Generalization in Ethics: An Essay in the Logic of Ethics, with the Rudiments of a System of Moral Philosophy

By Marcus George Singer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTORY

§ 1 §

The question "What would happen if everyone did that?" is one with which we are all familiar. We have heard it asked, and perhaps have asked it ourselves. We have some familiarity with the sort of context in which it would be appropriate to ask it. Thus we understand that it is either elliptical for or a prelude to saying, "If everyone did that, the consequences would be disastrous," and that this is often considered a good reason for concluding that one ought not to do that. The situations in which this sort of consideration might be advanced are of course exceedingly diverse. One who announces his intention of not voting in some election might be met by the question, "What would happen if no one voted?" If no one voted, the government would collapse, or the democratic system would be repudiated, and this is deemed by many to indicate decisively that everyone should vote. Again, one who disapproves of another's attempts to avoid military service might point out: "If everyone refused to serve, we would lose the war." The members of a discussion group, which meets to discuss papers presented by members, presumably all realize that each should take a turn in reading a paper, even one who may not want to and prefers to take part in the discussions only, because if everyone refused the club would dissolve, and there

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