Sago Boulevard

Monday, July 04, 2005

More Bad Utilitarianism

While I generally prefer deontological and virtue-based ethical theories, arguments for utilitarianism (and consequentialism in general) often have a certain common-sense appeal (that is, until you think through the issues). Yet, T-Steel continues to give it a bad name. In response to my previous post, an excerpt of which I posted as a comment on his blog, T-Steel writes:
My point is that we HAVE to make hard stances/choices for the betterment of us all. Nazi-style medical research? How about grabbing murderers with life sentences and doing experiments on them? What? Uh? Sounds unpleasant? Well we have no problem killing terrorists (which I agree with) so I see no problem with human experimentation on those that lost their humanity.

Firstly, the fact that we may be inconsistent about moral considerations doesn't exempt us from them. You hear arguments of this sort often: "How can you accuse me of x? You're guilty of y and z." There's at least one important difference between killing terrorists and human experimentation on prisoners. One is presumably in self-defense. A criminal locked up behind bars, on the other hand, is hardly a threat to society at all. And I'm pretty sure we don't have the right to determine if and when he has "lost his humanity".

T-Steel's reasoning, aside from being logically unsound, is outright dangerous. If experimentation on prisoners is justified on the same grounds as self-defense from terrorists, where do we stop? A police state will almost certainly decrease domestic crime and a dictatorship might make waging "the war on terrorism" more efficient. As I mentioned before, though, it's simply not worth it. I'd rather be free.