Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Win Sharon's Money #7

Here is a challenge for defenders of the modern notion of a priority as a (philosophically interesting) property which is distinct from necessity and analyticity....and for people who want to eat a really lavish Felipe's burrito for free.

I will describe creatures (the doctoroids) who know contingent medical facts a priori if they know them at all. If we allow that the doctoroids do know then the example can easily be generalized to show that for any true proposition there could be creatures with faculty which delivers knowledge of this proposition a priori, and hence that all true propositions are a priori. Thus the challenge for someone who holds the modern conception will be to say *why* the doctoroids don't count as knowing in a way that a) doesn't equate a priority with necessity or analyticity and b) seems remotely principled.

Imagine that in order to save people people 6 years of medschool we engineer 'doctoroids', people who are genetically and physically altered so that they find certain true propositions of organic chemistry and medicine brutely obvious, the way that we find the claim 2+2=4 obvious. That is: they don't ask for justification of these claims, and their acceptance of what has been hardwired into them is fairly causally independent of whatever they see after they are born (e.g. they all come to believe that smoking causes cancer at an early age regardless of how they are raised and continue to believe it in the face of strong evidence to the contrary). Also these creatures don't wind up doing anything that looks like empirically checking the accuracy of their medical intuitions - they find it perfectly obvious in advance that smoking causes cancer, and if they were to encounter cases where smoking seems not to cause cancer they would treat this the way that we treat cases where there seem to be 2 apples and 2 oranges which jointly constitute 3 fruit i.e. as evidence that their observations had somewhere gone wrong.

(and here is a link to my current draft of a paper on the subject, should you *really* want to procrastinate)
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Win Sharon's Money 6

I know nothing about bioethics so maybe this is an easy one. As usual, $5 (to be delivered after thanksgiving break) to the first person with a satisfactory answer. The question is, how is the violinist case morally different from the yaht case described below? Or why is it morally permissible to let the person on your yaht starve?

In a famous article on abortion, Judith Jarvis Thompson presents the following thought experiment:

"You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, "Look, we're sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you--we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is now plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it's only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you." Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation? No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did, a great kindness. But do you have to accede to it?"

She takes it that one would not be morally obliged to keep the violinist plugged in for nine months, and then uses comparison to this case to argue that - even if a fetus had the full moral status of an adult human - certain kinds of abortion would still be permissible. But is it permissible to unplug the violinist? I will argue that it is not.

Consider the following case:
You are making a solo trip across the Atlantic in your yaht, and halfway there you hear the muffled sounds of a person coming out of a coma. It turns out that this person was conked on the head and tossed into your boat by gangsters, the day you left port. Now your engine breaks so it will take 9 months for you to get back. You have enough food stored to feed yourself in comfort for 9 moths or to barely keep both you and the involuntary-stow-away alive for 9 moths if you choose to share it. Are you morally obliged to share your food with the involuntary stow away?

Intuitively (and perhaps legally) I think you are. It would not be morally permissible to let the person accidentally trapped on your yaht starve to death rather than share your food with them. But how does this case differ from the violinist example? The amount of sacrifice required, the fact that you are blameless in creating the situation of dependence, the fact that the space and resources which the person requires belong to you (you bought the food, and the yaht) are all the same.

If there is no morally relevant difference we must conclude that Thompson is wrong, and it is not permissible to unplug the violinist. This is not, of course, to say that abortion is impermissible. But it does suggest that if abortion is permissible the reasons why it's permissible have something to do with the way that fetuses are different from adult human beings.

OH and here's a link to the article:,Fall02/thomson.htm Read more!