Taking Life: Three Theories on the Ethics of Killing

Taking Life: Three Theories on the Ethics of Killing

Taking Life: Three Theories on the Ethics of Killing

Taking Life: Three Theories on the Ethics of Killing

Synopsis

When and why is it right to kill? When and why is it wrong? Torbjorn Tannsjo examines three theories on the ethics of killing in this book: deontology, a libertarian moral rights theory, and utilitarianism. The implications of each theory are worked out for different kinds of killing: trolley-cases, murder, capital punishment, suicide, assisted death, abortion, killing in war, and the killing of animals. These implications are confronted with our intuitions in relation to them, and our moral intuitions are examined in turn. Only those intuitions that survive an understanding of how we have come to hold them are seen as "considered" intuitions. The idea is that the theory that can best explain the content of our considered intuitions gains inductive support from them. We must transcend our narrow cultural horizons and avoid certain cognitive mistakes in order to hold considered intuitions. In this volume, suitable for courses in ethics and applied ethics, Tannsjo argues that in the final analysis utilitarianism can best account for, and explain, our considered intuitions about all these kinds of killing.

Excerpt

When I was in my late teens I was already interested in philosophy. But the interest was theoretical. I wanted to know what it means to know something, whether we can know at all, and, if so, how. However, two simultaneous personal experiences drew me to moral philosophy. Like all Swedish men, I was conscripted to military service, and my gut feeling was to refuse to serve. I did not want to kill other people. It seemed to me wrong, if not in principle, so at least in practice. There were no serious military threats facing Sweden, and if the situation would change there was no guarantee that I would turn out to be a just rather than an unjust combatant. Moreover, the kind of values for which I was supposed to kill, such as democracy and national independence, were better served, I thought, through non-violent action. This was during the heyday of the civil rights movement in the American South. My arguments were met with no sympathy from the military authorities. They threatened me with jail if I was not prepared to serve.

At the same time my father became ill. It soon turned out to be serious. He suffered from cancer in his liver with metastases in many places of his body. The prediction was that he should be dead within a few months. This prophecy was borne out by reality. My father reacted with good sense and courage to the prophecy. He was . . .

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