[Buddha-l] Ethical Dilemmas

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Fri Jun 11 05:57:37 MDT 2010


> Nope, ought is a prescription a priori.

Prescriptive, yes -- and hence prescribing for future actions, to be 
considered PRIOR to taking action. But a priori? Not necessarily. For 
instance a legal code makes prescriptive rules: You ought to stop at a red 
light. This is prescriptive, but not an a priori.

> I think it is and I have some company, f.i. G.E. Moore

If you are not uncomfortable being in G.E. Moore's company, so be it. 
Moore's realism was truly naive. He was delivering a guest lecture at a 
university, and when questioned by the audience about his realism, he 
pointed to the skylight in the ceiling and said he knew certain things to be 
true and real just as he knew that the sun, though not visible through the 
opaque glass, was providing the light illiuminating the room. It was then 
pointed out to him that behind the skylight was an artificial light; it was 
not a window to the outside.

To say that different situations are different is not automatically 
relativism. You think killing a terrorist is the same as killing an innocent 
person. Is it the same as killing a wolf? A lamb? A cockroach? Body lice? 
Viruses? Bacteria? Is it the killing that is the same or different, or WHOM 
is being killed, and by whom? If the latter, then the line between 
terrorists, innocent people and body lice is arbitrary. Only humans? Then 
you have to rethink your universalism and professions of non-prejudice, 
since you would be clearly anthrocentric.

>> you don't allow just anyone to represent Holland on
>> the football team at the World Cup
>> http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/06/magazine/06Soccer-t.html?ref=magazine
> Believe me I would, I was just about to ask Richard.

If you need surgery, would you invite Richard to do that as well, or would 
you prefer a trained surgeon?

> I think innocence or guilt is irrelevant here.

And thus something other than ethics is at play.

>That is the justice
> department. History is not just,

But we are talking about ethics, not history (nor Joy's Mother Nature -- you 
folks certainly do worship at a variety of pujas).

>it doesn't protect the innocent or
> punish the wrongdoers.

Which is why people need to take up the responsibility of ethical 
consideration of their actions, since neither history, nor nature, nor the 
other guy, will do it for you. Of course, you can choose not not protect 
innocent people nor curtail wrongdoers -- but then don't pretend such 
negligence has ethical justification.

> Should we help the poor and victims of
> suppression? Of course. I should do it right now, but 'ought' implies
> 'can'. I cannot remove the Burmese gunta, that's why they're still there.

If you want to undermine them, you could work toward that end. You don't 
know how effective you might be until you make the effort.

One can't personally do everything for obvious reasons. The question is what 
can one do, and what should one do?

> Nor for decisions about cookies. Is it justified to kill a terrorist?
> According to utilism it is OK, according to Kant or Habermas it is not.
> I tend to agree with Kant,

This is a luxury bred by a certain isolation from reality -- where food is 
pre-killed and attractively packaged waiting at the local store, jack 
nickelsons are handling the truth, and we think the bad stuff is happening 
to "them" over there, not here. After centuries of inter-European wars, two 
world wars, massive genocides of the 20th century (Hitler, Stalin, etc.), 
Europe's sudden enlightened pacifism is an ephemeral bubble already 
obsolete, an understandable historical anomaly largely a consequence of 
European recognition that the sun does finally set on the British Empire and 
the the days of Imperialism are over.

>because the utilist approach would entail
> that you may kill anyone who is suspected to kill more than one person.
> This would make a very unsafe and violent society. A utilism that
> reckons with longterm consequences comes always very close to a 
> deontology.

You are still thinking in numerical units, not flesh-and-blood people 
(despite your anthrocentrism -- your anthrocentrism ultimately reduces 
people to numbers). This is not ethics, but arithmetic.


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