Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

Using Scenarios to Argue Against a School of Morality, and Why It’s a Bad Idea

Posted by Michael Dickens on September 22, 2010

Using the Utility Monster as an argument against Utilitarianism. Using the “murderer at the door” scenario as an argument against Kantian Deontology. (I can’t find any really useful links, so use the google.) Unless you disagree with every school of morality, these sorts of arguments are silly.

When you make an appeal to unpleasant scenario, what you’re really doing is arguing that we instinctively disagree with the result of the scenario, therefore the system of ethics must be mistaken. You can only legitimately do this if you presuppose that your instincts are more correct than a logically-grounded ethical system such as Utilitarianism or Kantian Deontology. First of all, you can only do this if you can show that there is some flaw in the logic supporting the ethical system. Secondly, it means you’re using instincts as your moral guide. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but generally the sorts of people who make these criticisms are also espousing some other moral theory (for example Robert Nozick, the creator of the Utility Monster scenario and proponent of his own theory of morality). It is hypocritical to simultaneously make an appeal to unpleasant scenario and at the same time support some school of morality, because an appeal to unpleasant scenario only works when you rely on instincts as the basis for morality.

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