[Buddha-l] Ethical Dilemmas

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Fri Jun 11 03:26:27 MDT 2010


Your recent responses are quite disappointing.

>>> Let me remind you that ethics is not about the best decision, but the
>>> about which decision one can justify the best.
>> That's an odd -- and dangerous -- definition of ethics. Anything can be
>> "justified" after the fact.
> No, this just the difference between ' is'  and ' ought' .

Not at all. First of all, you are treating ethics as post-action 
justification, and "ought" when properly applied is aimed toward the future. 
Retrospective "oughts" are not ethical, but reprimands. To have an "ought," 
one has to have guiding principles, and to have those principles be ethical 
they have to be sound and rationally grounded.

>> Different situations have different stipulations. Deciding who gets the
>> first cookie is not the same as deciding who lives and dies, and the
>> requisite information and grasp of principles is radically different for
>> each situation.
> Now that is what I call dangerous. You can wipe your ass with principles
> and ethics if the stakes are high enough.

That wouldn't be very ethical would it? How do we know? Because we can 
measure the deviation against those principles. You are defeating your own 
argument and providing strong evidence for mine. Thank you.

> Thank you for this subtle wisdom, but I don't do bigotry. Every human
> being has my solidarity: men, women, old and young educated or not, any
> race.

Not the issue. High sounding but empty platitude. You don't hire just 
anybody off the street for jobs requiring specific skills, you go to someone 
with medical training when you need medical care, you have adults decide 
things like what to eat, whether to go to school or not, etc. for children 
and not vice versa, and you don't allow just anyone to represent Holland on 
the football team at the World Cup

So much for solidarity. So you only make distinctions when the situation is 
mundane, not when life and death is involved? That's dangerous.

>> Situation 3:
>> Your city (or group, or caravan) is under siege. The attackers demand 
>> Person
>> X be turned over to them, and they will let everyone else go. They want
>> Person X for a capital offense, for which Person X is known to be guilty.
>> Otherwise they will kill everyone. What do you do?
> Offer a public trial. No blackmail.

>> Situation 4:
>> Your city (or group, or caravan) is under siege. The attackers demand 
>> Person
>> X be turned over to them, and they will let everyone else go. Person X is 
>> an
>> innocent person, Otherwise they will kill everyone. What do you do?
> As before.

"Public trial" is not an option. You are under siege, not at the Hague. I 
thought that would be obvious from the example and the word "siege." The 
threat of death for the besieged is imminent, and the threats are not coming 
from friends or allies, but lethal enemies. How those under seige determine 
whether the person(s) being requested are innocent or guilty is not 
specified, so, perhaps there is time for a brief ersatz hearing or 
discussion in lieu of a trial, but that would only be for domestic 
consumption and decision making... the demanders have already passed 
judgement and are not interested in renegotiating that. It is also to be 
understood from the example -- perhaps it could have been made more 
explicit -- that the power lies with those making the demand, and the 
ability of the besieged to defend themselves, much less make counter 
demands, like a trial, are virtually nil. To acquiesce will save many lives. 
To refuse to acquiesce will likely result in the death of all the besieged. 
The critical factor, as seem to sense based on your responses, is the 
innocence or guilt of the one being demanded. It is NOT ultimately a 
question of the number of lives at stake, though that does contribute to the 
decision in situation 3 to turn the person over.

The issue here is not the hypothetical per se (though such situations do 
take place in various ways even today), but in the principles involved.

>> Your supposedly "obvious" justification is why the Nazis could fill
>> concentration camps with innocent people. "We" were saved by turning 
>> "them"
>> over, and there's more of us than them. Hallelujah! Obvious!
> Let's not go there Dan.

But that is precisely where this goes. By your enunciated principle, it was 
ethical for Europe to turn its back on millions of gypsies, mentally 
retarded, Jews, Catholic priests, Poles, Russians... By the standard of 
innocence/guilt expressed by the situations I offered, that collaboration 
and compliance cannot muster the veneer of ethicality.

Let me point out that the original discussion of these alternatives occurred 
in the context of Roman siege, and that the debate was revived during the 
time of Maimonides, when a Holocaust of sorts was taking place first in 
Spain, and then in Morocco, while he was there, finally escaping to Egypt 
where things were more stable. So the Nazi dimension is neither superfluous 
nor gratuitous. That was precisely the type of situation it was designed to 

>Ethics is the best without retorical violence.

Which is why you said "The gosts of Stalin and Poll Pot are applauding" 

>An important
> argument is that all this taking sides with next of kin is only short
> term benefit and disastrous in the long run.

No disagreement there, but that was not the question. The issue is whether 
quantification is a sufficient criterion for life-and-death decisions. I've 
presented reasons with examples for why it is not.


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