Saturday, 23 June 2007

Title IX

I leave you this fine evening with a column by Frank Deford.

Image Is Everything

This sickens me.

Old Glory

How in the world could lowering a flag for a dead soldier be construed as an antiwar statement? Lower the damn flag!


Here is a scene from today’s stage of the Tour of Switzerland, won by Colombian Rigoberto Uran. Russian Vladimir Efimkin is the overall leader, by 24 seconds. Will he hold on to the lead in tomorrow’s final stage: an individual time trial in Bern? Stay tuned.

W. D. Ross (1877-1971) on What Makes Right Acts Right

When a plain man fulfils a promise because he thinks he ought to do so, it seems clear that he does so with no thought of its total consequences, still less with any opinion that these are likely to be the best possible. He thinks in fact much more of the past than of the future. What makes him think it right to act in a certain way is the fact that he has promised to do so—that and, usually, nothing more. That his act will produce the best possible consequences is not his reason for calling it right. What lends colour to the theory we are examining, then, is not the actions (which form probably a great majority of our actions) in which some such reflection as ‘I have promised’ is the only reason we give ourselves for thinking a certain action right, but the exceptional cases in which the consequences of fulfilling a promise (for instance) would be so disastrous to others that we judge it right not to do so. It must of course be admitted that such cases exist. If I have promised to meet a friend at a particular time for some trivial purpose, I should certainly think myself justified in breaking my engagement if by doing so I could prevent a serious accident or bring relief to the victims of one. And the supporters of the view we are examining hold that my thinking so is due to my thinking that I shall bring more good into existence by the one action than by the other. A different account may, however, be given of the matter, an account which will, I believe, show itself to be the true one. It may be said that besides the duty of fulfilling promises I have and recognize a duty of relieving distress, and that when I think it right to do the latter at the cost of not doing the former, it is not because I think I shall produce more good thereby but because I think it the duty which is in the circumstances more of a duty. This account surely corresponds much more closely with what we really think in such a situation. If, so far as I can see, I could bring equal amounts of good into being by fulfilling my promise and by helping some one to whom I had made no promise, I should not hesitate to regard the former as my duty. Yet on the view that what is right is right because it is productive of the most good I should not so regard it.

There are two theories, each in its way simple, that offer a solution of such cases of conscience. One is the view of Kant, that there are certain duties of perfect obligation, such as those of fulfilling promises, of paying debts, of telling the truth, which admit of no exception whatever in favour of duties of imperfect obligation, such as that of relieving distress. The other is the view of, for instance, Professor Moore and Dr. Rashdall, that there is only the duty of producing good, and that all ‘conflicts of duties’ should be resolved by asking ‘by which action will most good be produced?’ But it is more important that our theory fit the facts than that it be simple, and the account we have given above corresponds (it seems to me) better than either of the simpler theories with what we really think, viz. that normally promise-keeping, for example, should come before benevolence, but that when and only when the good to be produced by the benevolent act is very great and the promise comparatively trivial, the act of benevolence becomes our duty.

In fact the theory of ‘ideal utilitarianism’, if I may for brevity refer so to the theory of Professor Moore, seems to simplify unduly our relations to our fellows. It says, in effect, that the only morally significant relation in which my neighbours stand to me is that of being possible beneficiaries by my action. They do stand in this relation to me, and this relation is morally significant. But they may also stand to me in the relation of promisee to promiser, of creditor to debtor, of wife to husband, of child to parent, of friend to friend, of fellow countryman to fellow countryman, and the like; and each of these relations is the foundation of a prima facie duty, which is more or less incumbent on me according to the circumstances of the case. When I am in a situation, as perhaps I always am, in which more than one of these prima facie duties is incumbent on me, what I have to do is to study the situation as fully as I can until I form the considered opinion (it is never more) that in the circumstances one of them is more incumbent than any other; then I am bound to think that to do this prima facie duty is my duty sans phrase in the situation.

(W. D. Ross, The Right and the Good [1930; repr., Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1988], 17-9 [italics in original; footnotes omitted])

Note from KBJ: Ross is a moderate deontologist. Kant is an absolute deontologist. Moore and Rashdall are consequentialists. These are the three great categories—logically exhaustive and exclusive—of normative ethical theory. In case you’re wondering, I’m with Ross.

All Fred, All the Time

According to this story, Fred Thompson is set to announce his candidacy for president of the United States. How does a Thompson-Giuliani ticket sound?

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

I am very troubled by “States Face Touchy Decisions on Who Is Mentally Fit to Vote” (front page, June 19), which reports political efforts to prevent people with mental disorders and elderly people with dementia from voting.

Our constitutional right to vote does not require that any one of us make a rational choice. We can vote for a candidate because he or she seems most qualified, or because we like his or her face.

Fair-game campaign tactics highlight issues that have little to do with capacity to govern—a candidate who is part of a harmonious family, or who was caught in a tawdry affair.

To exclude those from voting who are already socially ostracized erodes our democracy, as it institutes a caste system. More darkly, it paves the way to eliminate dissent as “crazy thinking.”

Lisa Kole, M.D.
New York, June 19, 2007

Note from KBJ: That’s it. I’m demanding that dogs be allowed to vote. If liking a candidate’s face is sufficient for allowing a human to vote, then it’s sufficient for allowing a dog to vote. I draw the line at cats, however.

A Year Ago