The Moral Status of a War

 

As the last of the United States’ armed forces withdraw from their prolonged engagement in Iraq, an observer can pause to reflect and consider the moral status of this conflict. Two recent experiences – incredibly trivial though they may be – inform my analysis. Firstly, I happened to chance upon In the Valley of Elah (a 2007 film whose story aims to highlight some of the terrible psychological effects that can result from throwing young individuals into such a conflict) the other day, and I found it quite compelling. Secondly, in a recent philosophy seminar that I was overseeing, a student attempted to raise the war in Iraq as an example that might offer support for a more general point about the validity of a consequentialist justification in moral reasoning; at the time I didn’t have any knowledge of the numbers involved, so I couldn’t say much about the nature of the example as regards a strictly consequentialist calculation. Due to my role, I felt compelled to stay silent at the time, and it left me frustrated.

 

I shall elaborate upon this second instance first. The war in Iraq was mentioned because – so the student asserted – America’s action was a reaction to 9/11, Continue reading “The Moral Status of a War”

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The Price of Life and Peter Singer

What is a life worth? It is difficult to understand what this question even asks. Does it ask; What kind of thing, or what amount of a certain kind of thing, could satisfactorily replace a human life? This does not clarify the original question so much as point out what it is that makes it initially so hard to grasp. That is, it is implicit in the question that it is possible that a life can be ‘worth’ something at all which, taken in the sense of a given life being replaceable by something of commensurate value, appears to be a mistaken assumption. Or is the second question just misleadingly worded? If we were to ask instead what kind of thing a life is worth giving up for, then the possible contexts in which one might be inclined to agree that the loss of a life can be justified by the certain good that it may bring about begin to come to mind. Continue reading “The Price of Life and Peter Singer”

How do we know when to stop brushing our teeth?

800px-Border_Station_Torkhemn_by_James_G_Pinsky_2006In the course of any given day, the number of snap decisions we are called upon to make is staggering. Simply getting to the office in the morning demands decisions about what to wear, when to leave the house, what route to take, where to park the car, and so on. Many of these involve considerable deliberation, especially when something sudden and unexpected happens that interferes with the decisions we would normally have made – the car not starting, high density traffic on our regular route, a meteor striking our office building, etc.

However, the vast majority of our decisions are made on the fly – they seemingly involve no deliberation at all. Should I use the big black coffee mug, or the smaller blue one? Having left the house, do I then go on the paved path, or simply cut through the lawn towards my car? Fiddle with the radio and only then drive, or the other way around? Even more subtle examples are ubiquitous. How should I pick up the coffee mug, left hand, right hand, by the handle, from above? How firmly should I press the toothbrush to my teeth, and when have I brushed sufficiently? How much pressure on the gas pedal would allow me to bypass that geriatric SUV safely? The list is endless.

Most of these decisions seem to involve no deliberation that we are aware of at all, and yet, it seems obvious that we are there, making them. In a sense, they are automatic, and yet, we’re the ones making them. At the very least, it seems to us that we could have done otherwise.

Continue reading “How do we know when to stop brushing our teeth?”