearly compared. What is the goal in mind?