Chapter 9 builds on the topic, introduced in chapter 8, of what happens when there are conflicts between different rights. Previously, Kamm has considered what we (or, ‘an agent’) ought to do when faced with a conflict between different people’s negative rights, and has argued that we should minimise transgression of rights. The discussion of rights becomes more complicated in chapter 9, as she introduces consideration of positive rights, and also looks at the factors (including, but not limited to, interests) that should sway us in the direction of according one right rather than another.

[Insert title here]
By Mike Otsuka

Heard of any good titles of articles in moral, legal, or political philosophy lately? (I’m just after good titles. Never mind the quality of the articles themselves.) Here are a couple off the top of my head:

Hillel Steiner, “Silver spoons and golden genes: talent differentials and distributive justice”, in The Genetic Revolution and Human Rights (OUP, 1999)


Peter Vallentyne, “Of mice and men: equality and animals”, Journal of Ethics (2005)

Steiner’s piece is on the relevance of nature and nurture to distributive justice. (Steiner laments that it was Thomas Nagel rather than he who coined the phrase “silver spoons and golden genes”.) Vallentyne’s is on whether egalitarians ought to massively redistribute resources from human beings to lesser animals in order to compensate the latter for their relatively unimpressive lives.

The title of this article …

G. A. Cohen, “If you’re an egalitarian, how come you’re so rich?” Journal of Ethics (2000)

…was good enough to end up on the cover of the author’s next book. I’m still waiting for someone to write a companion piece entitled “If you’re a libertarian, how come your income is so average?”.

But the best title I can think of is…

Chapter 8 is intended to give some account of rights based on an independent, and hence potentially explanatorily prior, account of non-consequentialism. Non-consequentialism is to be understood as Kamm defined it early in the book: the denial that right and wrong action is determined by the goodness and badness of states of affairs, where states of affairs need not be pure outcomes but may include acts which have value or disvalue. The chapter is very long, with arguments, examples and bare assertions of intuitively plausible claims densely interwoven. In places this makes it difficult to follow the precise dialectical role that is being played by the assembled components and to decide whether one is being offered a single argument that extends over several pages, or a number of distinct arguments all for the same conclusion. For these reasons, whilst I shall try to give some flavour of the direction of the chapter as a whole, it will be a severe abbreviation, with significant omissions, and the arguments I extract may only partially represent the considerations that Kamm assembles.

The Switches and Skates Case:

By sheer accident, an empty trolley, nobody aboard, is starting to roll down a certain track. Now, if you DO NOTHING ABOUT the situation, your FIRST OPTION [sic], then, in a couple of minutes, it will run over and kill six innocents who, through no fault of their own, are trapped down the line. (So, on your first option, you’ll let the six die).

This chapter on moral status is very short, and also mercifully short on intricate imaginary examples. Kamm quickly takes us through a number of relatively familiar normative distinctions and I will try to be brief in recounting them here.

In the broadest sense, moral status simply refers to, roughly, an entity’s moral properties:

Moral status in the broad sense X’s moral status = what is morally permissible/impermissible to do to X

Now in this broad sense, rocks also have moral status: we’re permitted to do to them whatever we like. In common use, moral status refers to something narrower. Kamm thus turns to:

The Loop Case Poll
By S. Matthew Liao

Here’s another case on which you can vote. It came from Judith Jarvis Thomson’s 1985 article “The Trolley Problem.”

The Loop Case: A trolley is headed toward five people, and it can be redirected onto another track where one innocent bystander sits. However, the track loops back toward the five. Hence, if it were not the case that the trolley would hit the one and grind to a halt, the trolley would go around and kill the five. Assume also that if five were not present, the trolley would not loop toward the one, but would continue harmlessly down the track (Kamm, p. 92).

Chapter Six presents Kamm’s response to Peter Unger’s Living High and Letting Die. According to Kamm, “Unger has tried to show that relying on intuitive judgments in cases is a worthless methodology for finding principles.” (p. 190). Therefore, for him, “when there is a conflict between the theses supported by general reflection (e.g., reduce suffering) and judgments about particular cases, we should stick with the results of general reflection, for our intuitions about cases are unreliable and manipulable by morally irrelevant factors.” (p.192).

In her ‘Two Distinctions in Goodness’, Christine Korsgaard drew attention to an overlooked distinction between two distinctions about value. One is the distinction between final and instrumental value. The other is that between intrinsic and extrinsic value. Something has instrumental value only if we desire it for the sake of some further end; something has final value if we aim at it for its own sake, not as a means to some other end. And something has intrinsic value if it’s valuable only in virtue of its intrinsic properties; something has extrinsic value it it’s valuable also in virtue of its extrinsic/relational properties.

Recall the big picture, which can all too easily pass us by. Kamm is exploring the part of ethics that deals with harming others. Her perspective is non-consequentialist: she is interested in permissions and constraints on harming that go beyond the good and bad effects of our actions. In layman’s terms, she is pursuing rules or principles that might block certain actions regardless of the consequences. (Connoisseurs should bear in mind the codicil about threshold-deontology, though.)

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