Print This Post Print This Post

Chapter One contains a summary of Kamm’s two previous books, Morality, Mortality, volumes 1 and 2, and an overview of the key themes in Intricate Ethics. (Note: Kamm covered a lot of ground in this chapter, so my summary turned out also to be quite long. I experimented with making it shorter, but decided in the end to keep most of it in case it is useful to someone. I’m using her subheadings for easy navigation).

I. Introduction: Definition and Roots
Kamm defines nonconsequentialism as a normative theory that denies that the rightness or wrongness of our conduct is determined solely by the goodness or the badness of the state of affairs we would bring about. Kamm next notes that contemporary nonconsequentialism finds its spiritual roots in Kant and Ross, in particular, in Kant’s idea that we should always treat rational humanity in oneself and in others as an end-in-itself and never merely as a means, and the distinction between perfect and imperfect duties; and in Ross’s ideas of prima facie duty of beneficence, duty not to harm, duty of gratitude, and duty to do justice.
Kamm introduces one of her major theoretical moves here: Suppose there is an act that one is justified to do because of its great good consequences, even though there will also be some foreseen harms to a few people. And suppose one does the act only in order to produce the harm to the people. Kamm believes that one’s act may still be permissible (p. 13).

II. Contemporary Nonconsequentialism Outlined
Kamm explains her methodology of testing and developing theories and principles using intuitions (p. 14). The idea behind this intuitive approach is as follows: First, one uses hypothetical cases to draw out the implications of a proposed principle. At the same time, one thinks hard about these cases and arrives at some considered judgments about these cases. One then compares the implications of the proposed principle and one’s considered judgments. If the two conflict, one may try to develop alternative principles. If the two are compatible, one must still offer a theory that identifies the salient factors that underlie the principle in order for the principle to be justified. If the principle cannot be justified, then one may have to treat one’s judgments as errors. One might also attempt to develop an error theory to explain one’s mistaken judgments.

III. Prerogatives
Kamm discusses moral prerogatives, which permit an agent to act in ways that do not maximize the impartial good. Kamm suggests here that prerogatives may represent a concern for one’s autonomy rather than for the importance of one’s own interest. She also examines three ways by which prerogatives might be justified: 1) humans are psychologically predisposed to be most concerned about their own projects; 2) consequentialist morality could require an agent to sacrifice everything to maximize the impartial good; and 3) people are ends-in-themselves, and therefore should not be viewed as means by which to promote the greater good.

IV. Constraints
Kamm examines constraints, which limit what we may do in pursuit of our own good or the impartial good.

A. Harming versus Not-Aiding
Consequentialists typically hold that there is no intrinsic moral difference between harming and not-aiding (call this the Equivalence Thesis). Kamm offers a pair of Road Cases to challenge the Equivalence Thesis:

1) We know that if we drive down one road, we will kill someone who cannot move out of the way. The only alternative is to go down a side road, where we risk hurting ourselves.
2) We know that to save someone from drowning, we must go down a side road, where we risk hurting ourselves.

Kamm argues that if we think that an agent is obligated to face a larger personal risk to avoid killing rather than to avoid letting die, then this shows that the Equivalence Thesis is false (p. 18).  Kamm considers four explanations as to why there is a difference between killing and letting die:

1) In killing, we introduce a threat that was not previously present; in letting die, we do not interfere with a currently present threat.
2) In killing, we act; in letting die, we fail to act
3) (i) In killing, we cause someone to lose a life that he would have had independently of our efforts at that time;
(ii) in letting die, someone loses a life that he would have had only with our help at that time.
4) In killing, we initiate an interference with the victim; in letting die, we avoid being interfered with (by having to aid).

Kamm proposes that some versions of 1), 3) (ii), and 4) are essential properties of letting die, but not killing (p. 19).

B. Intending versus Foreseeing Harm
The Doctrine of Double of Effect (DDE) states that there is a moral constraint on intending evil (such as harm), even when the evil will be used as a means to a greater good. However, we may be permitted to employ neutral or good means to promote a greater good, even though we foresee the same evil side effects, if (a) the good is proportionate to the evil, and (b) there is no better way to achieve this good. For example, it is said to be impermissible to end a just war by intentionally killing ten civilians (Terror Bombing Case), but it could be permissible to end the war by intentionally bombing munitions factories, even foreseeing that twenty other civilians will certain die as an unintended side effect (Tactical Bombing Case).
Kamm’s innovation here is her Doctrine of Triple Effect (DTE), which distinguishes between doing something because an effect will occur and doing it in order that it occurs. For example,

Munitions Grief Case: Suppose it is militarily valuable to bomb a munitions factory only if it is not immediately rebuilt. Suppose the factory will be rebuilt unless the population is grieving as a consequence of the deaths of civilians in the bombing. Hence, we carry out the tactical bombing of the factory only because we foresee that civilians will die, even though we do not intend that they die (p. 23).

Kamm argues that it is permissible to bomb in this case, and its permissibility is due to the fact that one is acting because the effects will occur, though not intending that they occur.

V. Complications on the constraints
Kamm points out that Ross thought that when duties conflict, there is no principle for ranking them, but Kamm remarks that modern day nonconsequentialists want something more helpful than a principle that merely says, “sometimes the duty to not to harm takes precedence over aiding and sometimes it does not” (p. 23). Kamm proposes the Principle of Permissible Harm (PPH), according to which an act is permissible i) if a greater good or, ii) if a means that has a greater good as its noncausal flipside, causes lesser evil. ‘Noncausal flip side’ means that the description of the occurrence of the means to the good is also a description of the occurrence of the greater good. Kamm explains further that it is not permissible for an act iii) to require lesser evil as a means to a greater good, or iv) to directly cause a lesser evil as a side effect when it has a greater good as a mere causal effect unmediated by ii).

According to Kamm, PPH explains, for example, why it is permissible to redirect a trolley in the

Trolley Case: a runaway trolley will kill five people, if a bystander does not divert it onto another track, where he foresees, it will kill one person.

The trolley’s moving away is a means to saving the five, and this greater good is, according to Kamm, its noncausal flip side, because the description of the trolley’s moving away is just the description of the five’s being saved. Moreover, Kamm explains that the act of pressing a button that causes the redirection of the trolley is permissible by iv) because it produces the harm only by producing a means that has a greater good as its noncausal flipside. By contrast, suppose we set off a bomb to stop the trolley, and the bomb kills an innocent bystander. The bomb’s exploding has a causal effect of moving the trolley away from the five. So according to PPH, this is impermissible (p. 25).

However, PPH faces the problem of explaining the

Loop Case: a trolley is headed toward five people, and it can be redirected onto another track where one person sits. However, the track loops back toward the five. The trolley will either kill the five in its original direction, or if we redirect it, it would kill the five after it loops, were it not the case that the trolley would hit the one person and grind to a halt.

Kamm believes that it is permissible to redirect the trolley, owing to DTE; and yet, hitting the one person is a causal link to saving the five. Accordingly, Kamm proposes that PPH be revised to allow that when the trolley heads away from the people, one is left with what she calls the “structurally equivalent of the greater good,” which is what would be the greater good if only no new problems, such as looping, arose from what one has done (p. 25). Kamm argues that because the structural equivalent of the greater good produces this new problem as well as a harmful means for eliminating that new problem, redirecting the trolley is permissible.

VI. Inviolability
Kamm discusses the inviolability of persons. First, she notes that this inviolability is not absolute: PPH permits some ways of harming, and it might be overridden to save a great many people. There is also what Kamm calls the Principle of Secondary Permissibility (PSP). For example, it may in the first instance be impermissible to push an innocent bystander into a trolley that will crush his leg in order to save five other people. But, suppose the alternative is to redirect the trolley away from the five and toward the very same person, thereby killing him. Since redirecting the trolley is typically permissible if there were no other alternatives, and since it is in his interest to have his leg crushed rather than to be killed, secondarily it becomes permissible, according to Kamm, to push him into the trolley (p. 26).

Secondly, Kamm discusses the “paradox of deontology,” which is the claim that we may not violate someone’s rights in order to minimize violations of comparable rights. According to Kamm, many nonconsequentialists seek to explain this paradox using an agent-focused explanation such as we should not violate the rights of individuals because we are concerned with the agent who would have to act. Kamm extends her victim-focused explanation here, and she argues that it can be shown that this explanation is not paradoxical. In particular, Kamm argues that inviolability is a status that defines what we can permissibly do to people rather than what actually happens to them. So, if it were permissible to kill A to save the five, according to Kamm, this just means that the inviolability of all six—and of every person—would be less (p. 28).

VII. Nonabsoluteness of constraints
Kamm notes that the relationship among the constraints, the greater good, and personal goals seems to be intransitive. Let G stands for “greater good,” P for “personal goals,” C for “duty to respect a constraint,” and > for “may permissibly override.” Kamm holds that P > G and G > C may be true, and yet P > C may not be true. Kamm explains the apparent transitivity by pointing out that the relation in each premise is based on a different factor. For example, P > G reflects the entitlement of each individual as an end-in-herself not to sacrifice her personal goals for the greater good; G > C reflects the impartial weight of the good; while – (P > C) reflects the greater moral importance of minimal standards in relation to personal goals. According to Kamm, we should not expect transitivity if different factors account for the relations.

VIII. Nonconsequentialist principles for aiding and aggregation
Kamm explains how nonconsequentialists account for aiding and aggregation. Imagine a situation in which there is true scarcity of resources and suppose that there are two parties of potential recipients of these resources. When there are equal number of people in conflict who stand to gain or lose the same thing if they are aided or not aided, fairness and concern for each requires giving each side a (maximal) equal chance for the resource by using a random decision procedure. But when the numbers of people on either side are different, nonconsequentialism needs to explain whether it requires us to give each person an equal chance to be helped, or to aggregate and help the greater number.

Some people, like Taurek, hold that in such a case, there is no impersonal sense of “worse” in which it is worse if more die. Kamm argues though that the Argument for Best Outcomes illustrates how it is worse if more people die. Imagine that there are three people, A, B, and C, who will die if not helped, and A is on one side and B and C are on another side. One can either help one side or the other, but not both. According to Kamm,

1) Using Pareto optimality, it is worse if both B and C die than if only B dies, even though it is not worse for B. That is, B + C < B.
2) A world in which A dies and B survives is just as bad as a world in which B dies and A survives. That is, A = B.
3) Given 2), according to Kamm, we can substitute A for B in 1), and get the result that it is worse if B and C die than if A dies. That is, B + C < A.

Kamm claims that this shows that nonconsequentialists can evaluate states of affairs from an impartial point of view.

Kamm anticipates that someone might hold that B + C < B, A = B, but – (B +C < A), on the ground that it could be unfair to deprive someone of his equal chance to be saved. In response, Kamm gives two arguments. The Consistency Argument says that in many other cases, nonconsequentialists will not violate justice in order to save the greater number. For example, they will not ordinarily kill one person in order to save five. If so, Kamm argues that it is reasonable to believe that those who are sensitive to issues of fairness do not think fairness requires that we give A a chance against B and C.

The Balancing Argument claims that justice demands that each person on one side has her interests balance against those of one person on the opposite side; those whose interests are not balanced out in the larger group would then help determine that the larger group should be saved. Kamm reasons that if one were just to toss a coin in such a case, one would be behaving no differently than if the contest were one to one. If so, this seems to deny the equal significance of each person. The Balancing Argument also shows, according to Kamm, that aggregating the interests of many people might be required, but it is for the distinctly nonconsequentialist reason that what we owe to each individual is to weigh him against an opposing equal, rather than because we have a duty to produce the greater good.

Kamm goes on to consider how nonconsequentialists would deal with conflicts in which individuals are not equally needy. Unlike a consequentialist who may claim that we must maximize the good, Kamm argues that nonconsequentialists need not give such a response. For example,

Sore Throat Case: Imagine that there are three people, A, B, and C, and A is on one side and B and C are on another side. A and B will die if not helped, but C will have a sore throat if not helped. One can either help one side or another, but not both.

Kamm argues that in such a case, one should give A and B equal chance, because one should not take away someone’s chance to live in order to gain a small good such as preventing a sore throat in a person who is otherwise fine (p. 34). She calls the principle underlying this claim the Principle of Irrelevant Goods and she explains that whether a good is irrelevant is contextually dependent. For example, curing sore throats may be relevant if instead ear aches are at stake. Kamm notes further that she calls this type of reasoning, which gives equal consideration to each individual’s partial point of view from an impartial point of view, sobjectivity (p. 34). The reasoning behind the Sore Throat Case is what she calls Sobjectivity 1.

Kamm proceeds to point out that if a loss X is greater than the loss we each have a duty to suffer in order to save the life N (e.g., if X is losing legs), then we should prevent N + X rather than give someone else an equal chance to avoid N. For example,

Leg Case: Imagine that there are three people, A, B, and C, and A is on one side and B and C are on another side. A and B will die if not helped, but C will lose a leg if not helped. One can either help one side or another, but not both.

Kamm argues that in such a case, we should save B + C, because we do not ourselves have a duty to suffer a loss of a leg in order to save someone else’s life. She calls the reasoning behind this case Sobjectivity 2.

Kamm observes though that, according to a nonconsequentialist, one has no duty to lose three fingers in order to save a life. Yet, from an impartial point of view, we might think that giving one person an equal chance at life is more important than automatically saving another’s three fingers in combination with saving a third persons’ life. Given this, Kamm suggests that we should revise our reasoning to take into account an individual’s point of view from an impartial perspective without limiting ourselves to considering whether he has a duty to sacrifice something in order that someone else’s life be saved (p. 35). She calls this kind of reasoning, Sobjectivity 3.

Moreover, Kamm proposes that we should restrict the forms of sobjectivity discussed so far only to choosing whom to aide here and now (e.g., in an emergency room). We should, according to Kamm, adopt another form of sobjective reasoning in order to make macro decisions, e.g., whether to invest in research to cure a disease that will kill a few people or in research to cure a disease that will only wither an arm in many. She call this kind of reasoning, Sobjectivity 4, and argues that it could permit the aggregation of lesser losses and gains to many people who are not among the worse off, and, without the addition of anyone who is one of the worse off.

Furthermore, in deciding how to distribute scare resources, a nonconsequentialist theory must, according to Kamm, also consider certain characteristics that a candidate has in comparison to another. In particular, Kamm proposes a system for evaluating candidates with the following three factors—urgency, need, and outcome. Urgency is defined as how badly off someone will be if he is not helped. Need is defined as how badly someone’s life will have gone as a whole if he is not helped. Outcome is defined as the difference in expected outcome produced by the resource relative to the expected outcome if someone is not helped. On this system, the neediest may not be the most urgent. For example, suppose A will die in a month at age sixty-five unless helped now, and B will die in a year at age twenty unless helped now. On Kamm’s criteria, B is less urgent but needier. Kamm claims that when there is true scarcity, it is more important to help the neediest than the most urgent, but if scarcity is only temporary, the most urgent can be helped first (p. 38).

Regarding the factor of outcome, Kamm proposes that for nonconsequentialists at least in micro allocation settings,

1) effects on parties who do not directly need the resource should be given less weight;
2) some differences in outcome between candidates may be irrelevant because achieving them is not the goal of the particular sphere which controls the resources (e.g. that one candidate would write a novel if he received a drug should not count in favor of his getting the drug);
3) other differences in expected outcomes between candidates may be covered by the Principle of Irrelevant Goods, even if they are relevant to the sphere.

When needs and urgency conflict with outcome, Kamm suggests that rather than always favoring the worst off, we might assign multiplicative factors in accord with need and urgency by which we multiply the expected outcome of the neediest and most urgent. Kamm calls this an outcome modification procedure for allocation, and its main features can be summarized as follows:

1) First assign points for each candidate’s differential expected outcome
2) Next assign multiplicative factors for need and urgency in accordance with their importance relative to each other and to the outcomes.
3) Multiply the outcome points by these factors.
4) The candidate with the highest points gets the resources (p. 39).


To get the discussions going, here are three points for consideration:

As I have noted, Kamm believes that if there is an act that one is justified to do because of its great good consequences, even though there will also be some foreseen harms to a few people, and if one does the act only in order to produce the harm to the people, one’s act may still be permissible. For example, suppose it is justified for a bomber to blowup a munitions factory in order to win the war, even though a few children will die as a foreseen side effect (Tactical Bomber Case). But suppose that a bomber would do the act only in order to kill the children. Kamm believes that it is still permissible for the bomber to blowup the munitions factories.

It seems to me that Kamm may be using the term ‘permissible’ too loosely here. In particular, it seems that one should distinguish between permissibility from the society’s/military’s perspective and permissibility from the bomber’s perspective. From the military’s perspective, the military may permit the bomber to carry out the mission. But that kind of permission is like permitting a bullet to hit its intended target in the case of a justified killing. From the bomber’s perspective, I would argue that it is not morally permissible for the bomber to intend to kill the children. By this, I mean that the bomber should alter his intention/motivation and should do the justified act with the correct motivation.

I am uncertain that the distinction between doing something because an effect will occur and doing it in order that it occurs applies in the Munitions Grief Case. Recall that this is a case in which it is militarily valuable to bomb a munitions factory only if it is not immediately rebuilt, and the factory will be rebuilt unless the population is grieving as a consequence of the deaths of civilians in the bombing. Kamm argues that it is permissible to bomb in this case, and its permissibility is due to the fact that one is acting because the effects will occur, though one is not intending that they occur. But I can’t see how one is not intending that the civilians die.

Kamm might say that intending X means that one would try various means to bring about X, but in the Munitions Grief Case, one does not seek other means of killing the civilians. But I don’t see why it is essential to the notion of intending X that one would try various means to bring about X. Imagine a clever assassin, who gives himself only one shot at his target. If he fails, he will let his target live. It seems that when he takes the only shot at his target, he still intends to kill his target. If so, one can intend X, even if one would take only one means to bring about X.

The step in the Argument for Best Outcomes, where one substitutes A for B to get the result that it is worse if B and C die than if A dies, that is, B + C < A, is a potentially controversial step for some nonconsequentialists. In particular, a nonconsequentialist who holds that individuals are unique and incommensurable may reject Kamm’s suggestion that one can substitute B with A. As I have argued elsewhere though, nonconsequentialists do not need either the Argument for Best Outcome or the Balancing Argument in order to justify saving the greater number while respecting the separateness of persons.  The reason is because what distinguishes nonconsequentialists from consequentialists is not that numbers and aggregation do not matter, but that they matter only as one input among many in a deliberative, practical reasoning process about what a moral agent ought to do.  For a nonconsequentialist, other considerations such as an agent’s intentions, justice, and so on, could also be relevant.  Given this, nonconsequentialists need not shy away from aggregation when numbers are the only relevant factor at issue.


  1. 1. Posted by Jiang Yi | July 6, 2007 8:19 am

    I think Matthew’s summary is very useful to catch the content of Chapter 1 in short time. Anyway, this chapter is important that it could let us follow her ideas which she wants to express in this book. But I found she seldom mentioned Rawls’ view on nonconsequentialism. Could she be considered as a follower of Rawls’moral philosophy or not?

  2. 2. Posted by Arto Laitinen | July 6, 2007 12:24 pm

    Matthew (if I may),

    not an easy one to summarize, plenty of interesting stuff (a great idea to have the reading group!). Your comments A & B made me think of this:

    One reason to think that tactical bombing with bad intentions may be permissible relies on the distinction between rightness of acts and goodness of motives. The act is permissible (whatever the motive), but the motive is morally bad. (Compare: saving someone from drowning may be the right thing to do, but if one’s motives are selfish they have no moral worth).

    [Is your suggestion that if there is only one pilot available, who has bad motives, which cannot be changed in the timeframe, he ought to refuse to do the tactical bombing, because it would be impermissible with bad motives?]

    I’m not sure if Kamm relies on that distinction though. If she does, maybe it should be applicable to the Munitions Grief Case as well. So that if it is permissible to bomb in such a situation, it should be permissible with bad intentions as well (if the badness of the intentions does not affect the rightness of the act). But that threatens to undermine the whole distinction between “because” and “in order to”. I suppose there’s more on this in the next chapters. Any thoughts?

    Arto L

  3. 3. Posted by Jeff Huggins | July 6, 2007 8:31 pm

    I enjoyed reading chapter 1 and the commentary. Because I have not (unfortunately) read Ms. Kamm’s earlier works, and because the degree of intricacy of some of the principles she identifies is somewhat new to me, it is not clear (to me) whether Ms. Kamm is searching to discover logical moral principles (some of them quite intricate) that she feels actually exist deep within humans, as if humans are that logical and “digital” in our choices, OR whether she is proposing principles that are not necessarily part of human nature but that approximately reflect statistical decision-making patterns and that she feels would be good principles for everyone (all humans) to consciously adopt. Or perhaps she is doing a bit of both? This distinction matters in terms of how I understand and respond to the material. If possible, can someone answer this question for me?

  4. 4. Posted by S. Matthew Liao | July 7, 2007 1:05 am

    Thanks Jiang Yi, Arto and Jeff for your comments.

    Jiang Yi: Kamm’s nonconsequentialism is different from Rawls’s in a number of ways. For example, she is not a contractualist. Also, her endorsement of Sobjectivity 4 means that she does not think that one always has to give priority to the worse off.

    Arto: If there is only one pilot available, and the pilot can’t change his motive within the timeframe, I would say that he fails to do what he ought to do if he acts. Ought he in such a case then refuse to act? I think an affirmative answer would follow from a version of DDE, according to which one should not intend harm even if the harm will be part of a greater good. Recall that the original version of DDE says that one should not intend harm, even when the harm will be a means to a greater good. In this case, the harm is not even a (necessary) means to a greater good. So it seems that DDE or a version of it would forbid it.

    Kamm might respond, but we have already agreed that the act of bombing the munitions factory is justified because of its great good consequences, even though there will be some foreseen harms. But I would respond that the act was initially justified because the harms were described as “foreseen” harms, which on DDE would be justifiable. But once the bomber intends to act only in order to produce the harm, these harms are no longer foreseen but are instead intended. And on DDE, this is forbidden.

    Kamm might say instead that surely because of its great good consequences, this act is justified no matter what. But such a response would just be begging the question against DDE. Whether DDE is a valid principle or not is of course a separate question. But I don’t see that this example challenges it.

    Kamm does rely on the distinction between rightness of acts and goodness of motives, and you are right that the distinction may threaten her DTE. In fact, I think we will see later that Kamm will argue that it is a mistake to try to find the source of the permissibility status of an act in the intention of an agent. This is consistent with her “victim focused” nonconsequentialism, I think.

    Jeff: I’m not sure about your distinction, but Kamm believes that human intuitions can have probative force regarding moral truths, and the human rational faculty can develop valid moral principles by reflecting on these intuitions and deciding which should be kept and which are errors. See, e.g., Chapter 1 part 2 for her methodology.

  5. 5. Posted by Jeff Huggins | July 7, 2007 4:46 am

    Dr. Liao: Thank you! Some quick questions based on your recent answer:
    1. Where does Kamm believe human intuitions come from? For example, does she see them as included in, or emanating from, an evolved human nature (i.e., per Darwin, WD Hamilton, Trivers, EO Wilson, Dawkins, etc.), expressed and shaped in part by the developmental path of each living human who has them? Or some other source?
    2. Does she believe that the “moral truths” to which you refer are universal among all humans, or at least all reasonably healthy humans?
    Sorry if these questions are answered later in the book. Having these answers (if they exist) will help me interpret her comments and explanations as we proceed through the chapters. Thanks!

  6. 6. Posted by Brian Berkey | July 7, 2007 10:27 am

    Jeff – Your question about where our moral intuitions “come from” is an important one, methodologically speaking, with respect to Kamm’s work, and moral philosophy more generally. As far as I know, she doesn’t attempt to answer this question in any detail (though I haven’t read beyond Ch.1 of Intricate Ethics yet), despite the fact that it would be extremely helpful to her case for her methodological approach to provide an answer that suggests that we are justified in believing our intuitions about cases to be (at least generally) reliable guides to morality’s actual requirements. I myself think that her approach is extremely problematic, first for the rather obvious reason that people’s intuitions about cases often conflict (my intuitions, for example, are much more consequentialist than Kamm’s), and more importantly because very often our intuitions are influenced by factors that, far from being among those that we would think might help us get closer to the moral truth, are actually at least fairly likely to lead us astray (e.g. cultural influences, ideology in Marx’s sense – which will tend to endorse the normative status quo, and by way of that the status quo more generally, etc). So, if we are to accept Kamm’s methodology, she should provide us with some reason to think that her intuitions are in fact a reliable guide to the truth. I’m not sure what such a reason could be, though perhaps one could be provided.

    Matthew – I’m inclined to agree with your point about the Munitions Grief Case. I’m inclined to side with Sidgwick on many of these issues, so I tend to have difficulty accepting many of the distinctions that Kamm, as well as proponents of the classical DDE attempt to make to make (e.g. “in order to” vs. “because”, “intending” vs. merely “foreseeing”). Still, I think Kamm’s treatment of this case is particularly difficult to accept. The response that you suggest on Kamm’s behalf would seem to put the bar for intending a consequence implausibly high, such that in order to intend that it occur one must be intensely focused on bringing it in particular about; it must figure prominently in one’s thought process regarding what he will do (your willingness to try multiple means of bringing it about criterion is helpful in highlighting this, but since intention is a mental state I think it misses the point). But this seems implausible, since at the very least I often (I’m inclined to think always, despite Kamm’s arguments that we can intend the ends without intending the means) intend the means to my ends despite the fact that it is the ends that I am focused on and that guide my decision-making process.

  7. 7. Posted by John Alexander | July 7, 2007 1:16 pm

    I have to admit that I am a bit confused. I am going to reread this chapter. But on a first reading, it seems to me that Kamm is being ad hoc in her introduction of various principles that are designed to move us away from consequentialism. Or, is she relying on our intuitions to provide the justification for these principles. If so, if I do not have these intuitions am I then justified in not accepting her principles and relying the consequences to determine how I should act, or am I simply ill-equipped to handle the responsibility of resolving moral issues.

    Also, I am confused on the extent to which we can use the consequences to determine how we should act. Kamm argues that a deontologist does not soley rely on the consequences of an action to determine what we should do, so it seems that the consequences do play some role. What is the demarcation between when we can be consequentialists and when we should be utilzing her deontogical principles? If it is our intuitions that provide this demarcation then some argument needs to be forthcoming that justifies the privlidged position these intuitions play.

  8. 8. Posted by Guy Kahane | July 7, 2007 6:58 pm

    Kamm’s methodology raises very many questions, and over the years she has done little to directly answer them. There are a few remarks and a footnote in this book. She says a only little bit more in the introduction to her previous two volumes.

    Kamm is not a meta-ethicist, and to a great extent the value of her approach is demonstrated by her first-order achievements in this book and previous work. She is hardly the first to appeal to intuitions — there is a sense in which most utilitarians also rely on such appealsso. Sidgwick certainly did!

    One of the things that are unique about Kamm’s methodology is the extent that she appeals to intuitions. Sidgwick was happy with a handful, Ross with quite a few more, but Kamm is remarkably persistent in pursuing intuitive nuances and identifying (and labelling) what she takes to be subtle normative differences between cases. She is certainly different from Rawls (and most other ethicists) in not employing the method of reflective equilibrium in a way that involves fairly rapid movement from intuition to principle and back again, with many intuitions being dropped fairly quickly when they don’t seem to fit some suggested principle. Kamm gives a far greater priority to intuitions, and covers a far greater range of them before coming up with a ‘covering’ principle.

    It seems to me that if one accepts that moral intuitions have a role to play in substantive moral thought — and I doubt that many truly deny this — then it is hard to see why it should be better to work with a narrow rather than broad range of intuitions.

    Kamm briefly suggests two ways of understanding what she is doing. One is that she is tracking a ‘psychologically real’ mental structure — she approvingly cites Mark Hauser’s claim that we might all share an innate ‘moral grammar’. The other suggestion is that she is tracking what is implictly presupposed by our responses to various cases. (There are views of mental content on which there wouldn’t be a real distinction between the two.)

    This means that Kamm consciously sees herself as mapping our existing moral scheme. This raises the question some of you have already raised — the question of the move from what we think about moral matters (assuming for the moment that Kamm is really tracking that, rather than an utterly personal set of responses) to what is actually true. But Kamm (unlike, say, Ross) is quite happy to admit that there is this gap. She thinks that there is a further stage that is required once we’ve identified the deep principles that guide moral thought — we need to ground them in some plausible set of values or theory. She warns us that she will do rather little of this in this book. It’s a pity she doesn’t say more about this further stage. In assessing whether the principle we identify are justified, can we help appealing once again to our intuitions? If not, then what could we appeal to? (Robert Audi’s recent defence of ‘Kantian intuitionism’ is one possible answer.)

  9. 9. Posted by Jeff Huggins | July 8, 2007 6:40 am

    Regarding Kamm’s use of intuition, and the helpful comments by Kahane (in particular re “ground”-ing), I believe that the latest science regarding morality, combined with other scientific understanding, combined with logic (to help pull the pieces of the puzzle together), leads to a conclusion that morality is most foundationally “about” survival from one generation to the next, to the next, and so on. Put another way, the “effective” function of human social-moral faculties and dynamics is to facilitate successful survival from one generation to the next, on average. We (humans) are interdependent beings in a social species, and we have evolved faculties and means that help us, on average (and sometimes very roughly!), succeed in surviving from one generation to the next. Happiness (and the quest for) plays a vital role as well, of course, as an important motivator and icing on the cake of survival. This view provides a grounding, and our evolved moral faculties (those having anything to do with human social-moral nature) are the platforms for the intuitions that Kamm tries to uncover. This is not to say, of course, that everybody’s intuitions are precisely identical (they aren’t), or even that some are not contradictory to the general life-affirming flow, but the mainstreams of human intuition do point, I believe, toward survival from one generation to the next, and morality can be understood, well, by understanding it in this way.

  10. 10. Posted by S. Matthew Liao | July 8, 2007 12:38 pm

    Jeff: Just to add to what has been said, Kamm will discuss the methods and results of cognitive psychology for her intuitive approach in Chapter 14, but I don’t think she will look at intuitions from an evolutionary perspective. Also, Kamm thinks that if an intuition is not shared by others, then one must be able to provide an error theory regarding why others do not share this intuition, or else this intuition may be in error. In other words, intuitions are starting points for moral inquiries, but Kamm does not think that they should end there – here I am echoing some of Guy’s comments later. Let me say also that although Kamm does not defend the evidentiary force of intuitions in any systematic way, epistemologists such as Timothy Williamson, Ernest Sosa, Michael Lynch, and others, have. So, it might be worth taking a look at some of these works.

    Brian and John: Kamm would, I think, ask you to specify the cases to which you have different intuitions than she does. Then, she would think about whether it is a genuine conflict of intuition or just a verbal conflict. If genuine, she would then try to come up with an error theory as to why your intuition may be in error. Failing that, she may give up her intuition. If you follow her intuitive approach, she would think that you should do the same.

    Brian: in fact, Kamm develops DTE in order to show that one can intend the ends without intending the means. So she would agree with you about that point. I think she’ll discuss this in greater detail in later chapters (using a party case example).

    John: Consider the Transplant Case. Is one permitted to take the kidney of a healthy person to save five other people? If the intuition/judgment is no, then this case may begin to demarcate the limits of consequentialist thinking. Of course, consequentialists may be able retell the story in terms of consequences. But then they would be providing an error theory regarding this intuition and its putative implication. Seen in this light, Kamm is similarly trying to accommodate the (consequentialist) intuition that aggregation matters, but in a nonconsequentialist way.

  11. 11. Posted by John Alexander | July 8, 2007 3:32 pm

    Thank you for your response. Couple of additional comments. I should point out that I am not necessarily opposed to deontological ethical theories although I do have a tendency to sound like I am defending consequentialism.
    1)There seems to be a relevant difference in the status of the moral agents deciding to throw the switch in (the non-loop version of) the trolley problem and a physician taking the kidney of a person to save other five lives. The difference is in the intentionality of the agents and here I think the principle of double effect works. I am not clear why we need to rely on a initial intuition in order to understand when utilzing the principle of double effect is justified. This would seem to be an example of a Rawlsian considered judgment which is radically different then an intuition.
    2) I am somewhat of a skeptic concerning the role of intuitions in epistemology or ethics. I know that some philsophers like to treat them like some treat perceptual data as evidence of the validity of the perception regarding the object that causes the data. But, even in theories of perception something is needed to tie the data to the object and this is what I think is missing in much of the work of ethicists who rely on intutions as having some epistemic force that warrants us in adopting certain moral principles. The problem with ‘error’ theory is that it presupposes that in conflicts of intutions one intution is the correct one, or that there is a correct intutition. (I suppose that in a given case every intuition could be wrong.) Why cannot both contradictory intuitions be valid? I know that logic says that -(x & -x), but what does this have to do with intuitions? Are intuitions subject to the basic rules of reason? If so, then it would seem that we are moving into a Rawlsian perspective where the force of a considered judgement is based on factors other then simply having an intuition. This is the issue I have with Kamm (I have yet to reread the 1st chapter), she simply seems to posit moral principles without any attempt at justifying them other then they seem to square with our intuitions, or what our intuitions should be. This seems to me to be an ad hoc approach.
    3) If intuitions have some epistemic role in justifying moral principles why not simply stop at the intution? Why bring in a principle to explain and justify the intuition? This seems either unnecessary if intuitions have the force some seem to think that they have, or question begging if a principle is need to justify the intuition, but the intuition is necessary to justify the principle. Or are the principles ‘deeper’ then the intutions within a conceptual framework? Is this Kamm’s position? IF so, then she is mapping out an ontology of (moral)conceptual frameworks and this would be interesting.

  12. 12. Posted by Jeff Huggins | July 8, 2007 3:39 pm

    Thank you professors Liao, Berkey, and Kahane, and others:

    I agree that intuitions vary (to a degree) among people. If my background (partly involving research with people) is typical, I suspect that, regarding any given moral case, the results (on a large number of humans) would show a mainstream of answers along with many different variations, e.g., roughly in a bell curve or in multiple bell curves superimposed on each other. The variability is probably greatest with some of the more difficult, nuanced, and rare/contrived cases. So, how to explain the mainstream answers AND the variations? Based on what I’ve read, which is only chapter 1 as well as this thread, I’m still curious as to whether Kamm is seeking to find (and claim) highly logical moral principles (which sometimes involve exceptions to exceptions, etc.) that, as she sees them, exist within all humans? If so, what form might an “error theory” take to explain variations? Will the “error theory” include such things as: Variation A exists because Person A drank wine before responding; and Var B exists because Person B imagined himself looking into the scared faces of the five people he would save while imagining that he could only see the back of the person he would push under the trolley; and Var C exists because Person C wasn’t raised well?

    I agree wholeheartedly that intuitions can tell us a lot that can inform any theory of morality. And, I agree that we should understand them. But, I doubt that humans have specific exacting logical rules etched somehow inside of us. (Again, I don’t know if Kamm claims this. My apologies if she doesn’t.) We do have social-moral “faculties” and enabling biological mechanisms, and certain types of predispositions, but (in my view) they don’t exist in the form of specific logical rules as we normally think of moral rules. Explaining the variations between these Kammian types of specific rules and the varying intuitive human answers using an “error theory” such as that mentioned above does not seem very compelling. There are other theories that can explain mainstream-and-variations as part of the theories themselves, and they are grounded in a scientific understanding of how humans most likely came to be. Perhaps that’s where Kamm sees intuitions as being grounded, i.e., in evolved human nature? If anyone can help further clarify Kamm’s view for me on these issues, that would be most helpful. Looking forward to reading chapter 2.

  13. 13. Posted by Tom Douglas | July 8, 2007 4:22 pm

    I have a question regarding Kamm’s attempted explanations of the permissibility/impermissibility of the agent’s action in the various cases presented in her discussion of DDE, DTE and PPH. In several of her explanations she seems to flip between citing structural features of the case (the causal and constitutive relationships that obtain between the act, the greater good, and the lesser evil) and citing psychological properties of the agent (intentions, causal explanations of the agent’s behaviour). For example, in explaining the permissibility of the diverting the trolley in the Loop case, Kamm refers both to
    (a) the fact that the evil is caused by the structural equivalent of the greater good, or by a means which has the structural equivalent of the greater good as its noncausal flip side (pp25-6), and,
    (b) the fact that the agent diverts the trolley because of the evil, but does not intend the evil (p25).
    (She also, of course, cites various moral principles which could be coupled with (a) or (b) to yield a full explanation.)

    But it seems to me that there is only a contingent relationship between (a) and (b). Though we are inclined not to attribute an intention to inflict evil to the agent in Loop (or in any other case with the same structure), the agent could, it seems to me, intend the evil in such cases. (For example, the agent in Loop could see it as an advantage of her diverting the trolley that it will run over the person on the track.) Whether she does seems to depend in part on what mental states she has at and before the time of her pressing the button. But these mental states are not (clearly) specified in the description of the case.

    Since the causal/constitutive structure of the case and the agent’s psychology can come apart in this way, it seems that Kamm must decide which explains the permissibility of diverting the trolley. Regarding Loop, I wasn’t clear which way she would go.

    More generally, I wasn’t sure whether Kamm thinks that (im)permissibility (i) is always to be explained by reference to structural facts, (ii) is always to be explained by psychological facts about the agent, or (iii) may be explained either by structural or psychological facts (or both) depending on the case. I suspect (iii), but this leaves me unsure about what is meant to be doing the explaining in specific cases such as Loop.

    Kamm’s later comment that she intends to adopt a victim-centred rights-based approach suggests that neither the psychological facts about the agent nor the causal/constitutive structure of the case ultimately explains (im)permissibility. Rather, this is explained by the rights and moral status of the victim(s). But clearly, either the structural or psychological facts, or perhaps both, are still meant to play some role in the explanation. Presumably, whether the victim’s right is breached in a particular case will depend on the structure of the case, or the psychology of the agent, or both. But I’m not sure which. Perhaps this is something that will become clear later.

  14. 14. Posted by Brian Berkey | July 8, 2007 9:23 pm


    You bring up a number of interesting issues related to Kamm’s remarks about what explains (im)permissibility. As Matthew points out, Kamm claims that bombing in the Munitions Grief Case is permissible due to the fact that one is acting because the effects will occur, though not intending that they occur. So she does, at least here, seem to think that one’s mental states can affect the permissibility of his acts. But as you point out, one could bomb with the intention that the effects occur; and I’m strongly inclined to think that whether or not one has this intention is irrelevant to the permissibility of the act. This is especially clear, I think, with respect to the Loop Case. If diverting the trolley in that case is only permissible if one does not intend the death of the one on the looping track, then if the person on the looping track is someone that one despises and would like to kill, such that one could not possibly, psychologically speaking, divert the trolley without intending his death, it will be impermissible to save the five. But this seems clearly wrong; diverting the trolley still seems permissible, and both the structural facts criterion and the kind of victim-centered approach that Kamm says she intends to pursue would seem to be able to account for this. If one can permissibly be killed in order to save five in the ordinary Loop Case, then the fact that the person who diverts the trolley has a certain mental state shouldn’t affect the permissibility of that killing.

    Perhaps Kamm’s view is that it is the structural features of a case that ultimately determine the permissibility of acts, but also that whenever an act is permissible given the structural features, it will be at least possible to perform the act without intending any of its harmful side-effects. On this view one’s actual mental states make no difference to permissibility, so that diverting the trolley is still permissible in my altered version of the Loop Case. The permissibility can be partially explained by the fact that one could (in some non-psychological sense of could) have diverted it without intending the death of the one. Sound plausible?

  15. 15. Posted by Jeff Huggins | July 8, 2007 10:24 pm

    Brian and Tom,

    Regarding the roles of the intention and mental state of the agent, answers to those questions can be informed by the following, I think: The answers should involve (address?) two questions, among others: First, what would happen if everyone did it? (Kant); and Second, how is the lesson/example component of the intention-action combination accounted for by the various theories? Indeed, the latter question, I think, involves the question of differences (and relationships) between consequentialism and non-consequentialism themselves. When someone acts under certain conditions and with a certain mental view or intention, are the only “consequences” that are counted in the equation the living or dead bodies resulting immediately from the incident and action? Or, are the following also considered to be “consequences” of the action in any way: the “lesson” conveyed to others; the precedent set; the “example”? By asking “what would happen if everyone did this?” (i.e., did the combined intention-action) and by considering likely future ripple-consequences of the “lesson” that was “given” to others (of the intention-action and how it was responded to), you may be able to tip the scales in favor of one conclusion or the other. People, i.e., third parties, learn (in some ways) from examples they see. And consequences, of course, don’t cease one week after an action. I hope this is helpful in some way. Sorry if not. Good luck.

  16. 16. Posted by Tom Douglas | July 9, 2007 2:23 pm

    Thanks for your comments Brian and Jeff.

    Yes, I agree that it seems implausible to account for permissibility in Loop by reference to the agent’s actual intentions, since the act would still be permissible if the harm were intended. And I like your suggested interpretation of Kamm according to which it is only the possibility of not intending the harm – which perhaps is determined by the structure of the case – that is relevant to the explanation. (It will be interesting to see if Kamm eventually endorses something like this.) The question then is whether the possible intentions really add anything to the structural explanation. If not, perhaps intentions could be left out of the explanation altogether.

    It seems to me that referring to hypothetical consequences (such as what would happen if everyone did something) might, as you suggest, turn out to be a good way of explaining (im)permissibility. And it may be that such consequences should always be part of the explanation. I doubt, though, that the latter would be the case on Kamm’s methodology (as I understand it from pp14-15). On her approach, whether hypothetical consequences should be invoked will depend, I think, on whether they track facts about (im)permissibility, which are to be identified in the first instance through reflection on the cases.

    Regarding knock-on consequences such the effects of setting a precedent, I suspect Kamm would want to rule these out as potential explanatory factors since I presume her cases are meant to be causally-insulated from the rest of the world. It seems possible, though, that our intuitions about the cases are influenced by our assumptions about knock-on effects even if there are supposed to be none, meaning that the intuitions should be handled with care…

  17. 17. Posted by Jeff Huggins | July 9, 2007 5:22 pm


    Thanks very much for your helpful response. Regarding the second half of your response, i.e., re knock-on consequences and intuition, … I agree that intuitions should be handled with (i.e., interpreted with) great care, for a variety of reasons of course. That said, you mention as a possibility that human intuitions may be influenced by our assumptions about knock-on effects. I agree, and I think it’s much more than a possibility. If I understand the terms correctly (e.g., “knock-on”), I do think that our human psychology, intuitions, and behaviors are influenced by the fact that we know (or at least sense) — consciously, “subconsciously,” and “intuitively” — that, if we choose an action that creates a consequence for someone, it is at least a possibility that they or someone else could someday do something similar to us. Would we like it if they did? Mirror neurons and/or their related mechanisms are at least part of this equation. (Aside from the question of direct reciprocity from person-to-person, I’m talking here about lessons, example, precedence, way of thinking, and related matters.)

    Consider one of the simpler Trolley Cases, for example: At least one of the reasons that someone might choose to save five and endanger (effectively, kill) one by switching a run-away trolley from one track to the other is that people can understand (at least a little) that they are at risk if they choose to walk on a trolley track. A person wouldn’t want to be sacrificed just because he was walking on an inactive (he thought) stretch of track, but he can at least understand the situation. On the other hand, a person walking on a bridge (over a track), or standing safely to the side of a track, does not expect to be abruptly pushed from behind by another person onto a track. The very thought of such a thing greatly threatens our human sense of stability and control and “right” to life, even more so than does the notion of walking on a side track and then getting hit by a trolley that has been switched to that track. If we permit (in our minds) the idea of pushing people onto tracks, or into roads, or whatever, we intuitively realize that “all hell will break loose” and that our very way of understanding the world, and our “security” in the world, will have to change. This “intuitive” knowledge (i.e., leading to a choice to switch the track to save five, but not leading to a choice to push a bystander in order to save five) reflects, I would argue, the “intuitive” understanding on the part of an agent that “if I were the third party, would I want this done to me, or would I at least be ‘comfortable’ with it and ‘understand’?” We intuitively know that we do have to live with each other, and we intuitively want at least some senses of control and security over our lives, and we know that people do learn from our example (and we from theirs), and we know that, if we adopt a way of thinking, other people can and may adopt it too. I.e., this type of knock-on consequence is real, and it is (also) really a part of our intuitions, I believe.

    Thus, if my understanding (including of terms) is correct, and if we are searching for a moral theory that is as sound and accurate as possible, then, given the choice, wouldn’t it make more sense to choose one that understands and reflects this aspect of human behavior and “intuition” rather than one that disallows it from being part of the explanation? Of course, I’m not quite sure yet what Kamm is saying in these regards.

  18. 18. Posted by D Stephen Heersink | July 9, 2007 9:17 pm

    First of all, Kamm had better use accurate language. Kantian morality is not “ethics.” Ethics is virtue theory, based on Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics. Secondly, Barbara Herman’s The Practice of Moral Judgment (1993) is the standard contemporary Kantian moral theorist. Thirdly, the application of Kantian moral principles to politics was attempted by John Rawl’s Theory of Justice (1971), and many of the criticisms of Rawls’ work applies to Kantianism in general.

    The first mistake is to assume humans act only “rationally,” which all forms of Kantianism mistake. The second mistake is that any human can act “unconditionally impartial,” behind a “veil of ignorance,” or some similar impossible nostrum. The third mistake is to assume only categorical imperatives have “moral grounding.” The injunction, “Do No Harm,” is not derived from a categorical imperative, but from self-referential considerations into analogous situations, and “Do No Harm” is the only moral imperative I know that is moral, proscriptive, universal, and indubitable — without a bit of categorical logic. The fourth mistake, similar to Aquinas’s Natural Law theory, mistakes “instrumental reasoning” (e.g., practical reason) for the “means and ends” of natural objects, e.g., persons. Valuation of ends by means is perfectly valid, but evaluation of a person (fact) as a “means” (valuation) crosses the Fact/Value Divide. On these four mistakes alone, the Kantian moral system fails.

    Granted, it’s “intuitional” similarity with the Golden Rule has kept it alive, usually among religionists, and particularly Lutherans. (Wouldn’t Kant have loved that?) But even Kant’s transcendental deity is merely a hypothesis to ground his morality, because the absence of “consequential” considerations from the hyper-rational categorical imperative leaves one with what? No judgment follows from any categorical imperative as to its suitability, ergo, a need for a mythic deity (just in case)!

    As modern moral and ethical thought evolves, clearly some of morality’s demands, such as “duty,” and “self-control” have features that must be incorporated into our overall axiological systems. But all the deontological systems are entirely inadquate to the task “in themselves,” whether utilitarianism or categorical imperatives. As James Q. Wilson observed in 1993, the “moral sense” comes from many processes, including empathy, fairness, duty, and self-control. Even a virtue theorist such as myself holds the failsafe position of “Do No Harm,” as a duty one cannot trespass. Where two or more harms are involved, the choices will have to be weighted and valued on a host of considerations, not a single trump card.

    Clearly, empathy, as the Scottish philosophers suggested, plays a significant role in our axiology. But that “analogous emotion” also precludes the “veil of ignorance,” and the standard of “hyper-impartiality.” Or consequentialism alone. The standard “moral puzzle” is to save either (i) one’s beloved, or family member, or (ii) five strangers. Anyone who chooses (ii) by some artificial calculus is not human. And to presume otherwise is to DEMAND more than ethics or morality SHOULD.

    Philosophy teaches us to seek wisdom, not merely reason. The difference between all the moral deontological systems, based on hyper-rations, versus the smartness of virtue theory is prudence. As long as axiologists hold humans to improbable, if not impossible, standards, such as utilitarians and Kantians, no one is paying attention to either ethics or morality. One encounter with Peter Singer has people running for their humanity, Barbara Herman, while Aristotle, Solomon, Foote, Wilson, et alia offer sane suggestions of making “right choices.”

    So, to answer your final question, should our moral sense reflect our understanding or human behavior and intuition, the answer is an unqualified YES. And utilitarianism, divine commands, and Kantianism reflect neither our biological natures or our bases for valuing the best choices. But even T. H. Huxley avoided the Naturalistic Fallacy. Ethics must take our biological natures into account, but not then make them morally or ethically normative, lest we get Social Darwinism of Herbert Spencer. But I think Wilson’s on the right track by his pluralist approach, which incorporates all valuation factors, motivations, and systems, rather than “fit” a single rational construction.

  19. 19. Posted by Jeff Huggins | July 13, 2007 8:58 pm

    To D. Stephen Heersink, regarding your comments,

    Given constraints on time and space, it would be impractical for me to address all of your recent comments (many of which I think I agree with, though some of which perhaps not). And, I’m not an expert on Kant himself. But, I wanted to comment in particular on one theme that seems present in your thoughts . . . .

    I also agree (if this is part of your point) that few, if any, moral principles ‘exist’ as part of the universe itself in some sort of context-less, disembodied, ‘be-rational-only, please’ sense. Principles must, I believe, be understood in context, and can be ‘grounded’ in and explained by a larger context if indeed they are valid. For example, viewed this way, the Golden Rule (in its various closely-related versions) is one central outcome of human reciprocity, which itself is an outcome of our evolutionary development as social beings of a particular type, which itself is an outcome of … etc. And, the Kantian notion (I think) that some action is only OK if there would be a good/acceptable outcome if everyone did it, should be understood in the context within which it is valid and not thought of as if it exists in some sort of context-less, disembodied, absolute sense. Put simply and very imprecisely (and at risk of misinterpretation), the valid aspects of this principle are applicable and beneficial, to the degree that they are wise in a wide range of situations, because of the ways humans sense, think, and ‘work’; because of the social nature of our species; and (importantly) because of the ‘effective’ role that those aspects play as part of our overall social-moral dynamics to help facilitate human survival. In other words, valid principles or ‘dynamics’ can be grounded, and if a principle or ‘dynamic’ can’t be grounded, it probably doesn’t exist merely by virtue of itself. If it can’t be grounded, it might only exist as such in the human imagination. And, it may not even be a good idea.

    A recent post of mine (number 7 in the Kamm chapter 2 thread) expresses more of my views, and earlier posts do as well.

  20. 20. Posted by Rebecca Roache | July 18, 2007 8:36 am

    I am not sure that I am convinced by Kamm’s argument that killing is worse than letting die. I would be interested to hear what others think of it. In particular, I am confused by her comment that, should anyone wish to demonstrate that killing and letting die are morally equivalent, finding examples of killing and letting die in which properties usually associated only with one are found in the other would not be sufficient to demonstrate their moral equivalence per se: ‘it would show just the reverse, since it would show that one of the behaviors (but not the other) has this particular morally significant exportable essential property.’ (p. 19)

    It seems to me that this ‘would show just the reverse’ only if we are all agreed that the property in question is indeed essential to either killing or letting die, and that its being essential is morally significant. But someone who disagreed that there is a significant moral distinction between killing and letting die is unlikely to concede this.

  21. 21. Posted by Guy Kahane | July 18, 2007 11:28 pm

    Rebecca, as I understand Kamm’s point (and at the moment I’m relying on your remarks in doing that), her claim is that the normative property that makes this distinction significant might be not simply a property of killing vs. letting die, but of one of killing’s essential properties. Call it X. It might then be possible for X to be present in some instances of letting die, though only contingently. And if in such cases the distinction would make no normative difference, this would not be sufficient to show it doesn’t in general.

    This would not beg the question. Those who deny the normative significance of the distinction don’t usually deny that the distinction itself can be drawn, and that killing thus has essential properties that letting die doesn’t.

Post a comment

Name: (required)

Email Address: (required) (will not be published)



(Spamcheck Enabled)

This work is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0.