The Case of Smith.
The Case of Smith • In the first, Smith stands to gain a large inheritance if anything should happen to his six-year-old cousin. One evening while the child is taking his bath, Smith sneaks into the bathroom and drowns the child, and then arranges things so that it will look like an accident. (Rachels, pp.228-9)
The Case of Jones • In the second, Jones also stands to gain if anything should happen to his six-year-old cousin. Like Smith, Jones sneaks in planning to drown the child in his bath. However, just as he enters the bathroom, Jones sees the child slip and hit his head, and fall face down in the water. Jones is delighted; he stands by, ready to push the child’s head back under if it is necessary, but it is not necessary. With only a little thrashing about, the child drowns all by himself, “accidentally,” as Jones watches and does nothing. (Rachels, p.229)
Rachels’ Argument i.If doing harm (e.g., killing) is intrinsically worse than allowing harm (e.g., letting die), then if two cases are exactly alike in every respect except that one is a doing harm and the other is an allowing harm, the doing harm should be more serious than the allowing harm. ii. The cases of Smith and Jones are exactly alike except that one is a killing and one is a letting die, and the case of Jones is as serious as the case of Smith. ————— Therefore, iii. Doing harm is not intrinsically more serious than allowing harm.
Rachels’ Argument (cont’d.) iii.Doing harm (e.g., killing) is not intrinsically more serious than allowing harm (e.g., letting die). iv. If doing harm is not intrinsically more serious than allowing harm, then the doing harm /allowing harm distinction itself is of no ethical significance. ————— Therefore, v. The doing harm/allowing harm distinction itself is of no ethical significance.
Rachels’ Conclusion • Since the distinction between doing harm and allowing harm is not ethically significant for its own sake, in the situations where passive euthanasia is acceptable, active euthanasia is also acceptable.
Plausibility of Rachels’ Test • Rachels’ Test: • Sort of a “Conceptual Version of the Scientific Method” • Alter one factor to see if it makes a difference. • The “Scale” Metaphor • If all the other factors are the same, then if substituting the factor of doing harm (e.g., killing) for allowing harm (e.g., letting die) should change the balance if doing harm has more (negative) weight than allowing harm.
Evaluation of Rachels’ Argument • Criticism of Premise ii: • It is not obvious that the cases of Smith and Jones are morally equivalent. • Both Smith and Jones are very bad people—perhaps equally bad. • What each of them did, was extremely wrong. • But, what they did may not be equally wrong. • Possibility of Swamping Phenomenon • Indeed, if we ask ourselves what sorts of punishments would be appropriate in the two cases, Smith (the killer) may seem to deserve severer punishment than Jones (the bystander). (Ask yourself.)
Evaluation of Rachels’ Argument • Criticism of Premise iv: • Doing harm (e.g., killing) may be more reprehensible only in conjunction with other factors—factors not present in the Smith/Jones case. • Analogy to scientific case: Concluding that the presence of oxygen isn’t relevant to combustion because changing the atmosphere surrounding a piece of paper from one that is pure argon at 32 º F (0º C) to one that is pure oxygen at 32 º F (0º C ) makes no difference in the combustion rate of the paper.
Evaluation of Rachels’ Argument • Criticism of Premise iv (Continued): • The significance of the doing/allowing distinction might, for all Rachels’ argument shows, be precisely this: doing harm is always wrong but allowing harm is only sometimes wrong (though it can be just as wrong as killing in some circumstances). • Perhaps it is equally wrong to kill or to allow to die if your intent is bad. But, if your intent is good, it can be permissible to allow harm but still impermissible to do harm. • (That said, I do not know an argument to show this is always the case.)
An Argument for the Significance of the Doing/Allowing Distinction • Some argue that doing harm is more reprehensible than allowing harm because doing harm is an unnatural intervention while allowing harm is natural: it is just letting nature take its course. • There are two problems about this argument. • This reasoning seemingly leads to the view that doing good is more reprehensible (or less praiseworthy) than allowing good. Doing good is an unnatural intervention while allowing good is natural: it is just letting nature take its course.
Continued • Doing good is, for example, giving someone a favor or benefit, helping him, saving him from danger or suffering, or preventing danger or harm to him. • Allowing good is, for example, not preventing help to someone while you can do so, or letting good fortune come to him while you can stop it. • Suppose Makoto’s friend in philosophy department talks very cheerfully with a cute one in a bar. Then, Makoto’s not getting in and talking to him/her about ‘exciting’ philosophical issues is probably an instance of allowing good. • The second problem: As we have seen, there are many senses of “unnatural”, but it is doubtful whether any of them can explain why an action is wrong or more reprehensible.