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« Peter Singer on the Life You Can Save | Main | Cynthia Freeland on Portraits »

August 28, 2010


Col Ventura

I wonder, perhaps, if there is not a possible slight flaw in the example used of the Chairman. In each case the question being asked is a moral one about a specific statement, that is, if the Chairman is deliberating harming or helping the environment. But in each case is it not also true that the Chairman makes an inferred statement that greed is more important to him / her than anything / everything else. (I don't care about the environment; I just want to make money.) Thus someone making a moral judgement will likely also take this into account. (Since we tend to make a moral judgement about a person using all facts to hand even when asked a question that only relates to one part.) Both answering yes to deliberately harming the environment, and answering no to deliberately helping the environment are both in fact negative endorsements of the Chairman's actions. Or, if you like, a negative endorsement of greed. So maybe our moral judgement hasn't changed. Switching the questions order so that the helpful act is first so that it might be assumed a person might recognise the "trap" being laid out so answer no to both questions (as a philosopher might) will be negated because it doesn't address the issue of greed. So a person answering the question in only a moral way would still answer in the same way (no to help, yes to harm). I wonder if there has been further tests using a positive reinforcement of the Chairman rather than a negative one. For instance there is a Chairman of a pharmaceutical company, and one day the chief drug designer comes in and says that they have made a great new drug that will cure all the illness in the world, but it will be massively harmful to the environment (or perhaps harmful to world food resources because a particular type of plant is needed in such huge quantities that a lot of farmland would have to be given over to it's production). The Chairman says I don't care about the environment; I just want to help cure the sick. I wonder if there would be the same type of answers then.

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